**The views of this author are not necessarily the views of Scholastic Magazine**
As Chick-fil-A celebrated its grand opening on Feb. 10, the Duncan Student Center was buzzing. The fast food restaurant took the place of Star Ginger, the former Asian cuisine establishment.
When Campus Dining announced that Chick-fil-A was coming to Notre Dame’s student center in July of last year, many students expressed their excitement. To many, the opening of Chick-fil-A felt like a big win; after the pandemic disrupted supply chains, staffing and restaurant hours, many students felt their dining options on campus were limited.
However, the success of Chick-fil-A rubbed salt in the wounds of plant-based eaters. Not only were many veggie-forward students on campus disappointed in the lack of plant-based options at Chick-fil-A, but its opening led to the temporary closure and reduced hours of other dining sites. In particular, the impact Chick-fil-A’s popularity had on Garbanzo and Decio Cafe upset plant-based students who lost even more of the few options they have.
Within the tri-campus GroupMe for vegans, vegetarians and veg-curious people — a.k.a. “Veg friends”— students shared their concerns regarding the sudden temporary closure of Garbanzo and Decio Cafe. Some even expressed confusion that the staffing from Garbanzo did not necessarily get reassigned to Chick-fil-A, but to Modern Market.
Senior Jim Moster, co-founder and president of the Herbivore Society, believes that if Campus Dining does not have the capacity to open a new restaurant, then they should not open a new restaurant until they are ready to meet the expected demand.
Moster added that the opening of Chick-fil-A concerns him not only as a vegetarian but also as a queer person. Moster is referring to anti-LGBTQ+ organizations and programs Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy has endorsed and funded.
“As a queer person, it is disheartening to walk through Duncan Student Center and see a massive line formed for a restaurant which has historically excluded and marginalized me and my friends,” Moster said.
As a fellow plant-based eater myself, the opening of Chick-fil-A has frustrated me. Could we not have chosen an establishment that has a better range of food options? Even the other fast food places on campus (i.e. Taco Bell, Subway, Smashburger) all have friendlier plant-based options than Chick-fil-A.
Beyond that, the loss of Star Ginger was discouraging to me especially as a student from Tokyo. Regardless of its questionable authenticity, Star Ginger offered a sort of familiarity to my culture’s dishes and diversified the dining experience on campus.
However, talking with Associate Director of Campus Dining Detail Richard Jacobs clarified what was occurring behind the scenes.
Jacobs acknowledged that Star Ginger was a well-fitted brand for Notre Dame for several years. But the hiring freeze during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic made the upkeep of the authenticity of Asian dishes difficult with the lower numbers in staff.
“The knock on Star Ginger was that students didn’t view it as authentic,” Jacobs said. “People would get authentic [Asian] food off campus.”
Star Ginger was no longer meeting student demand, and it was incurring financial losses. This change prompted Campus Dining to revisit the decade-long discussion about bringing Chick-fil-A to campus.
Notre Dame conducted a Revision Consultants Survey on what restaurants students wanted, and Chick-fil-A was most popular, along with Chipotle. However, Chipotle employed a different model than Chick-fil-A that deterred directors of campus dining retail.
Jacobs said campus dining retail still wanted to maintain Asian cuisine on campus and is working on a concept for the near future. As of last August, Noodle Nook was put in the Huddle Mart as a kind of bridge between those transition periods.
“It was not lost on the executive leadership that you are arguably closing the most diverse concept on the retail portfolio,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs said the temporary closure of dining sites including Garbanzo and Decio Cafe was not intentional. The issue stemmed from the fact that Chick-fil-A was accepting orders through Grubhub.
“Chick-fil-A typically manages guest flow through cashiers and drive-thrus,” Jacobs said. “With Grubhub there is no way to manage how many people order at once.”
The unfettered Grubhub demand posed a challenge for Chick-fil-A, which enforces high standards for its food production process. The high demand meant Chick-fil-A needed more staff. The campus Starbucks only employs six workers per shift; the campus Chick-fil-A employs 25 per shift.
As a short-term solution, Campus Dining decided to divert staff from Decio Cafe — a university-operated establishment — to Chick-fil-A. Jacobs soon hired 22 people to solve the staffing shortage and reopen Garbanzo and Decio Cafe. Both are currently open and are expected to go back to full hours.
Although Jacobs explained the context behind Star Ginger’s closure to Chick-fil-A’s launch, I am still left with some frustrations.
The opening and incorporation of Chick-fil-A seems to be in the University’s interest, rather than the students’. If the pandemic created a staffing shortage, why incorporate Chick-fil-A now? If their standards are so rigid, why were more people not hired beforehand in preparation for the launch?
Legends has been closed for the whole school year. Instead of Chick-fil-A, could there have been efforts made to reopen that establishment? If Asian cuisine was such an important retail profile, why was constructing an adequate Asian dining site not the priority before Chick-fil-A?
I am left with many questions and criticism, but I acknowledge hindsight is 20/20.
But at the end of the day, Chick-fil-A is here and adjusting. Jacobs mentioned that “the great majority of students wanted Chick-fil-A because it does carry tremendous brand power.”
Why is it that so many students yearned for Chick-fil-A despite the corporation’s moral ambiguity and homophobic sentiments? Moster offered a response to such questions. He believes that Chick-fil-A is “a perfect encapsulation of amoral hedonism which goes into consumerism.” Essentially, it is about taste and profit.
Then the setbacks and backlash of Chick-fil-A can offer us one thing: an insight into the culture of blinded indulgence.