All that glitters is not gold; often have you heard that told. - The Merchant of Venice
Fast food chain Tastee is the new lessee of the canteen facilities and related services at KC’s Clovelly and Melbourne campuses commencing with the 2011/2012 academic year.
Although belatedly given the letter to proceed, the new concessionaire has moved with breakneck speed to refurbish the facilities, install new fixtures and equipment, affix the company’s Tastee brand, mount price list and associated product offerings which include patties, loaves, sandwiches, pastries, Big Jo and other refreshments, snacks, side items and chicken. It is hoped that all would be order in time for school opening and orientation.
Whilst not privy to the details of the contract with the preferred bidder, the company that was founded in 1966 already has been welcomed by many in the KC family to the Fortis landscape as attendant advantages are anticipated. On the other hand, a minority is cautiously optimistic. Though recognizing that the bottom line of the new entrant is foremost, in the context of corporate citizenship, they are concerned about the social consequences of the new paradigm.
The setup and Tastee’s branding of KC canteens, represent a departure and new trend in canteen concessionaries in high schools in Jamaica. Glowing reports have been received about the presence of Juicy Beef at Glenmuir and Queens (methinks) and Mothers at JC. Indeed some of these chain restaurateurs, including the moniker Colonel-Kentucky Fried had already set up shop long before at tertiary institutions such as UWI and UTech. There are reports that Tastee is about to set up shop at Excelsior and indeed many other high, primary and other educational institutions are contemplating similar action in this direction.
Some of the tributes paid include the installation of modern equipment and machines, showpiece cabinetry and fixtures, improved architecture and ambience, and in some cases construction of brand new buildings. Their presence has been a bench mark for professionalism, as evidenced by displayed price charts, regularity in and freshness of supplies and attendant economies of scale. There are reports/talks of scholarship offers towards feeding and welfare breakfast for needy students as well as nutritional support for the schools’ various sports programmes.
Notwithstanding the above, there are critics of and questions raised about the proliferation of these fast food giants in schools in general and KC in particular.
The first concern relates to a perceive displacement of hitherto dominant small entrepreneurs by fast food oligarchs in the schools. It is felt that for over several decades the small concessionaries have been a source of invaluable income and employment to the school and surrounding communities; a repository of goodwill and social integration, providers of home style cooking and refreshment whether be at half price or full price. Whether ‘Miss Cherry’ or “Mama D’, running boats and the ‘pardner draw, availing the ‘bush t’, pudding and ‘toetoe’ on call; they exuded an air of warmth and affability, were a veritable institution and many were honoured by alumni associations.
In recent times however, they have become an endangered species. They have been hard pressed to improve efficiency, maintain stable prices and solvency--largely due to lack of working capital as well as failure of the government to recognize that small businesses are the backbone of the economy. The social commentators then echo the theme of Dalma James, President of the Small Business Association of Jamaica and Professor Rosalea Hamilton, President of the Micro, Small and Medium Sized Enterprise Alliance who have lamented “the loss of the micro, small and medium businesses that have died over the last two years in the context of the global recession, high energy costs, difficulties with accessing financing, license charges, and all the other problems they face, including criminality.” Today they are on their way out. A new order has been ushered in.
The second concern of ‘the sentimentalists’ and they will be watching to see, is whether the advantages of the economies of scale will be passed on by way of lower prices to the students many of whom are from poor and low income families(Bishop Gibson Legacy).
The third concern is whether menu offerings will be broadened beyond ‘Daegu echoes’ such as Tastee’s solely listed substantial food kind - one piece chicken and loaf, two piece chicken and loaf and six piece chicken and loaf. They demand offerings that promote healthy lifestyle and the movement of the concessionaries from an over preponderance of junk food.
Finally, they are fearful that restraint of trade may well preclude or endanger and indeed ultimately lead to the phasing out of Nutrition Products offerings under the new scheme of arrangement especially in the primary schools.
For the environmentalist, whilst welcoming Tastee as a progressive and positive development in balance, wonder whether that there will be contractual safeguards to ensure regular disposal of garbage under the new dispensation.
In closing, it is the view of the writer that the school board under the chair of Stephen Vasciannie must be commended for its continued positive role in the progressive development of the school, but must guard against complacency, remain eternally vigilant and pay due regards to the differing but well meaning view points of members of the Fortis family.