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New mobile food vendor policy drives Net Appetit off campus

Net Appetit, a popular food truck that has served Thai food on Santa Teresa Avenue for more than a decade, has been asked by the University to cease operations on campus as part of Stanford’s new mobile food vendor policy, which took effect on Jan. 7 of this year.

Courtesy of Philip Spiegel

Courtesy of Philip Spiegel, Palo Alto Patch

Chon Vo, founder and operator of Net Appetit, has operated the truck on the Stanford campus since 2001. All Vo’s profits go to Aid to Children Without Parents (ACWP), a nonprofit organization that provides two meals to children in Vietnam for every dollar donated by the truck.

Stanford’s new policy regarding food trucks mandates that trucks must register with Off The Grid, a food truck management company that has partnered with the University for the winter pilot program to bring food trucks to campus.

Assistant Vice President for Business Development Susan Weinstein ’72 MBA ’79 who helped draft the mobile food vendor policy, declined a request for interview but released a statement saying the notice about the food truck policy and its implementation was given to trucks operating on campus beginning last November.

“The notice informed the trucks that they would be required to have a permit from Off the Grid in order to continue [to] serve campus beginning on Jan. 7, and also contained information on how the food trucks could register with Off The Grid,” Weinstein wrote.

Vo was informed of the decision through an unsigned notice from the Stanford University Department of Public Safety on Dec. 7, one week before the University closed for winter break.

“On Dec. 7, the campus police dropped off the letter,” Vo said. “We only had one week to react, and the letter wasn’t signed, so we didn’t know how to get in touch.”

Since then, he has tried unsuccessfully to appeal to administrators, citing a spotless health record.

“That’s the thing that perplexed us the most,” Vo said. “If we violated stuff like the food safety, then of course we know why, but we have a good record of 11 years. Not a single violation– a spotless record.”

Students and other members of the Stanford community have sent Vo more than 200 emails expressing sadness over the absence of Net Appetit.

The mobile food vendor policy does not specifically state that food trucks must go through Off the Grid to be on campus, however the University defended their decision.

“Stanford has a long-standing policy contained in [Administrative] Guide 15.3, which requires permission from Stanford before any unrelated commercial enterprise may operate on campus,” Weinstein wrote. “Uninvited food trucks do not have such permission.”

“Other food trucks serving campus must demonstrate that they can operate in compliance with the [mobile food vendor] policy and be permitted to sell at a specific time and location,” according to the notice given to Vo. “Stanford has engaged Off the Grid to manage the process to obtain a permit.”

According to Vo, the process of registering with Off the Grid is not as easy as the notice makes it seem– when he applied, he received a rejection letter saying that all the available spaces on campus were taken.

Vo said that Net Appetit was not attempting to grow as a business or take business away from Tresidder eateries such as CoHo, so he capped the number of meals sold per day at 120.  The food truck was making just enough money to cover the cost of operations and give $200 a day to ACWP. Vo called the truck “a gift that kept on giving.”

However, because it is a nonprofit, Vo said Net Appetit doesn’t have the cash reserves of a typical business and wouldn’t be able to sustain itself without business from its on-campus spot.

“If Stanford doesn’t allow [us back] within three months [from December], we will run out of the cash reserve,” Vo said. “We have a month and a half left, and then we will never come back again.”

“The only thing we’re worried about now is that we don’t abandon the people who have been with us,” he added. “Some people have been eating [at Net Appetit] for ten years. It’s not because our food is better. Stanford has the best dining facilities– better than Yale, better than Harvard. I think it’s just there’s not enough ethnic cuisine here… so we concentrate on that, and we’ve been very successful.”

Stanford Law School teaching fellow Matt Lamkin, who used Net Appetit to cater Law School events, was enthusiastic about the truck’s service, low cost, food and mission.

“I sincerely hope that, one way or another, he’ll be able to operate the truck at Stanford, he said. “Selfishly because I love the food, but more importantly, because of the great work that it funds.”

The University will consider adding another truck to the lunchtime schedule, according to Weinstein, but it must meet a list of requirements including not blocking walkways or bike paths and not being too close to an existing campus café.

  • http://www.facebook.com/thomasjcolvin Tom Colvin

    This is not only sad, but actually makes me angry at the University. Stanford is supposed to be laid back and not as bureaucratic as other universities, but this is just the kind of bulls**t you would expect from an institution that cares more about paperwork than it cares about the community that they serve.

    Samantha, do you have a list of people in the university that I (and others) can contact to voice our (pissed off) opinions to?

  • No way

    This is just ridiculous. Stanford can’t be bothered to do the simple, right thing when there’s a nice complex bureaucratic “solution” that disenfranchises people who are mostly powerless to begin with.

  • 2013

    Any way to mobilize ASAP to show the university our support for Net Appetit before they run out of money?

  • george

    Can you talk to Mia’s Catering? It is a food truck/industrial caterer run by a couple of mexican ladies that’s been coming to Stanford for 9+ years. She has some pretty strong opinions about the food truck changes and has a big following among some people. She parks near Old Chem around 12:30 and a lot next to the GSB (nearer to Crothers) at 1pm

  • SethPile

    No wonder. I’m a visiting student to Stanford, and have been enjoying this Net Appetit truck quite frequently, and then suddenly it wasn’t there anymore. Now I know why. It would seem that the students are impacted the most by a decision like this, don’t the students get a voice as to which truck should be serving the campus? Who knows what goes on behind the scene for a decision like this. There needs to be more transparency, or else the little guys can just get crushed by the whims of powerful bureaucracies.

  • Leo

    I’m a coterm student in my 5th year at the farm and have been frequenting the truck since I was a freshman. Its owners were never anything but kind and accommodating – Nut allergies? They told me which dishes I should avoid. Disappointed because they ran out of (awesome) veggie egg rolls early in the lunch rush? They made sure to bring extra ever since. One dollar short? They know I’m a regular, just bring it tomorrow. Throughout my time here, no matter how terrible things got, my friends and I had that food truck.

    I don’t tend to get involved in campus political issues, but this situation has made me beyond outraged. For all of the kindness and service they have provided to the student body, and am distraught with the way they are being treated. If we allow this sort of treatment to go unnoticed and unchallenged, I would be ashamed to call myself a student of Stanford University.

  • APS

    Really shady practices by the institution that will give me a degree.

  • maria

    If the food at Tressider had just half the quality for price than NetAppetite does, Stanford should not have to worry on banning them. Stop the increase of junk food on campus, please!

  • Ohad Barak

    I agree with the previous comments. I have contacted Susan Weinstein on the matter, and received the standard bureaucratic explanation regarding the requirements contained in Stanford’s Mobil Food Vendor Policy.

    I do appreciate that the University administration is concerned with food health issues, however it seems to me that after a ten year long clean service record, that point has been validated with regard to the NetAppetit food truck. My colleagues and myself have been going as a group to this food truck for the last 3 years, and have never had any health issues resulting from it. I believe this is a sufficient sampling of the data.

    Furthermore, it was stated in Susan Weinstein’s reply to me that: “We limit
    their locations to areas that are safe, with no equipment blocking sidewalks
    and with no customers at risk from passing car traffic. Trucks are not
    allowed to park in areas on campus where we prohibit commercial activity”

    If this is the case, then why is there a food truck operated by Stanford dining not more than 20 meters away from where the NetAppetit truck used to park? It is on the same curbside of Santa Teresa, and has the same impact on passing traffic. It is obvious to me that there was absolutely no safety issue with the NetAppetit truck’s parking location.

    It also seems that NetAppetit was not given equal opportunity to apply for a permit, as other trucks were.

    The new trucks do provide good quality food, however the amount of food for the same price is extremely small. The portion sizes are in my opinion insufficient for an adult lunch.

    The entire deal seems not Kosher. I do not understand how the Business Development Dept. sees this current state of affairs as an improvement. Why do they not take into account the donation given by the NetAppetit truck to Vietnamese children? Have they made the world better by forcefully discontinuing this donation?

    The answer is of course no. Food safety has not increased. Personal safety while buying the food has not increased. the price for food however, has increased. Perhaps some regulations are better satisfied, but if regulations actually cause harm, perhaps it means those regulations should be changed. I personally do not see how issues of “sustainability” (allegedly another new requirement for food trucks) are more important than hungry children.

    My colleagues from my department and myself are of the mind that we should boycott the new trucks, until an equal opportunity for the NetAppetit food truck to return to campus is presented to them.

  • Ian

    It is just ridiculous. The Cardinal Chef food truck is still there, Even closer to the tressider union.

  • Sybille Katz

    I agree with all the earlier messages. So Stanford, let this truck come back a.s.a.p.

  • Jonathan Pilat

    Those trucks that came to campus previous to the new policy should be given an exemption and grandfathered in.

  • R_Fact

    The truck was a part of out office weekly lunch circuit for many years. It served the best Asian food on campus by far for a reasonablle price and with a always friendly service. Having just come back from Cambodia, I can certainly relate to its mission. I cannot believe the truck t is gone and I hope they can come back soon. One of its replacement, a “Peruvian” or rather Mexican truck falls way short. How much does Off the Grid pay to Stanford for its privilege?

  • J

    Figures that the Stanford bureaucracy and ASSU would bring food trucks on campus that are overpriced with lower quality food and force off existing food trucks that have been great.

  • Concerned Stanford Student

    I really hope Stanford allows Net Appetit back on campus. I remember seeing the vendor parking in the parking lot, and putting quarters in the meter to pay for parking. It’s not as if they were parking along the road, where there are clearly demarcated bike lanes.

    I don’t believe that the campus or off-the-Grid should neglect a food truck that has been on campus for the past decade, especially if it has been considerate to the campus, as well as providing good quality, continuous service to its students and providing aid for under-privileged children.

    Perhaps Stanford or Off-the-Grid should have considered giving food trucks with a good service record and high popularity, like Net Appetit, priority in its catering policy. Not doing so has shown that the policy does not serve the interest of the students, but perhaps instead some other unknown intent.

  • PC

    Stanford Dining should seriously reconsider its existing policy. This is simply bullying. The NetAppetit is not stealing your revenue; it is just offering diversity of food on campus. Asian food on campus is very difficult to find. Panda Express, while good in its own way, does not offer a healthy option the way NetAppetit does. Please, please listen to the voices out there and allow this food truck to come back. If you still have hearts, you should feel something stealing from the kids for just some minor profits you would gain from organizing this food truck things. Stanford has more important things to do, and should leave this playground for someone else.

  • Jason

    We’ve gotta bring Net Appetit back. It brings so much value to the Stanford campus and beyond, if they were not granted special permission to be here it would just be proof that the administration cared less about student welfare and more about implementing their own “well-designed” policies at the student body’s expense

  • Outraged student

    noooo… I can’t believe the “Thai food truck”, as we affectionately called it, is being forced out – it was my favorite lunch option, serves good food, provides diversity of food options (Panda Express =/= good Asian), and supported a good cause. What more could Stanford want? As others have pointed out, this move seems to be because they want a monopoly for Off the Grid…

  • Outraged student

    p.s. can we start a petition? or for those who have contacted the relevant administrators, can you share names and emails?

  • http://twitter.com/GallagherBilly Billy Gallagher

    Thanks for the tip! We’ll talk to her

  • Concerned student

    #weloveNetAppetit -

  • dfa

    twitter!

  • http://www.facebook.com/viraj.s.bindra Viraj Bindra

    I personally think this is bullshit, too. I’m trying to get more information about this, because – I’ll be honest – I’m not as informed about the new policy as I should be. But I’d really like to do what I can from the Senate. If anyone has any comments or needs a place to dump their pissed off opinions, I promise you I’ll make good use of them: vbindra@stanford.edu. – Viraj Bindra, Senator

    @1ae6bc681f3eb661e4ef2f206dfb374b:disqus I’m thinking about that too. Open to ideas, otherwise send your messages of support to me in the meantime so we have one unified record of them.

  • 2013

    ENOUGH TALK! Somebody start a petition ASAP or send a link to a site where we can create one.

  • Samantha Lynn

    Hello Tom,

    Susan Weinstein, the Assistant Vice President for Business Affairs, coordinated the committee that designed the mobile food vendor policy. You can reach her via email at susan.weinstein@stanford.edu, or by phone at (650)724-3658.

  • Bittergradguy

    NOOOOO! Don’t give away her secret location. She is my meal every day!

  • http://www.facebook.com/viraj.s.bindra Viraj Bindra

    any chance you could forward that email? vbindra@

  • http://twitter.com/GallagherBilly Billy Gallagher

    Another option for those who care strongly about this issue is to submit an op ed to opinions@stanforddaily.com. Obviously the community cares about this and we want to be the place where the community discussion takes place. The Daily is distributed in most, if not all, administrators’ offices, so you’ll reach an influential audience.

    Speaking from experience, the University doesn’t respond much to online petitions–I would suggest direct outreach (see Samantha and Viraj’s comments) or writing an op ed. Thanks to all for reading and commenting.

  • Confuzzled

    What? Senate is actually trying to be relevant?

  • http://www.facebook.com/viraj.s.bindra Viraj Bindra

    LOL what an original comment. But really, we’d like to help – I promise. Thanks to everyone whose reached out already, keep it coming.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chintan.hossain Chintan Hossain

    That’s the wrong way to go about it.

    The whole food truck policy needs to scrapped completely. We did fine without a food truck policy for years, so let’s keep it that way. Let’s not make the bureaucracy worse by adding a grandfather clause to the already awful rules.

    Bringing the Thai truck back is my main concern, and that seems to be true for everyone else commenting here, but let’s fix the main problem (the awful food truck rules), rather than just the symptoms of it.

  • Matt

    Thanks so much for your interest and work, Viraj. It’s fantastic news that you’re taking this up.

  • Morgan Jones

    Off the Grid sounds like a protection racket. Please let the Thai truck back on campus!

  • David Sarno

    Stanford owes it to Net Apetit and the community to directly answer the question of why they didn’t give an early courtesy notice about the policy shit to Net Apetit, given that the truck is one of — if not the — most popular truck on campus. Why wouldn’t they grant an interview or comment on this case specifically — it’s a food truck, not the Pentagon Papers.

  • David Sarno

    Sorry, that’s policy “shift” — it won’t let me edit the comment.

  • yhts

    this was my best choice for a cheap, healthy and balanced meal on campus… as an international student from asia this was also the closest thing to authentic asian food for me. please bring the food truck back

  • BitterGradGuy

    WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!!!!

  • Petition

    Please sign this petition against Stanford’s new food truck policy:
    http://www.change.org/petitions/end-the-university-sanctioned-food-truck-oligopoly-on-stanford-s-campus

  • NoHelp Others

    Profits from the thai food truck went to benefit poor children in viet nam. The fact that stanford kicked out this food truck tells me that stanford doesn’t like poor kids in viet nam.