Bear’s Lair Food Vendor Gets Extension

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday October 22, 2009 - 09:18:00 AM

The Bear’s Lair food court vendor who refused to accept UC Berkeley’s hefty rent increase and was planning to quit in December has been given a lease extension. 

The Planet reported on July 16 that, when the university’s Associated Students of the University of California Auxiliary (the administrative arm of the student union) Store Operations Board proposed a new contract last summer with plans to revitalize Lower Sproul Plaza, they were met with opposition from two of the three food vendors at the Bear’s Lair. 

While both Healthy Heavenly Foods and Tacqueria Tacontento said they would not be able to afford the conditions on the new contract—including double the rent they were currently paying for their space, upgrades to their restaurants and sharing a percentage of their profit with the ASUC Auxiliary, which is in the middle of a financial crisis—tacqueria owner Arnoldo Marquez relented and accepted the terms in July, although he has yet to sign off on them. 

All three vendors are operating on expired leases. Ann Vu of Healthy Heavenly Foods, who has been at the Bear’s Lair for two decades, said she would not be able to pay the $4,452 rent per month. 

Students and community members stepped in to support her, but their intervention was not enough to change the board’s mind—ASUC decided it was time for a new lease that reflected current market rental rates. 

Vu was getting ready to pack up and leave in two months when she got a piece of good news. 

She received a visit last week from ASUC Auxiliary Director Dr. Nadesan Permaul, who told her that the Store Operations Board had extended her stay until May, because it was taking longer than expected to obtain a new tenant. 

Store Operations Board Chair Nish Rajan told the Planet that a formal request for proposals was taking longer than the board had expected. 

“We are working on developing a timeline on getting bids so that we can begin negotiations,” said Rajan, who is pursuing his Ph.D. at the Haas School of Business. “We can’t just plug in someone in December.” 

He said that, although it was difficult to gauge the “full scope of interest in the space,” a few individuals had already expressed interest in the location. 

Vu said that, although she was happy with her extension, she felt that the Store Operations Board was still treating her unfairly over the contract. 

“Business right now is very slow—students don’t buy food as much as before,” Vu said Tuesday, as she helped her customers. “I am making less than I used to—where will I get more money to pay higher rent?” 

UC Berkeley junior Chanel Adikuono, buying a Vietnamese chicken rice bowl from Vu’s food stall Monday, said she was glad to hear about the extension. 

“I was really sad that she was leaving,” Adikuono said. “Where else can you find cheap, fresh food like this these days?” 

Taqueria owner Marquez said he wanted a longer lease and fair rent and was considering consulting a lawyer before signing the contract. He said his business had suffered a 30 percent loss this year. 

Both restaurants had increased food prices to keep up with inflation rates. “The way they are increasing the rent, we might have to increase the price even more,” Marquez said. 

In addition to the Bear’s Lair food court, various other locations on campus are also initiating RFPs to attract suitable tenants to get more student traffic, Rajan said. Tully’s Coffee and Naia Gelateria—which has converted half its space into a sushi restaurant—have both opened up shop at the university in recent months. 

Rajan said that, although the ASUC Auxiliary has come out of debt, it was still facing a tough time. 

“We cannot spend as much as we were,” he said, adding that the $100 million Lower Sproul Plaza Redevelopment would be possible only with the help of student fees. 

Rajan said that the ASUC would be voting on a student fee hike in the coming weeks.