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Ike’s Place sacked: RFP cites survey, but students angry with process

Four years after establishing itself as a campus landmark, Ike’s Place is leaving.

Last Friday, students gathered in White Plaza for a “Save Ike’s” rally, handing out over 200 Ike’s sandwiches in less than 15 minutes. The demonstration followed the ASSU Undergraduate Senate’s unanimous resolution in support of Ike’s Place on May 6.

The protests and ASSU resolution come on the heels of Ike’s’ drawn-out departure from the Forbes Family Cafe in the Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center in the Science and Engineering Quad, where owner Ike Shehadeh had opened with much fanfare in 2009. Ike’s Place will remain open until June 15, but in the meantime, a group of more than 50 students calling themselves “Ike’s Army” have distributed fliers across campus demanding that the bustling sandwich shop return next year.

On April 25, the University announced that Ike’s Place will be replaced by an eatery operated by Stanford Residential and Dining Enterprises (R&DE) in September. R&DE has not yet announced the details of its winning restaurant concept. In the meantime, students have been left to wonder how the decision to award the contract was made, who made it and why.

Ultimately, the decision was made by the Forbes Family Cafe Request for Proposal (RFP) Committee — a group of six staff members, no faculty, one graduate student and one undergraduate student operating in close coordination with Lindsey Akin, services manager for the Science and Engineering Quad. University officials have refused to release the names of any committee members, claiming that they are confidential.

The use of confidential committees for RFPs is standard practice. In February 2009, such a committee was responsible for finding the Forbes Family Cafe’s first tenant, contacting 13 vendors before unanimously awarding Shehadeh the contract from 2010 to 2013, with an option to extend for another three years afterwards.

In September 2012, when Shehadeh stepped back from management of the Stanford location, Stanford exercised a limited option to extend the Ike’s Place lease for one more year, until June 2014.

This particular process is not under scrutiny because of wrongdoing by any department — certainly not by R&DE, whose role in this process is peripheral. It is under scrutiny because of how the RFPs, faithfully administered by administrators and officials according to University guidelines and in good faith, could reach such universally unpopular decisions.

Scroll over the image for a timeline of the events leading up to Ike’s Place’s departure.
February 2009

Ike’s awarded contract from 2010-13 with option for up to three more years.
September 2012

Ike Shehadeh steps back from Stanford location; option extended one out of three possible years.
October 2013

As last year of contract begins, Stanford Purchasing & Contracts opens Forbes Family Cafe for bidding.
November 2013

Food services survey disseminated as part of RFP Committee’s evaluation criteria.
December 17, 2013

Vendors attend “bid walk” in Huang.
February 2014

Three vendors (Coupa, Ike’s and R&DE) make formal bid presentations.
April 25, 2014

University announces that R&DE will replace Ike’s, prominently featuring survey results.
May 6, 2014

ASSU unanimously passes resolution in support of keeping Ike’s on campus, citing student survey.
June 15, 2014

Ike’s will close after Commencement Weekend.

Requests for a new proposal

In October 2013, just as Ike’s was beginning its last academic year of operations in Huang, the Stanford Purchasing and Contracts office opened the Forbes Family Cafe case for bidding. The next month, Akin, the point person for the contract, disseminated a food services survey that would be used as part of the RFP Committee’s evaluation criteria. The Committee then chose 16 local businesses to invite for a tour of the Forbes Family Cafe.

Sixteen vendors were extended invitations to open eateries at the Forbes Family Cafe at Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center. (VICTOR XU/The Stanford Daily)

Sixteen vendors were extended invitations to participate in a bid walk at the Forbes Family Cafe at Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center. (VICTOR XU/The Stanford Daily)

On Dec. 17, 2013, representatives from the invited vendors attended a “bid walk” at the Huang Engineering Center. Several vendors, including big-name chains like Chipotle and Pizza My Heart, were unable to seriously consider a bid because of the Forbes Family Cafe’s limited kitchen space.

Only three vendors — Coupa Cafe, Ike’s Place and R&DE — made formal bid presentations during the week of Feb. 24.

“The majority [of potential vendors] saw how small the space was and said, ‘We’re not interested,’” said Troy Sutton, the contracts manager at the Stanford purchasing department. “People walked away. They participated, but they weren’t interested in submitting a proposal.”

So by March, when the Committee met to deliberate the awarding of the lease, there were three options to compare.

According to a partial list of criteria obtained by The Daily, committee members were asked to rate each vendor’s bid on the following factors: variety of menu, seasonality, pricing, sustainability, staff benefits and turnover, wait times, company reputation and prior experience.

Akin said that content for the bid presentations was confidential. But she claimed that R&DE’s bid was the only one that not only addressed each of these criteria but also went “above and beyond.” According to Akin, R&DE was the only vendor with the foresight to delineate changes to their employee benefits because of the Affordable Care Act, for example.

“R&DE proposed a seasonal, affordable menu built around sustainable and local food,” Akin said. “Their proposal was all about sourcing locally with everything they serve.”

Questioning the survey

Part of the bid process was the survey disseminated by Akin to various science and engineering-related e-mail lists in November 2013, called “Food in the SEQ.” The survey was intended to gauge community opinion on food options and serve as the foundation for evaluation criteria during the RFP process; a press release announcing R&DE’s successful bid on April 25 prominently featured the survey results.

Last November, Science and Engineering Quad services manager Lindsey Akin disseminated a survey  to gauge community opinion on the food options in the Forbes Family Cafe. However, multiple respondents feel that the questions were biased against the space's current tenant, Ike's Place. (SAM GIRVIN/The Stanford Daily)

Last November, Science and Engineering Quad services manager Lindsey Akin disseminated a survey to gauge community opinion on the food options in the Forbes Family Cafe. However, multiple respondents feel that the questions were biased against the space’s current tenant, Ike’s Place. (SAM GIRVIN/The Stanford Daily)

However, the survey has been widely criticized by students as being biased against Ike’s, and many of the survey’s 900 respondents are now upset because their responses are being cited to justify Ike’s’ departure.

Most of the survey respondents interviewed by The Daily said that their response should have indicated support for Ike’s to continue operating.

“If I had known it was a choice between Ike’s and anything else, I would have made it very clear that I wanted Ike’s,” said Ian Holmes ‘15, a survey respondent. “The survey was so deceiving, it should be invalidated.”

“I would describe the survey as designed to answer a question other than the one it was used to answer,” said Emily Grubert ‘09, a doctoral student in Earth Sciences. “My perception … was that the specific questions seemed to focus on particular elements that Ike’s was certain to score poorly on.”

The six-question survey asked respondents about desired price range, wait time and selection for a food vendor at the Forbes Family Cafe.

Multiple respondents identified one specific question that they felt was biased against Ike’s: “What do you think is a reasonable and realistic amount of time to wait, starting with getting in line up until the food is ready and ‘in your hand?’”

Akin and Jamie Beckett, director of communications and alumni relations at the Stanford School of Engineering, have repeatedly cited long wait times as a complaint about Ike’s despite the restaurant’s efforts to improve speed of service, like implementing an order-ahead/grab-and-go system.

Two students also complained that language at the top of the survey suggested that the RFP was a legally mandated formality and misled them to believe that Ike’s was in no real danger.

“For legal reasons, we have to invite several businesses, not just Ike’s, to bid,” the survey read.

Allegations that the survey was an inaccurate representation of student opinion spread across major campus e-mail lists on April 28 and 29. A new survey, fielded by Andrew Aude ‘16, asked respondents whether they would prefer Ike’s or R&DE to operate in the SEQ (Science and Engineering Quad) next year.

In this survey, more than 97 percent of respondents — in a sample more than three times the size of the RFP Committee’s — indicated that they would like Ike’s to continue operating next year.

Beckett maintained that the risk of Ike’s Place losing its lease was always implicit in the RFP Committee’s survey.

“I don’t understand how that could not be understood [by respondents],” she said. “If a contract is coming up, which the survey says, then there is always a chance that the business could lose it.”

Sutton, responsible for ensuring Stanford’s RFP processes occur legally and transparently, stressed the importance of defining the goal of the survey process.

“Depending on how you phrase the question, you’re going to make people look happy or unhappy,” he said.

Akin, who was responsible for creating, disseminating and analyzing the survey, declined to acknowledge any problems with the survey’s design or how its recommendations were used in the RFP Committee’s deliberations.

“Given that it went out to the whole SEQ population and we got so many results back, I can only assume it was valid,” she said.

Why Ike’s is really leaving

Much has been made of the confidential identities of the RFP Committee and problems with its community opinion survey, but the reality is that the Committee had little choice in the matter of who would be awarded the Forbes Family Cafe contract.

Because of Ike’s Place’s past “business” issues in dealing with the University, they were not a competitive bidder in the Committee’s deliberations. These issues also played a role in the School of Engineering’s decision to only partially exercise an option to keep Ike’s Place operating past June.

The decision that set off the multi-office RFP process was made in September 2012, when officials from the School of Engineering and the SEQ decided to option the Forbes Family Cafe lease for one out of the three possible years.

Ike Shehadeh, pictured above in 2012, says he never understood that the University had major problems with how Ike's Place was operating. (KEVIN TSUKII/The Stanford Daily)

Ike Shehadeh, pictured above in 2012, says he understands the University’s decision but believes they made the wrong choice. (KEVIN TSUKII/The Stanford Daily)

According to Akin, the decision to extend for only a year was based on “various persistent issues,” citing a range of past problems including long lines, loud music and alleged “vulgarities” used by Ike’s employees at work.

None of the officials contacted for this article could comment on the specifics of these “business” or “facilities” issues.

When asked how loud music or casually dressed employees were grounds to replace a business on campus, Akin replied, “We have deans and donors eating here.”

These “persistent issues” likely played a significant part in the decision to award the Forbes Family Cafe contract to a vendor other than Ike’s. As SEQ services manager, Akin briefed the RFP Committee on the University’s dealings with Ike’s since 2009, and according to Sutton, the bid process included specific questions posed to each vendor that addressed client needs and concerns.

“Something we generally try to do with all RFPs is wrap all the specific issues into questions for all vendors,” he said. “So if we have a question about A, we will ask ‘How will you deal with it going forward?’ ‘What is your proposal to deal with B?’”

Ike Shehadeh, the owner of Ike’s Place, acknowledges the University’s right to award the Forbes Family Cafe lease to another vendor. However, he expressed disappointment with the problems that the University cited to justify ending the lease.

“My understanding of all the issues were that they were little issues,” he said. “As far as I know, they were unhappy with what we were doing, pretty much from the first day that we got there. If we were Starbucks, they wouldn’t kick Starbucks out over this.”

A lesson from Ike’s

The opacity of the RFP process has amplified the uncertainty and misinformation surrounding Ike’s’ departure. It remains true that the only people who know the content of the relevant bids are the eight confidential committee members and the administrators who have worked on the lease.

Additionally, despite repeated inquiries, officials at multiple University departments have rebuffed attempts to view the contents of the bids, the supplementary materials provided to the Committee to help evaluate the candidate vendors and the full list of evaluation criteria.

Despite the fact that no student consultative mechanism was required to inform the committee, Akin determined that fielding a survey was in the best interests of the community. However, the poor survey design has opened up the RFP process to accusations of pro-R&DE bias. No evidence exists to substantiate that charge, but obvious deficiencies in survey methodology and analysis — like the refusal to disseminate the raw data and administrators’ disinterest in finding the survey response rate — are at best inept and at worst dishonest.

Finally, the RFP process at Stanford remains opaque and unrepresentative. In an open letter to University President John Hennessy, ASSU Senator John-Lancaster Finley ‘16 argued that the RFP Committee and its decisions were unconstitutional according to Article I, Section 5.A of the ASSU Constitution, which stipulates that only the ASSU can designate students to represent the student body.

“[Hennessy’s] response to me was that although he was sympathetic to the issue I raised, the University is not bound by the constitution or its agreement to students,” Finley said. “He told me to talk to his legal counsel.”

Akin also acknowledged the importance of gathering community opinion despite the fact that it was not necessitated by any policy or rule.

“It’s going to be a good idea to get student opinion,” she said of her priorities in organizing the Forbes Family Cafe RFP. “If Ike’s just left, and no one was consulted, there would be a revolt.”

Contact Edward Ngai at edngai ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.

About Edward Ngai

Edward Ngai is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. Previously, he has worked as a news desk editor, staff development editor and columnist. He was president and editor-in-chief of The Daily for Vol. 244 (2013-2014). Edward is a junior from Vancouver, Canada studying political science. This summer, he is the Daniel Pearl Memorial Intern at the Wall Street Journal.
  • BrokenSystem

    I had an interesting meeting with Ms. Akin and others in early May.
    Me: “This [RFP] process needs to be amended, because it’s unjust.”
    Lindsey Akin: “But that’s hindsight.”

  • Matt

    “ASSU Senator John-Lancaster Finley ‘16 argued that the RFP Committee and its decisions were unconstitutional according to Article I, Section 5.A of the ASSU Constitution, which stipulates that only the ASSU can designate students to represent the student body.

    “[Hennessy’s] response to me was that although he was sympathetic to the issue I raised, the University is not bound by the constitution or its agreement to students,” Finley said. “He told me to talk to his legal counsel.””

    Uhh if they’re not bound by the ASSU constitution, don’t we have some larger battles?

  • ReallyStanford

    So disappointed and saddened that Hennessy is not willing to deal with this issue. R&DE is the most evil organization on campus.

  • Dave

    The ASSU has never had any power. The university has, on multiple occasions, demonstrated the exact same response that you cited from the article. It’s likely why nobody really cares about the ASSU. Apart from handing out special fees money, they can’t actually *do* anything.

  • anonymous

    The fact that RFP is citing a survey which shows that people want to wait for less time and spend less money is non-sensical. There was no need for a survey to get that information. No matter who the vendor is – Ike’s, Coupa, etc. – people will want lower prices and faster service. That’s just who we are.

    I will say confidently – with no need for a survey – that both residents and visitors alike also want higher quality for whatever we buy – which is something RD&E and consistently show they do not provide in their other cafes. The sterile environments of Olive’s and Tressider indicate, what RD&E provides in cafes is mediocre food at prices that are way too higher for their quality.

    And finally, the fact that RD&E won bonus points for meeting university policy with the Affordable Care Act just indicates how much of an unfair game this was. An organization which already deals with the university’s hiring practices and contracts will know what little buttons to push. This should not have been a deciding factor between a local independent business and a campus monopoly.

    I have eaten at Ike’s twice in three years. I honestly do not care if they stay or go. But this decision should have and still can be handled in a much better manner.

  • Payton Broaddus

    Save Ikes!

  • This is a Problem

    “If Ike’s just left, and no one was consulted, there would be a revolt.”

    This sounds disturbingly like Akin KNEW AHEAD OF TIME that removing Ike’s would be a tremendously unpopular decision among the student body (which it certainly has been – 97 percent of people surveyed want to keep Ike’s right where it is). See https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-YQHPQFR/

    Even worse, Akin’s quote seems to indicate that “consulting” the student body – via an unclear and poorly designed survey – was a move intended not to actually gather information, but to shield the RFP committee from the “revolt” she knew would ensue after a decision she knew would be unpopular.

    This is an anticompetitive move to eliminate a successful and popular restaurant, and it’s not how decisions should be made.

  • Guest

    This is a fantastic article, Edward. Thanks for your research!

  • Seriously?

    Let me get this straight. So a completely opaque and unelected committee made up of six unidentified “staff” members – who could be R&DE employees, for all we know, because the university refuses to tell us – two outnumbered students, and NO faculty members is supposed to be representative of campus opinion?

    You know what’s representative of campus opinion? 97 percent of over 2,700 people on campus voting to keep Ike’s, and a unanimous ASSU resolution saying the same thing.

  • Crybabies

    So this is what Stanford students care about? wah wah wah wah.

  • Guest

    A poorly designed survey is asking people to pick between Ike’s and R&DE when they have NO IDEA what the heck R&DE is even proposing to do with the space.

  • Matt

    R&DE won’t say what they are doing with the space, but looking at other R&DE owned spots on campus, I’d rather have Ike’s.

  • I Like Ike

    Sad to see Ike’s go, but let’s be honest, the wait was ridiculous.

  • Yes, Seriously.

    The committee had actual proposals and contracts to vote on. These 2,700 voters are about as informed as I am in answering the question “Which is the better superhero movie: The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy?” How about we trust people who’ve actually seen the movies?

  • Andrew T Aude

    How *not* to handle a PR Crisis:
    Dismiss, deny, downplay, deflect, discredit, doubt, disparage…
    http://sustainabilityadvantage.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/4Ds-of-Mishandling-a-PR-Crisis1.jpg

    Here’s a better way to handle a PR Crisis:
    http://sustainabilityadvantage.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/4As-of-Handling-a-PR-Crisis1.jpg

  • write the trustees

    The ASSU won’t do anything. Write the University Trustees on the matter. Their opinion has actual sway. Everyone should write the trustees (especially the newer ones who would be familiar with ike’s).

  • Guest

    They won’t say because they want to finalize the concept with student input via focus groups.

  • Andrew T Aude

    The term food “concept” has been synonymous with half-baked retail cafes.

    Olive’s started out as a vague mediterranean “food concept.” Compared to what a restaurant like Oren’s Hummus or MedWraps provides for a comparable price, Olive’s doesn’t even compare.

    We want *restaurants*, not “concepts.” The *restaurant* 97% of 2,700 survey respondents want is Ike’s. You don’t need a “focus group” to figure that out.

  • False

    The committee had actual proposals and contracts to vote on. These “2,700 survey respondents” are about as informed as I am in answering the question “Which is the better superhero movie: The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy?” How about we trust people who’ve actually seen the movies?

  • Matt

    they had the choice of Ike’s, Coupa (which is already in Y2E2), or R&DE.

  • Guest

    It really seems that RD&E put forth a better proposal. Cheaper, healthier food with shorter wait times. Now their food will in all likelihood taste worse and their cafe will probably never attain the same gravitas that Ike’s was able to achieve in just a few years. But you cannot quantify those latter measures in a proposal.

    It’s the same reason why “The Row” will eventually have centralized dining. Arrillaga is more cost efficient and provides healthier food than the row houses. And it’s the same reason we’ll all be eating Soylent one day. Such is the way of our Silicon Valley-ized society: efficiency above all, eccentricity nowhere.

  • BrokenSystem

    Hi Lindsey Akin.

  • Thanks

    Avengers is much better. Got it. While you’re at it, any insight on the next Star Wars films? Better or worse than Episodes I-III?

  • bittergradguy

    We vote on presidents without seeing them in action. I know what Ike’s is and I know what R&DE can capable of. I know that I don’t trust the reins to be in R&DE’s hands.

  • Andrew T Aude

    Just got out of a focus group. They hired an outside consulting firm to conduct them, Envision Strategies. Read this report Envision Strategies had prepared!

    ” Specifically, some precincts of campus are under served while others appear to be oversaturated with dining choices, making it difficult for some of the operations to remain financially viable.

    Out of a desire to establish a more intentional approach to meeting the dining needs of non-resident members of the campus community, Stanford retained Envision to develop a Retail Dining Master Plan.

    • Identify the impact of adding new retail locations as desired by various academic constituencies

    • Improve resource utilization (space & capital)

    • Provide a “level playing field” & platform for service provider success

    http://www.envstrategies.com/media/Portfolio-PD-StanfordU.pdf