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EDITORIAL

Anna's Taqueria in the Student Center

Few tasks could be simpler than selling food to college students. Were young, we like to eat, and we're a relatively captive, if picky, audience. The vicissitudes of Student Center food vending make it seem far harder than necessary.

With the closure of Arrow Street Crepes no more than two years after its opening, vendors may be nervous about taking its place come next fall. Indeed, the student center has been a bit of a graveyard for private businesses. Toscanini's, the Coffeehouse, and others have been the casualty of high rents and restrictive agreements with MIT that made their business unsustainable. Businesses offering more general options, like LaVerde's and Alpine Bagel, as opposed to novelty items like crepes and ice cream, have met with success. However, it is pleasant to have dining options available that are an alternative to the predictable staples. One vendor that could offer a relatively exotic counterpoint to other campus dining options while still serving a wide audience is Anna's Taqueria.

Arrow Street never made a profit since day one, and Director of Campus Dining Richard D. Berlin III mentioned that the company had less business than they expected. Even after changing hours and adding a breakfast menu, the business could still not get out of the red, but the thing Arrow Street failed to change was its prices. Its crepes, not the most hearty of entrees, are also quite expensive, and price-sensitive students ultimately haven't bought them.

Anna's Taqueria, a savior for famished people with only a buck or two in their pocket, serves large portions of good food quickly and efficiently at low prices. It has become a very successful local chain, and we'd expect it to find similar success in our budget conscious community.

However, even given Anna's inexpensive and hearty food, MIT can still make the space unsurvivable. MIT took a good step forward by ending the Aramark monopoly on food in the Student Center, but it has yet to embrace full competition between the vendors. Accustomed to managing monopolies, MIT still maintains restrictively high rents, exclusive vending agreements and price controls. When full competition is in place, MIT does not need to guarantee prices because poor service and high prices are unsustainable. Those vendors least under administrative control -- the food trucks -- are also some of the most successful in providing cheap, reasonable meals.

Students should have another place to eat that doesn't charge unsustainable prices, and MIT administrators can play an important part in letting that happen. Annas Taqueria can provide a distinctive style of food in exactly the efficient and popular form required to attract hungry but still picky college students. Students can do their part by endorsing Anna's through MIT Dining's online survey at http://web.mit.edu/dining/feedback/surveys.html. We'd like to see this popular Boston restaurant hit our campus next fall.

This story was published on Tuesday, May 4, 2004.
Volume 124, Number 22
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