“I miss UCLA coffee,” said no one ever. If you haven’t let out an unsatisfied grumble or wince after a sip of an iced mocha from Bruin Café or Kerckhoff Coffeehouse this week, you, my friend, are either getting used to the quality of coffee available here or are simply not a religious coffee drinker. This said, mediocrity always leaves something to be desired, or more specifically, the green-strawed, foolproof coffee of the Starbucks chain.
What follows is not intended to be the deprived cry of yet another millennial used to being coddled and comforted by the arms of the big chains. Instead, it is an attempt to genuinely explore a common, yet unanswered question at UCLA: Why do we not have a Starbucks on campus?
To clarify (and blow your minds), UCLA does indeed have a Starbucks on campus, just not under ASUCLA. You can fulfill all your Frappuccino and flat white needs at Cafe Med at the UCLA Center for Health Services and Society. This building, however, is situated at the southernmost point of the UCLA campus border, closer to Westwood Village – already home to two Starbucks locations – than Bruin Walk. You might as well just take the two extra steps and sit inside the Starbucks in Westwood. Not exactly known as the central hub for student activity, Cafe Med is not somewhere many Bruins can easily grab a cup of coffee in between lectures or before their dreaded 8 a.m. classes.
Starbucks locations on college campuses are not a particularly rare phenomenon. USC has a Starbucks on campus, open 24 hours, 7 days a week – a college student’s dream. UC Santa Barbara opened a Starbucks at the University Center in 2016 in an effort to reduce the $745,753 deficit the location was suffering. The Student Center at UC Irvine also houses a Starbucks, along with two other Starbucks locations on campus.
If a Starbucks is to be situated on campus, it has to be operated in a location as prime as Kerckhoff Coffeehouse. Ackerman Union, right next to Kerckhoff Hall, easily comes as the best choice. Operated under the direction of ASUCLA, Ackerman Union is already home to nationally acclaimed brands like Lollicup, Taco Bell and Panda Express.
[Related: Students support more coffee options]
Cindy Bolton, director of food services at ASUCLA, cites the deep saturation of coffee customers on campus as one of the reasons why Starbucks has not joined other facilities under ASUCLA.
“Our belief is that since we already sell so much (coffee), it’s a big risk to switch over and just increase cost, but not how much more we sell,” she said.
The cost Bolton refers to can vary significantly, depending on how Starbucks would be implemented under ASUCLA as a business model.
The food service facilities of ASUCLA fall under three major categories: self-operating, franchise and third-party models. A purely self-operating model, such as Greenhouse, is developed and operated by ASUCLA. All expenses associated are the responsibility of ASUCLA, but ASUCLA is free to employ its own employees and pays no royalty fee.
However, for a franchise model, ASUCLA operates as a representation of a national brand such as Lollicup. A royalty fee is paid to the brand, due to the usage of its recipes and products – which ASUCLA also purchases – but ASUCLA is then free to employ their own staff. The costs potentially associated here, if Starbucks were to be implemented as such a model, would include the higher base cost of Starbucks beans, equipment that features the brand and royalty fees.
A third-party model, applicable to only nine ASUCLA restaurants, leases a space to an operator entirely separate from ASUCLA. These operators, such as Carl’s Jr. and Jamba Juice, are entirely responsible for the build out of their store and for their own expenses, products and hiring employees. A commission is paid to ASUCLA under this model. The cost-benefit analysis of a Starbucks store under this outsourcing model has to take into account the loss of student jobs; third parties are encouraged to hire students, but Bolton acknowledges this does not always happen.
If Starbucks were to be included under ASUCLA, the sourcing of coffee beans from Starbucks further complicates matters. Currently, all coffee shops operating under ASUCLA rely on a non-branded coffee vendor, said Bolton.
The implementation of a Starbucks may jeopardize ASUCLA’s relationship with this vendor. Unfortunately, this is not the only relationship Starbucks would threaten on campus.
Noah Raminick, a second-year economics student, believes that a Starbucks on campus would do well, well enough to disrupt Kerckhoff Coffeehouse.
“(It is) up to the school (to decide) if they want to hurt the local business, but from a business perspective Starbucks would do well,” he said.
Kyle Norris, a first-year political science student, questions the necessity of a Starbucks on campus although he acknowledges that it would be nice to have one.
“(Starbucks) is a good coffee shop, but then again, I am also in favor of small local businesses and coffee shops are a great way for that to emerge,” he said.
It comes as no surprise that Starbucks may outcompete and disrupt the independent coffee shops of ASUCLA, an approximately $4.5 million business. Although such competition might be desirable to counter the mediocre quality of coffee available, we must consider the effects of allowing yet another big chain brand to infiltrate our campus when the history of ASUCLA is preserved in its self-operated, non-branded college food service.