My name is Arnoldo Marquez and I am the owner of a business in the Bear’s Lair named El Taqueria Tacontento for the last five years. It’s a business preceded along with my family for a total of 20 years. I along with Ann Vu, owner of Healthy Heavenly Foods, and Haitham Alloun, owner of The Coffee Spot, have provided good food at reasonable prices to the Berkeley community on campus for 20 years.
We have all been put through a very difficult process to keep our businesses open by the ASUC leadership this summer resulting in an effort which is nothing more than an invitation to leave rather than continue our businesses. We were told that we would be invited to bid on our own spaces and then given price increases on new lease agreements which represent a 125 percent rent increase. We are given contract terms which the ASUC leadership know, we cannot meet. They then offer our spots and contracts to other businesses with more user-friendly terms that have never been offered to us.
There was an attempt to bring in Panda Express which was rejected by the students. However, while asking for price hikes from the three existing minority vendors which would increase our average business costs to over $6,800 monthly, Tully’s Coffee was given a contract without a bid process for a total of nine years with provisions that were not offered to us. When we responded and questioned the terms given to us in the initial leases, Tully’s, which has no history on campus, has been given more space than all of us at a rate of $3,400 per month. They were given a delay on profits while we are asked to pay a percentage of profits now and to reach a minimum of $400,000 in sales per year. NAIA, another business enterprise, was allowed to close for over a year in violation of their lease and reopened. They are now paying about $2,800 again for more space than we currently have with similar long term guarantees in their lease and no provision for shared costs of profits also.
All the current vendors including myself have been denied long-term leases for over three years. This would be difficult for any established businesses to look at spending monies for renovations without the same lease terms offered to the new corporations. It is another example of the way the ASUC leadership has tried to run us out of business.
The Daily Californian was given a 50 percent reduction in their rents also due to the economy. Apparently, everyone is aware of the fact that we are in a recession except the leadership of the ASUC auxiliary board who have directed the ASUC board’s request for contracts given to us which are designed to run us out of business. A report done by the ASUC leadership shows we—Bear’s Lair current vendors—are currently paying market rents and was not provided to the ASUC board. Yet this report was never provided to the student members of the board. We are not being offered similar contracts to new vendors who have little history serving the UC Berkeley community.
We deserve a contract offered to us which is the same length with similar provisions to maintain our businesses. We deserve a fair and open process. Anything less is merely an attempt to run us out of business with terms that are unfair and designed to do so.
We want to thank all of the people, staff and community members who have supported us in our efforts to have a negotiation which is fair and equal to what has been offered to corporations who do not have the history that we do.
We have all worked very hard over the last 20 years to maintain businesses which provide a cultural food experience for our diverse Berkeley community at reasonable and affordable prices. We hope to continue our businesses by letting the public know what we have had to endure in a very unfair process to us designed to run us out of business by the ASUC leadership.
Arnoldo Marquez is the owner of El Taqueria Tacontento.