Small businesses adapt to not vending on campus during pandemic

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Courtesy of La Cocinita

La Cocinita frequently brought its food truck to campus in previous years. It’s one of many small businesses in Evanston that sold products on NU’s campus before the pandemic.

Zoe Malin, Reporter

Regina Sant’Anna, owner of Kombucha Brava, said before the pandemic, she loved selling her company’s beverages on Northwestern’s campus at Patty Squared.

Selling her product at Patty’s, located in the Norris University Center, gave students access to the company’s products in a convenient location, and Sant’Anna said vending at the University provided another source of revenue. As a two-year-old company, Kombucha Brava’s presence on campus was helpful, as it meant the store didn’t solely rely on foot traffic to bring in sales.

But that all changed in March when the pandemic forced the University to conduct classes remotely, greatly reducing campus operations.

“The pandemic has not given anyone advance notice about anything, and this is no different,” Sant’Anna said. “We don’t know how to plan for the future, or when the University and the world will be ready for business as usual again.”

Sant’Anna said the opportunity small businesses have to sell their products at NU is currently “on pause.” Many vendors like Kombucha Brava have not fulfilled orders for the University since March and are experiencing related revenue loss. The impact of the decline in sales on campus has only been compounded by the COVID-19-driven recession, which has crippled businesses across Evanston.

La Cocinita, a Latin American street food restaurant in Downtown Evanston, frequently brought its food truck to campus, briefly had a kiosk at Tech Express and often catered Northwestern club meetings. Owner Rachel Angulo said because many students have not been on campus for over six months, the capital loss is “extremely” noticeable.

“Our on-campus activities give us a nice chunk of our revenue during the school year,” Angulo said. “It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what percent of our decline in revenue is from not being on campus, since the coronavirus in general has also contributed, but it’s definitely significant.”

As businesses like Kombucha Brava and La Cocinita continue to adjust to the pandemic, some are finding new paths forward.

Alan Moy, owner of Viet Nom Nom, previously sold grab-and-go food at cafes on campus. The restaurant also catered University events and was a vendor at Northwestern football games. Although Moy was planning an expansion of Viet Nom Nom’s operations and a new kiosk in Norris, his plans changed when the pandemic began in March.

However, Moy said Compass Group, NU’s food service provider, has been “extremely supportive” and worked with him to build the kiosk during the pandemic. It opened on September 21 and will provide limited service this fall.

Moy is optimistic about the future on campus and hopes Viet Nom Nom’s kiosk will be fully operational in January 2021. He said it’s been a hectic and unpredictable few months as a business owner, but surprisingly successful nonetheless.

“I don’t believe in blessings in disguise during the pandemic, but I do believe in silver linings,” Moy said. “Strengthening our partnership with the Northwestern community is definitely one of them.”

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