Lifestyle

Dishing with Diamond Dollars

Imagine sharing a cubicle with another for more than 15 years. Instead of being surrounded by a desk, your office is lined with ovens, knives and a toolshed’s worth of other disfiguring appliances. You punch the clock at 5 a.m. and again at 3 p.m., leaving with an aching back, ringing ears and a clinging… Read more »

Imagine sharing a cubicle with another for more than 15 years.

Instead of being surrounded by a desk, your office is lined with ovens, knives and a toolshed’s worth of other disfiguring appliances. You punch the clock at 5 a.m. and again at 3 p.m., leaving with an aching back, ringing ears and a clinging odor of cream cheese.

You are Elena Goldberg, your life is the Bagel Hut and you wouldn’t change it for an everything bagel.

“I don’t get claustrophobic, we get on each other’s nerves, we bang into each other too much, but I try not to say anything, because it can’t be helped,” Goldberg said.

“Why you lying? All you do is complain,” teased Mel Goldberg, Elena’s hubby, bumping buddy and fellow owner of the kiosk located at Montgomery Avenue and Liacouras Walk.

While food trucks come and go, a host of eateries are stationed at Temple, each offering something fresh, if only a story.

The 12th Street Outdoor Dining area, a strip of seven eateries alongside Anderson Hall, is a microcosm composed of food from Asia, Italy, Vietnam, the Middle East and your backyard grill.

“The food at the SAC [Student Center] or J&H [Johnson & Hardwick Cafeteria] gets kind of repetitive,” said freshman Arianna Bennis, 18. “I get sick of it after a while so this is nice.”

No matter the time zone, Richie Jr. is the first to wake. Half rooster, half night owl, the affable man behind Richie’s Deli is dishing out coffee and orders every weekday from 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“It’s like a 60,000-seat stadium – you have to prepare for a concert every single day so you need faculty, staff, service, police – so it’s always good to be around for these people,” said Richie Jr., who keeps his surname under wraps.

And that’s just during the summer. “When the students’ classes begin again, it’s amazing to be there,” he said.

A surer thing than that C minus in calculus, Richie’s Deli is open more than not. In fact, in case it snows, check with Richie Jr. on the status of your classes since Temple already does.

“Temple calls us and asks, ‘Hey Richie, should we open or close?’ ‘Nah, you should open,'” joked Richie Jr. “I got here, they can get here.”

Much more sanitary than the inverse, burgers and wraps are in his blood. He said his business took root on the campus about 30 years ago when his grandfather, the original Richie, parked a hotdog stand on 13th Street, the start-up street for the four pioneers of the Anderson Hall area, including Ali’s Middle Eastern, Fame’s Pizza and Orient Express.

Richard Rumer, associate vice president of business services, said the squeaky wheels made enough noise to prompt Temple to take note.

“Most of the [businesses] were on the street and they decided they wanted a more permanent location, so we built the food pad,” Rumer said.

“So we basically leased that to them as any tenant would rent space on university campus.”

Born in 1996, the Food Pad had three vacancies and neighbored only Anderson Hall. With no TECH Center in sight for another nine years, Jimmy Amzovski, co-owner of Fame’s Pizza, said traffic was sparse and business was bad.

“The first five years that we moved we were barely making it,” said Amzovski. “It was an empty spot. It was a grassy area.” Eddie’s Pizza, Temple Salad and Tai’s Vietnamese soon filled the void – and some seats. Although the businesses rely on each other to draw factions of the famine, Ali Ibrahim, owner of Ali’s Middle Eastern, said they are businesses nevertheless.

“When it comes to business, all of them enemies,” said Ibrahim, whose eatery is known for its falafel.

“Outside the job they are friends, when it comes to work, they are not.

“What makes the Food Pad especially attractive to students is not just the presentation of food or the low-riding benches, but its acceptance of Diamond Dollars.

Like many upperclassmen, Nicole Vu, a junior business and marketing major, has discontinued her meal plan in favor of Diamond Dollars.

“When you get a meal plan it’s like you have it eat [at the Student Center or J&H] in order to get the most out of your money, so I rather just put all of that money that I would put forth in my meal plan into Diamond Dollars,” Vu, 20, said.

Scott Brannan, assistant director of the Diamond Dollars office, said that although Diamond Dollars accounted for nearly $6 million of purchases – both food and otherwise – in 2005-06, neither the department nor campus businesses are profiting the most from its availability.

“Ultimately the students are benefiting because the students get to use a nice, secure way to use funds,” Brannan said. “It cuts down on the need to carry cash, it makes them secure.”

Nearly 1.3 million Diamond Dollar transactions were registered from 2005-06, according to the Computer Services’ Web Site. One swipe of her Owl Card allowed Vu to walk away from Tai’s Vietnamese with grilled pork chops and rice. She said Tai’s Vietnamese, home of bubble tea, is the closest thing on campus to her mother’s Vietnamese cooking.

“Growing up I didn’t like my mom’s food, but when I’m at college, I crave it a lot,” Vu said.The Bagel Hut and the two other campus kiosks, the Bagel Shop and the “Best Coffee and Hot Pretzels” stand, located on opposite sides of 13th Street near Paley Library, have all been affected by the feature of Diamond Diamonds.

The Bagel Hut is the only food stand that accepts Diamond Dollars.”A lot of people won’t come here [otherwise], so yes, it’s beneficial,” Elena Goldberg said.Goldberg said the Bagel Hut is charged a $400 annual fee to activate the swiping machine.

A commission fee of 3 percent to 4.5 percent of a business’ gross Diamond Dollars sales is wired to the Diamond Dollars office said Brannan, who likens it to a credit card. Vu said a vendor’s policy with Diamond Dollars can determine where she takes her business.

“I’ve faced a lot of situations where I didn’t have cash on me, all I had were Diamond Dollars, so I couldn’t go, for instance, to the Bagel Shop,” she said.

Unlike the owners of the two other kiosks,
Michael Sigal runs the Bagel Shop by himself. He said business is so overwhelming already that he’d hate to imagine the lines if he accepted Diamond Dollars. “I can’t handle so many people,” said Sigal.

“If I get Diamond Dollars, it would be too much.” Simon Gerzon, co-owner of the “Best Coffee and Hot Pretzels” stand, said although he too doesn’t accept Diamond Dollars, he’d be happy to take on any customers leftover, no matter the confines.

“I’m afraid of no small space, just small money,” said Gerzon, who shares the hut with wife and fellow co-owner, Fiana.

“Because this is American spirit, everybody depends from people.”

Food trucks aren’t given the option of accepting Diamond Dollars since the terminals work through a network that requires a “telephone infrastructure and all that kind of stuff,” Brannan said.

Trust is also a factor.”It’s a little more difficult to put Diamond Dollars in them because they can pickup and leave at the end of the day,” he said. Rumer, who negotiates leases with campus fixtures, is against the idea of dealing with food trucks from both a business standpoint and a customer standpoint.

Rumer said he considers the Food Pad a more viable – and sanitary – option than any food truck.”

I think [the Food Pad has] a better location than it being a truck on the street, where you know they don’t have running water, you don’t know how frequently they’re getting cleaned,” said Rumer, who has not eaten at any truck during his 10 years at Temple.

“At least there they have all the amenities needed to take care of business.”He said the 12-month leases with the vendors are renewable and do not include anything
beside shelter; vendors are mandated to set up their own water, electricity and gas bill. Rumer said he wasn’t permitted to disclose the terms of the rent.

Sigal, however, said he pays between $350 and $400 a month to rent the Bagel Shop and believes the terms are the same for the two other kiosks. Brannan said that the immobility of the Food Pad and the kiosks isn’t the only reason why they are here to stay.

“We have a long-term relationship,” he said.

“We have some security with them. We know they’re going to be here tomorrow.”

Steve Wood can be reached at jacksonb@temple.edu.

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