Duke students always have intense feelings about campus eateries, but their love for Quenchers may be the strongest.
The mayhem began Tuesday when senior Adam Kershner posted on the Fix My Campus Facebook page about learning from the Quenchers staff that the popular Wilson Gym smoothie bar would be replaced by Red Mango. Soon after, he launched a petition on Change.org to show how many students value Quenchers.
“Aside from providing students with some of the healthiest foods on campus and fostering healthy habits, Quenchers has carved out an emotional niche, as students genuinely love the staff and culture it provides,” he wrote in the petition. “Losing Quenchers would be an extremely heartbreaking event on campus due to the loss of a dedicated and beloved staff and healthy food options we rely on.”
In a statement to the Duke University Student Dining Advisory Committee, Duke Dining explained that in anticipation of Quenchers’ contract ending this year, they developed plans for an enhanced dining venue in Wilson Gym.
“After careful consideration of the options, a new operator for that location was selected,” the statement reads. “The team from Red Mango in the Bryan Center will operate that venue which will feature an entirely new menu compatible with the market at Wilson Recreation Center.”
The new cafe, currently unnamed, will open in Summer 2018 after renovations to the space, which will allow for an expanded environment and menu.
In a post on Fix My Campus, outgoing DUSDAC chair Brian Taylor explained that the decision was driven by requests from the Wilson administration who were unhappy with the services currently offered by Quenchers.
“Dining has attempted to work with Wilson and Quenchers to remediate these issues for years with limited success, and as Quencher’s contract is expiring, the Wilson administration has decided to go in a different direction,” he wrote.
In addition, Taylor explained that the decision was not financially driven and that there is no incentive for Duke Dining to have students spend food points at one location over another.
Senior Julia Medine, current DUSDAC co-chair, noted that the staff at Wilson said they had received student complaints about Quenchers’ willingness to change and innovate based on students suggestions and input.
She said there have been misconceptions about what the new eatery will be like.
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“I think many people assumed the current Red Mango vendor in the Bryan Center would be recreated in Wilson, and that’s not what’s going to happen,” Medine said.
The location in Wilson will have a larger menu selection than Quenchers, including smoothies, smoothie bowls, fresh juice, soups, salad, sandwiches and a fresh fruit bar.
However, many students have expressed their disappointment with Quenchers leaving Wilson.
“Quenchers is a student favorite for the quality and variety of healthy options as well as the familiar and friendly staff, especially after a tiring workout at Wilson,” said senior Kevin Mutchnick. “Its owner Jack Chao is a longtime vendor at Duke, and I hate to think that Dining would sever ties with a local small business person in favor of a chain establishment.”
Kershner noted that he appreciates the atmosphere of Quenchers and always has good conversations with its staff. Stopping there after a workout is a tradition for many students.
He said that in the comments on his Facebook post, people were getting emotional about the pattern of Duke Dining keeping students out of the loop in its decision-making.
“It seemed like there was a lot more going on than people just getting mad about Quenchers,” he said. “I’m curious to understand how much Duke actually takes our voices into consideration.”
Jack Chao, the owner of Quenchers, said that he only got the official notice that his contract would not be renewed last Friday. However, he began to suspect this when a group of people came in a week prior to take photos and said they were doing a survey for Red Mango.
He noted that he was never informed about the reasons for replacing Quenchers, which he has operated in Wilson Gym for the past 20 years. It was the first outside vendor to come to campus.
In addition, Chao said that he never refused to take suggestions or modify his menu, adding that he is disappointed and heartbroken about the decision.
“I don't know where this thing that I don't want to work with anyone comes from,” he said. “I don't get it.”
He noted that he has loved his 20 years working on Duke’s campus and is appreciative of the community’s support.
This isn’t the first time one of Chao’s businesses on campus has been closed by Duke Dining.
Grace’s participated in a menu-tasting competition to try to earn a spot as a vendor in the Brodhead Center, but Duke Student Government and Duke University Student Dining Committee members instead unanimously opted for new vendors Ginger+Soy and Gyotaku.
The event description notes that they plan to also boycott the Red Mango in the Bryan Center and threaten to boycott Red Mango once it opens in Wilson.
“Let's shame Duke Dining for how they've treated us, hopefully enough to make them keep Quenchers,” it reads. “We need to stop them before the contract is signed.”
Wu explained that she has become friends with Chao the past two years and thinks there has not been enough transparency from Duke Dining about the decision.
She and Li had the idea for the protest because when Grace’s closing was announced, students responded by just circulating a petition which ultimately failed.
“I think that something should be done about this,” she said. “We’re putting pressure on the Duke administration and showing that students will actually take some sort of action.”
Medine said that the reaction from students is understandable since they clearly appreciate Quenchers as a vendor but noted that she is optimistic for the future.
“I think people were rightfully worried that what they love about Quenchers might not be available,” she said. “I’m happy a new vendor will expand on the options, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.”