Taste of the pacific

Pacific Dining, LACCD’s district-wide food vendor, has taken over the operation of the cafeterias at five colleges, including Pierce, and provided food truck and vending services to the district during its 90-day trial period at the start of the semester.

“The acquisition of the LACCD district was great,” Pacific Dining manager Brian Robertson said. “We got all nine of those, five of which already have cafeterias. A few more cafeterias are being built.”

According to Robertson, West LA College, Valley College, City College, Pierce College and East LA College, all opened their cafeterias within the first two weeks of the semester.

Vice President of Administrative Services Rolf Schleicher said the new food vendors have been very well received by the Pierce community.

“So far, the new vendor has been very favorable,” Schleicher said. “We have heard good things from the students, faculty and staff about the assortment of foods because they have opened up all the bays in the cafeteria.”

Last semester, LACCD chose San Jose-based Pacific Dining as the outside vendor that would be in charge of providing cafeteria, mobile and vending services to all nine colleges. The vendor signed a ten-year contract with the district.  

The acquisition forced out the Hot Sauce Truck and Falafelicious Catering owner Ofir Bass, who had taken over the cafeteria just months prior.

“I believe they chose us primarily because of our experience and our background,” Robertson said. “We opened a lot of cafeterias, and we’ve never lost an account in those 27 years, which I think reflects pretty well. We love to open up cafeterias, or take over ones and improve them.”

According to Robertson, having one provider for all nine colleges is beneficial for the school system and provides consistency.

However, Bass and Hot Sauce Truck owner Rafael De La Fuente disagree and said that small businesses are being run out by big corporations that will not provide the same level of attention to its consumers.

Bass sold his restaurant earlier this year to focus his complete attention on the Pierce cafeteria. Bass’ father-in-law and businessman Leon Hasson said that they have given up. They sold the food truck and the restaurant and have left the food service business.

“We are done. We vacated the premises because they terminated our lease,” Hasson said. “We sold our restaurant the beginning of this year to focus fulltime on Pierce because it was very busy and growing. We sold that business to put all of our attention on Pierce, and we got screwed.”

According to De La Fuente, the Hot Sauce Truck was offered a contract to continue providing food services on campus, but he said the stipulations of the agreement were too inconvenient for the company.

To continue working at Pierce, De La Fuente would have to drive 12 hours a day back and forth to pick up and leave the food truck at Pacific Dining’s commissary.

“I told the company that I would love to work with them, but it was impossible for me. I don’t blame the company; they have to make their money,” De La Fuente said. “If there was another way, I would have loved to stay and work at Pierce. I was happy there. The students loved me, but this was a district decision. The school wanted to work with me, but the district wanted nothing to do with us.”

Not allowed on campus anymore, the Hot Sauce Truck parked outside on Victory Boulevard and Winnetka Avenue for the first few days of the semester, but moved its services because business was slow.

“It’s understandable,” De La Fuente said. “The students couldn’t come out because they don’t have time, and they have class. I made too little out there, so I had to go somewhere else. I’m on streets around here and there.”

Robertson said that he is aware that the food trucks on Pierce had their leases terminated and Bass was forced to relinquish the cafeteria, but he does not know enough about it to comment.

However, Robertson said, he is excited to contract with Pierce.

“Pierce is one of the busiest. It was awesome the first and second week,” Robertson said. “It’s crammed in there. There are long lines, and it’s been really good. We are really excited about Pierce.”

Pacific Dining began operations 27 years ago in San Jose. According to Robertson, Mercury News was the first cafeteria the company provided food services to.

What began as a small business, expanded as more community college accounts were acquired in Northern California. The first community college cafeterias served by Pacific Dining were in San Mateo County.

Pacific Dining moved its company to Southern California about three years ago, Robertson said. The first cafeteria it ran in the region was the College of the Desert in Palm Springs.

“Southern California has been a goldmine,” Robertson said. “From there, the company has grown considerably and taken off. We have a lot of accounts here. We have given a lot of people jobs.”

Pacific Dining contracted LA Mobile to provide food truck services on campus and First Class Vending to provide vending services.

“Something we don’t traditionally do, but we did in this case because we thought it could be a lot more beneficial for the school, is we subcontracted vending and mobile operations,” Robertson said. “These companies provide vending and food truck services to all the colleges in the district.”

According to Robertson, under the contract with LACCD, Pacific Dining recommends a vending service, but a college can choose whichever vendor they’d like.  

“Colleges have the option, as we’ve been told, to look at vending that fits their needs,” Schleicher said. “It’s preferable to go with Pacific Dining and their affiliates, but it’s also in our best interest that we get the best vending machines for our campus.”

According to Associate Vice President of Administrative Services Larry Kraus, food services will generally remain the same. However, all catering services will need to be approved in writing by Pacific Dining. Kraus said that this will be implemented so that the college can earn back a percentage of the orders to maintain lower pricing for food and drinks sold.

“Any food related purchases made to external vendors with college funds will only be reimbursed if both Brahma Café and Pacific Dining confirm in writing that they were unable to service your order,” Kraus said in an email to faculty. “In the event that food services were obtained from an external source, you will need to include an email message from both Grigor Hogikyan and Brian Robertson which clearly states that “Pacific Dining nor Brahma Café was not able to fulfill the order, but was given first right of refusal.”

Robertson said that Pacific Dining’s cafeteria and cafe services have received a lot of positive feedback. He said that there are always growing pains when setting up in a new location, but they’ve had enough practice to succeed.

“We always have room for improvement, and we always look to students and faculty for improvement,” Robertson said. “We do want feedback. It’s an open dialogue with the whole school. We are just trying to do our best and provide services that tailor to the needs of the school. We are going to be receptive to suggestions and comments.”