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Ernie Arsenlis, the owner of Ernie’s Breakfast Truck on 13th Street and Montgomery Avenue, is a lot of things.
He’s proud, hardworking and compassionate, but lately Arsenlis has been agitated. Don’t get him wrong, he loves his job. He’s been serving Temple students for nearly 27 years, but he has a sneaking suspicion that someone is taking advantage of him.
“The Student Center has been stealing my menu and charging higher prices to the students,” Arsenlis said. “I’m upset. They don’t like us being here.”
Arsenlis, a Greek American from a poor family, said he and his wife are happy that they can help underprivileged students eat a cheap meal. The Student Center, he said, has been mimicking his menu and selling the same items at a premium.
“I noticed a man sitting outside my truck asking students which items that I sell they like best,” Arsenlis said. “I like having variety for the kids, but every time I put out something new, they have the same thing [in the Student Center] two months later.”
Arsenlis said that the Student Center took chicken salad sandwiches and pizza directly off his menu.
“Before they started coming here, all [the Student Center] had was Taco Bell and Burger King,” he said. “Now, their menu is the same as my menu.”
Arsenlis also disapproves of Student Center employees telling students that they can save money by switching to Diamond Dollars.
“They tell the students it is cheaper to buy food from inside than it is to buy from the carts,” Arsenlis said. “They tell their employees not to eat from my cart or the one next to mine, but they do it anyway and they told me so.”
As proof of this claim, Arsenlis said he once posed as a Temple student and inquired about the benefits of Diamond Dollars. When they told him food at the Student Center was less expensive, “I let them have it,” he said with a grin.
Arsenlis isn’t the only one who thinks the university’s meal prices are inflated. Many students eat from the food carts because they are less expensive. Lauren Apple, a junior public relations major, eats outside almost every day.
“The food carts are definitely cheaper,” Apple said. “It’s a shame freshmen don’t realize how much money they could save eating out on the street as opposed to in the [Student Center].”
Ben Hamilton, manager for dining service provider Sodexho, said he believes Ernie’s claims may be exaggerated.
“We don’t view the food carts as our competition,” Hamilton said. “We don’t advertise heavily because we don’t want to detract too much from their business.”
In fact, Hamilton doesn’t think Temple would be Temple without food trucks.
“They are a part of Temple’s culture and we respect that. In all honesty, we’re not conscious of what they sell,” he said. “Our recipes and the items on our menus are developed at our headquarters in Maryland.”
Arsenlis also respects Temple’s culture. He said he doesn’t let his distaste for the Student Center extend to Temple as a university, or to its students. Arsenlis frequently gives out free meals to students without money.
“I’m a nice guy,” Arsenlis said. “I like Temple. It’s a good college. Two of my daughters graduated from here.”
After 27 years of service to his community, Arsenlis wants to make the most of his remaining time at Temple. He and his wife want to retire within the next five years.
“For me, it’s all about service,” Arsenlis said. “People tell me I have the best service on campus. Nobody ever brings anything back.”
“We’re very careful. I respect the kids. I respect every dollar you bring here like it’s worth two or three dollars more.”
Brian Stanley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.