Temple food vendors face uncertainty as campus empties

Vendors look toward new business models as they see customers decline amid online classes.

People wait for their food in front of The Crepe Truck Philly on Norris Street near 13th on Sept. 15. With Temple University’s move to online classes, many food trucks, including The Crepe Truck Philly, are wondering if they will be able to stay open. | CAMILLE COLEMAN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Watching the rain outside, Eddie Laro stood hunched over his counter, waiting for customers to come by. 

“We open wherever the students are,” said Laro, owner of Eddie’s Pizza at The Wall. “If they aren’t here, we don’t have any other options.” 

After six months of remaining closed, vendors reopened when Temple University welcomed students back for in-person classes on Aug. 24. But soon after opening, business stalled: on Sept. 3, Temple suspended almost all in-person learning for the rest of the semester after reporting more than 200 active cases of COVID-19 among students. 

With classes online, some campus buildings open and more than 4,000 fewer students living in residence halls compared to last year, campus food vendors contemplate new business models and the fears of closing.

In the four weeks since Eddie’s opened, they have seen a significant decrease in business, and are hoping to expand to online delivery services, like DoorDash, UberEats and GrubHub, said Eric Laro, manager of Eddie’s Pizza.

“Due to no foot traffic, it’s definitely impacted business especially with no people being around so we’ve basically had to adapt,” Eric Laro said.

Penelope Kyriazis, co-owner of The Crepe Truck Philly on Norris Street near 13th, would’ve stayed closed had she known most classes were going online.

“We wouldn’t have opened because we spent $3,000 this week just on buying food, and now like you see it’s empty here, so we just spent $3,000 for no reason,” Kyriazis said.

The Crepe Truck Philly closed on March 13 and worked four events throughout the city during the summer, Kyriazis said. While she expected business to be slower this semester, she’ll have to shut down the truck if sales continue to decrease.

“We wouldn’t be able to afford to stay open if there’s only a few people coming to get food,” she added.

Vendors, like food trucks, are regulated by the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections and the Department of Public Health and do not pay rent to the university, The Temple News reported.

Like Eddie’s, E&E Gourmet Express on Montgomery Avenue between 13th Street and Liacouras Walk was closed for nearly six months and opened at the start of the fall semester. Almost a month in, they may have to close again, said Ergun Cimen, the truck’s owner.

“It’s very stressful, I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what we will do,” Cimen said. 

Cimen does not have a backup plan for his business closing down besides filing for unemployment like he did at the beginning of the pandemic.

But not all businesses are disheartened by the news of the university moving to online classes. 

Wa Quach, owner of Yummy Pho on Broad Street near Norris, hasn’t been affected much by the pandemic since they offer carry out and delivery through their own staff and services like Postmates and DoorDash.

After the university closed in March, Quach closed his restaurant until May 1. When the fall semester began, he noticed more students came for dinner, he said.

“Things are slower, but we’re okay,” Quach added.

For food truck owners like Kyriazis, their main source of income is operating a truck, and being out of work for so long is disheartening, she said.

“If it’s going to continue like this, we aren’t going to open again, we’ll probably just have to go and find another job and close the food truck,” Kyriazis added.

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