On Feb. 19, the University Centers Advisory Board voted to renew the lease for Blue Pepper Asian Cuisine in the Old Student Center. Blue Pepper’s lease was set to expire in September 2019. At the Feb. 26 meeting, the board voted to extend the lease for two years, until Fall quarter of 2021.
A few weeks prior, a vote on whether or not to renew the restaurant’s lease was delayed in order for council members to collect feedback from their constituents. According to the reports from board members, some students in support of keeping Blue Pepper, most were indifferent, and a very minimal percentage of students were in favor of removing it.
Citing a need for more foot traffic in the Old Student Center, the board was evaluating whether Blue Pepper was meeting its expectations and generating enough interest in the Old Student Center area.
UCAB Vice Chair Joey Mendoza told the council on Feb. 5, “If you’re in [Earl] Warren [College], would you go out of your way to go across campus to get Ramen? Absolutely. Will [you] do it for sub-par Thai food? Absolutely not.”
Pamela Frugé, the board’s Alumni Representative seemed to agree with Mendoza, stating, “[Blue Pepper] is just very mediocre. I go because it’s convenient not because it’s exciting.”
A week later at the Feb. 12 meeting, the sentiments towards Blue Pepper were noticeably different.
The Sixth College representative Katya Garcia said her constituents thought Blue Pepper was “affordable, and has good portions,” as compared to Lemongrass Asian Plates in Price Center.
The move to keep the restaurant was in part to prevent another vacancy at the Student Center in the midst of so much on-campus construction.
Mendoza said that “construction is just a part of life now. This campus is growing and will continue to grow. The campus isn’t gonna stay this way forever, we need to start looking to accommodate the Torrey Pines Learning and Living Center by the time it comes in.”
Vice Chair Mendoza also pointed out at the Feb. 19 meeting that the vendors at the Living and Learning Center would be a new kind of competition, as they would be independent of both Housing Dining Hospitality and University Centers.
“We’re not the only game in town anymore,” Mendoza said.
Reilley Cannon, the Roger Revelle College representative, pointed out that the Torrey Pines Living and Learning Center wouldn’t open until 2021.
“If we get rid of Blue Pepper, that’s a gap that won’t be filled by the time the new vendor comes in,” Cannon said.
Daniel Howanec, one of the board’s students at large, argued that keeping Blue Pepper around until the opening of the Living and Learning Center could be advantageous.
“If we wait to renew this lease, we will know who our competitors are,” Howanec said. “Soda and Swine should be reactivating that space, which should influence foot traffic at [the] Student Center.”
The board also cited that Blue Pepper is one of the few places that is vegan-friendly.
“Lemongrass’ vegan options only replace meat items with tofu,” Garcia said. “Blue Pepper actually has vegan and vegetarian-specific options.”
The vote to renew the lease for Blue Pepper won 6–3 with one abstention vote. Members who voted in favor of keeping Blue Pepper included Mendoza, Garcia, Howanec and Jesus Fernandez. Harrison Oliphant, Achol Chowdhury, and Aditya Arora, representatives for Thurgood Marshall College, John Muir College and Warren respectively, all voted against it.
The upcoming debate for the board will be about how long the renewal should last. University Centers Director Sharon Van Bruggen noted at the board’s Feb. 12 meeting that a standard lease is five years. Reilley Cannon argued that a two-year renewal would give the board a year and a half after the Learning and Living Center opens to see how it impacts campus business.
At the Feb. 26 meeting, all present members with the exception of board chair Alex Morrow voted to renew the lease for two years, until Fall quarter of 2021.
photo by Alexandra Fustei
This article has been updated to include the vote from the Feb. 26 meeting.