Students are questioning the recently-announced closing of Grace’s Café at the end of the Spring semester and petitioning to keep the eatery on campus.
The imminent departure of Grace’s Café has caused disappointment among students and raised questions about whether Duke Dining and Duke University Student Dining Advisory Committee are serving student interests. Some students are taking actions to keep Grace’s on campus by signing an online petition, which has generated more than 700 signatures, asking Director of Dining Services Robert Coffey to keep Grace’s open. Students have also arranged to talk with Duke Student Government representatives and speak at DSG’s public forum Wednesday, said sophomore Anna Li, who started the online petition.
“A lot of Duke students are really upset about this because Grace’s Café, being here for so long, has already become a part of the Duke community,” Li said. “It’s irreplaceable. If we are going to keep one vendor at Duke, let it be one vendor that we can’t get anywhere else, not some chain restaurants you will find everywhere.”
Junior Timothy Blumberg, who is also actively involved in the effort to keep Grace’s open on campus, said that he has reached out to student organizations to assist the movement.
“Students are voicing their opinions on this issue and that’s a good start. We will be able to present a really strong case to the administration,” Blumberg said.
Although Duke Dining has stated that the closing of Grace’s is due to high maintenance costs and new Asian food vendors in West Union, some students found such reasons unconvincing.
“I think the claimed $500,000 renovation fee is probably covering other parts of the Trent Hall, which is unfair to be wholly attributed to Grace’s alone,” freshman Elaine Zhong said.
Blumberg said he is also trying to get in touch with Duke Dining to figure out the real reasons for Grace’s closing before taking further actions. Sophomore Hannah Wang, a member of The Chronicle’s editorial board, added that the whole decision process lacked transparency and consultation of students’ opinions.
Senior JP Lucaci, vice president of services, wrote in an email that he has invited leaders of the petition to speak to DSG’s Senate during Wednesday’s public forum and noted they would “undoubtedly find a sympathetic audience.”
“We just hope that the petitioners remain realistic with their expectations and appreciate the enormous expenditure that would be required of Grace’s to remain in their current location,” Lucaci wrote. “As for potential movement to the West Union, the timing of this announcement was unfavorable as decisions for the West Union were already made.”
Zhong said that Grace’s serves as the primary dining option for the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies department staff and students who take Asian language classes at Trent Hall, adding that it would be inconvenient for people there to walk to West Campus for dining.
Students also questioned DSG and DUSDAC’s decision not to bring Grace’s into the West Union, having chosen instead East and Southeast Asian food vendor Ginger + Soy and sushi bar Gyotaku.
Freshman Hillary Song said that she noticed a lack of Asian representation in DSG after looking through the members’ profiles on the website and considered this a reason why Grace’s was not selected.
“Truly authentic Asian food tastes different from what is regarded ‘tasty’ by the non-Asian community,” Song said. “A ramen bar and frozen sushi are more authentic than mom-and-pop Chinese home cuisine? The lack of cultural knowledge and sensitivity here is simply frustrating.”
Wang added that Grace’s has been on campus for 18 years and has become a place that has cultural significance to a lot of students.
“It’s not just about dining; it is also an issue of culture,” she said. “Every time you walk into Grace’s you would see international Asian students sitting there, speaking in their native language and enjoying the food.”
Rachel Chason contributed reporting.
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