Pitzer proposal to transfer Shakedown to Bon Appétit shakes up controversy

A colorful cafe filled with chairs and menus fills the whole image.
Pitzer College’s student-run Shakedown Café may soon transfer to dining services provider Bon Appétit. (Chris Nardi • The Student Life)

Some Pitzer College students are speaking out against the college’s proposal to transfer control of the student-run Shakedown Café to Pitzer’s dining services provider Bon Appétit, leading Pitzer Student Senate to reconsider its previous vote in favor of the plan.

Dean of Campus Life Dan Hirsch initially presented the plan at a senate meeting in January. Transferring ownership would bring in full-time staff and increase the Shakedown’s operating hours to evenings and weekends, and could also add a meal replacement option for students, he said in a statement to TSL.

In his initial presentation, Hirsch said students would continue to work at the restaurant, and that student wages would be paid for by Bon Appétit instead of Pitzer Student Senate.

“There’s a student body that wants this to remain the way it is, who like the fact that this is student run, who like seeing their friends create food for them.”

– Izzy DeTroy PZ ’21

“There would be student employment opportunities. Certainly those who make up the employee level, but also the manager levels. They want to continue with that,” Hirsch said during his proposal to the student senate.  

The plan will be developed in conjunction with various campus constituencies, Hirsch told TSL via email.

“Most of the specifics of the [plan] are not yet known because the plan should (and will) be developed collaboratively between Bon Appétit, Pitzer administrators, the Pitzer student body and most importantly, the Pitzer students who have worked hard over the years to create the culture the Shakedown has today,” Hirsch said.

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Hirsch added that Bon Appétit will invite student input, asking students “everything from if they still want to do Shakedown Sounds, how would they do that, to what literally is on the menu.”

Senate unanimously passed a resolution of support for the student enhancement plan — a larger plan to revitalize and improve student life on campus, which included the Shakedown proposal — a week after Hirsch’s presentation..

Not all students are on board, though.

Hannah Zuckerberg PZ ’20 and Arielle Ben-Hur PZ ’20, two previous Shakedown staff members, spoke about their concerns during the public comment period at Sunday’s Senate meeting. In response, Senate decided to revisit its vote on the plan at its March 1 meeting.

“I think it was one of the biggest learning experiences for me here, managing that space,”  Ben-Hur said at the meeting. “I think the fact that other people are going to be deprived of that, and it’s going to become another corporate space, is quite sad.”

Pitzer Student Senate President Clint Isom PZ ’20 said senators were not previously aware that some students objected to the plan.

“We were all fully under the impression that everyone was on board,” Isom said in response to  Zuckerberg and Ben-Hur at the Senate meeting. 

He said he wants to invite Hirsch to the next Senate meeting and ask him to “give us a play-by-play to fully understand what happened and how we can maybe adjust our proposal.”

Hirsch told TSL that the plan he presented at Senate in January is preliminary.

“The plan is a concept at this point and students/other involved parties will be actively participating in the development and implementation of the plan,” Hirsch said via email.

Current Shakedown staffers are also concerned.

Two Shakedown managers, Izzy DeTroy PZ ’21 and Thomas Martinez PZ ’22, said they would appreciate more support from administrators in their efforts to improve the Shakedown, but said they felt left out of the decision-making process.

“There’s a student body that wants this to remain the way it is, who like the fact that this is student run, who like seeing their friends create food for them,” DeTroy said.

Both DeTroy and Martinez expressed doubts about how a new Shakedown in the model of Claremont McKenna College’s Hub or Harvey Mudd College’s Jay’s Place — both of which are managed by college dining services —  would change the Shakedown’s atmosphere and reduce opportunities for students.

“Some of our freshmen were saying it’s a disappointment to see the likelihood of [the Shakedown] being turned over because they came [to Pitzer] specifically because there’s this amazing space that they could teach themselves how to cook and learn how to manage a restaurant,” Martinez said.

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Pomona College’s Coop Fountain — which is also currently student-managed — is also facing a potential takeover by Pomona’s Dining Services. The Coop’s student employees are likewise pushing back against the proposal.

Zenia Gutierrez, Pitzer’s Grove House kitchen manager, whose job includes supporting student Shakedown staff, was briefed on Hirsch’s plan. 

Gutierrez attributed much of the current confusion over the plan to a lack of information provided to students, but also understand the reasons why students would want changes in the Shakedown’s operations.

“Students were always asking, ‘Why can’t [the Shakedown] be open [late]?’ It’s not that they can’t. It’s we can’t get students who want to work it,” Gutierrez told TSL in an interview.

As far as the improvements, Gutierrez echoed Hirsch about the uncertainty of the current plans.

“So, right now, it is kind of in the dark because no one knows. That’s why there are so [many] questions and that’s something that we all are going to get together, hopefully soon, to have that conversation,” they said.

Gutierrez said that changes in the Shakedown could be positive for student workers, allowing them to put less work into managing the space and providing them additional professional support in the kitchen.

They added that Hirsch is currently putting together student committees to involve the student body in the planning process, and that concerned students should get involved in the planning process.

“I encourage all students, regardless of your role within that space — or just as a student in the community — if you have any concern for it [and] you want to be a voice heard then ask to be a part of that committee, or try to be alongside it as this transition happens,” they said.

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