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Hamiltons opening sparks student outrage towards Powerhouse and administration

On Monday, Feb. 24 Hamiltons, the new cafe located in the Powerhouse, officially opened for business 18 days after the official opening of the Powerhouse itself. On Friday Feb. 21 the administration sent out a campus-wide email explaining how the cafe’s opening would affect hours at DK’s and Java Joint, the other Bon Appetit locations on campus. This was the first notification that Java Joint would end its food services, which took not only students but the student workers by surprise. Sack lunches were also moved from the academic side of campus to the residential side by moving to Hamiltons.  

Finn Brandt’22 was one of the workers who transitioned from Java Joint to Hamiltons and stated that “my Manager Diana told us we would be transferring over with her but she didn’t tell us when we would be transferring over. So I found out we would be transferring over the same day everyone [else] found out that Java Joint was closing.” The abrupt transition was not intentional, according to Ken Hnilo, the Bon Appetit General Manager, who stated that “we felt like we were in a good place and a decision was made. Was it the wrong decision, probably, but it was meant to help not hurt.” 

The administration sent out a follow-up campus-wide email on the same day Hamiltons opened, Monday, Feb 24, regarding student complaints Cecil Youngblood, the Dean of Students, stated that, “as part of the savings, Java Joint food services were transferred over to Hamiltons. After re-thinking this process, sack lunches may be picked up at DK’s starting tomorrow. This will continue for the rest of the semester.”

Java Joint’s closure left many students feeling resentment towards the new cafe in the Powerhouse, with multiple posts in the student Facebook group stating that they were “boycotting Hamiltons” due to the closure of Java Joint. Other students voiced concern about the seeming nonexistence of allergy-safe and gluten-free menu options at Hamiltons. Brandt told the Round Table that, “There’s no way for us to make allergen-free things. Like we can’t make gluten-free things, there’s no way to cook them.” He later clarified that when asked about the gluten-free gelato, “It’s gluten-free if it’s not cooked. We can’t cook gluten-free things.” It was not until later in the week that the staff received “nut allergy scoops” which are ice cream scoops that are supposed to be kept out of products containing nuts and used only on nut-free items. But even that is not enough, Brandt said. He stated, “Those [scoops] are for people with nut allergies who specifically request nut allergy scoops but if you use the other scoops on the ice cream it’s going to get contaminated. You have to isolate the nuts instead of the nut allergies. The scoops are just going to be mixing. Everything’s going to be mixing.”Hnilo emphasized that the “menu is still growing” and that they are trying to get more gluten-free and allergy-safe options.

Yet another problem facing Hamiltons is that it is severely understaffed. When the cafe opened Monday they initially had no workers scheduled for the afternoon 3 pm to 7 pm shift. This caused frustration with student workers who were required to work longer shifts than expected. Brandt, for example, worked a total of eight hours and fifteen minutes without breaks on Monday, while others worked four to five hours. When asked if he was assigned those hours or if he volunteered, Brandt said, “my manager texted in the Java Joint group chat at about 11 am [Monday morning] to tell us that there was no one scheduled from 3 pm to 7 pm and if anyone could come in could they please do so and I did. So I was at Hamiltons from 3 pm till 11:15 pm when we closed.”

Though it is legal for workers to work for extended periods in Wisconsin without meal breaks, it is extremely recommended that they get 30-minute meal breaks at 6 am, 12 pm, and 6 pm.

When asked about how the first week of working at Hamiltons affected how he viewed Bon Appetit, Brandt stated, “I’m extremely frustrated because I used to love working at Java Joint and was excited to go to work every night. It brought me a lot of joy. I didn’t mind doing extra [shifts] or working harder because I enjoyed doing it. But I go to Hamiltons and I feel so like a machine like soulless, with no personality, no individuality. I go there and I feel like I’m being exploited for Bon Appetit. I’m really thinking hard about quitting but if I quit, who’s going to work?”

All of this controversy surrounding the closure of Java Joint and opening of Hamiltons has released seemingly pent-up frustration towards the Powerhouse in general. Throughout the week, students posted on the student Facebook page “expectation vs reality” pictures with architectural renderings of what the Powerhouse was predicted to look like next to photos of what those same locations look like currently. For example, by the pool, where there is a small study area next to the south side of the Weissberg Auditorium, it was expected that there would be wide stairs with bean bags on each step so students would have a dynamic place to study. What students were greeted to on Feb. 6 was a skinny metal staircase from the original building. 

Stephen Robinson, the Executive Director of the Powerhouse, stated that “architectural renderings are simply visual representations of what things could look like. It doesn’t mean that it’s a representation of how it’s exactly going to come. So when we share these things there’s always an astrix of ‘this is a general concept’.” He also clarified that “to fund [the stairs] would be around $100,000 give or take, it was just a rough estimate, but we ultimately decided to pivot those dollars in our construction project to things we thought were more important to the student experience.” That money instead was put towards two rooftop patios and the river walk.

Another “expectation vs reality” posted by a student was centered on the promised 24/7 convenience store that was supposed to be a space for students to buy groceries without having to walk to Walgreens or drive to Walmart. The expectation was that there would be vending machines provided that would have grocery-like items and that the machines would accept Flex as well as real dollars. The current reality is that there are vending machines but instead of groceries, they contain instant noodles and small packaged snack food. 

Hnilo and Robinson both told the Round Table they were disappointed that the convenience store had not been fully implemented yet. Robinson, in fact, was the person that brought the large-scale interest of having a 24/7 convenience store to Bon Appetit’s attention. He expressed regret that the project was not completed but explained that, “this [smart market] is ultimately a finished product. The company that we work with and worked for a long time with and we had a handful of students select all of the stuff. We worked many, many hours selecting products for this machine. That company went out of business in December pretty much all of a sudden like ‘closed up shop’ and we were left with the question, what do we do?” Hnilo added that the current vending machines are a “temporary fix” to the problem but that the plan is still to implement the 24/7 convenience store at some point in the future. 

Student Engagement and Leadership (SEAL) hosted a closing ceremony for Java Joint on Sunday, March 1 with food, beverages, and karaoke. The event consisted of karaoke with students and a PowerPoint presentation that highlighted points in Java Joint’s history. One part of the presentation was comprised of Snapchat videos from events such as Bingo and Karaoke Night. During the PowerPoint the song “Arms of an Angel” played in the background while students slowly waved fake candles in the air. There were several Java-type foods such as loaded tater-tots, quesadillas, mac-n-cheese, vegetable, and cheese pizza. Throughout the event, around 60 students came and went. Not many students stayed throughout the entire three-hour event but several groups came and went. Katherine Jossi ‘20 remarked that she, “was surprised at how low the turnout was.” and that the crowd mostly consisted of underclassmen.

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