More than 1,100 students have signed a petition showing support for a smoothie truck on campus after negotiations between its owner and the Faculty Student Association (FSA) went sour in early January.
Senior business management major Tyler Phillips, who was attempting to start a campus food truck called The Smoothie Spot, launched a social media campaign seeking student support after FSA terminated negotiations on Jan. 8.
Phillips said that he first approached FSA in Spring 2018 with the idea for his own student-run business, inspired by his interest in business and his past work experience in a family friend’s smoothie shop.
“I observed a lack of customer-centric food services that provided meal options that were both delicious and healthy,” Phillips wrote in an email. “The smoothie truck concept, from my perspective, is what makes The Smoothie Spot so customer-oriented. Through the utilization of a vehicle, I am able to set up shop at various events on campus in order to best serve the Stony Brook community.”
Phillips said that he initially hoped to open for Summer 2019.
Phillips said that he was informed towards the end of the Spring 2019 semester that Culinart would likely partner with Jamba-Juice. Although a Jamba-Juice isn’t currently on campus, the Healthy by Nature shop in East Side Dining, which serves smoothies among other things, opened in Summer 2019 — Phillips’s original launch date for The Smoothie Spot.
Phillips said he felt “offended” and “betrayed” that FSA was working with Jamba Juice behind the scenes, even as he invested “time and resources” into his own smoothie venture.
He said that throughout the negotiation process, he was treated in a condescending manner.
“An environment was created where I felt talked down to if I asked too many questions,” he said, adding that he was forced to be his own teacher. “I had not seen other on-campus businesses experience this, and I began to wonder why The Smoothie Spot did not appear to be a priority, or at least of equal importance. Part of me wondered if this is what discrimination looked like.”
He said that a “build-up of various occurrences” led him to speak with the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity, though he didn’t file a complaint.
Phillips was notified that his branded truck would be ready on Jan. 13 and walked into a Jan. 8 meeting with FSA confident that The Smoothie Spot would open in Feb. 2020. Instead, he was handed a letter of termination.
Phillips said he was told that The Smoothie Spot was “outside of the scope of FSA resources.” Phillips’ immediate reaction to this news was confusion.
“After a year and a half working on this project and one month before the grand opening, after significant time and resources, it was now outside of FSA’s scope?” he wrote. “I truly could not comprehend the sense in this statement.”
FSA Executive Director, Van Sullivan, said that after a “thorough review of the project, the Faculty Student Association (FSA) has decided to consider other options to further enhance the student experience while continuing to provide the best possible service to the campus in a cost-effective, creative and efficient manner.”
He added that the FSA had not, at any point, entered into a contract agreement with The Smoothie Spot.
Frustrated, Phillips started the Change.Org petition in response, which reached its goal of 1,000 signatures on Jan. 19, only five days after it was posted. He promoted the petition on Twitter and Instagram, where other students shared the link on their stories.
Junior business management and psychology double major Bolu Oloruntoba posted the link to his petition on his Instagram story on Jan. 14.
“The Smoothie Spot seemed so positive that it made so much sense to share this innovation with my peers, so we can push the movement and allow students to have access to an affordable and healthy lifestyle,” Oloruntoba wrote in an email.
A business management major himself, Oloruntoba sees Phillips’ business as inspiration for future students who hope to make their mark on campus through business.
“It’s beautiful to see students who can manage to thrive academically and innovate, and more importantly, innovate on their school’s campus,” Oloruntoba wrote.
On Jan. 24, The Smoothie Spot’s Instagram account posted a statement that said FSA made its final decision to terminate negotiations with The Smoothie Spot because of “financial risk.”
“This is by no means the end of The Smoothie Spot, but simply a delay in its opening,” Phillips wrote on the Jan. 24 Instagram post. “Thank you from the very bottom of my heart for fighting with us until the end.”
Phillips announced in another Instagram post the next day that he would be speaking with staff from Stony Brook University’s President’s Office, in a “last effort to get The Smoothie Spot” on campus and to address his treatment by FSA.
Although his business may not come to fruition, Phillips said that he can’t ignore that FSA “provided information and mentorship that has been a significant benefit,” including help with understanding business operations, spreadsheets, vendor contracts and marketing.
“The work that FSA and others involved in this project have accomplished for me is something of which I am incredibly grateful for,” Phillips wrote. “It is my hope that with these experiences brought to light, resources and services can be refined in order to provide effective and efficient assistance to students and businesses in the future.”