Only One Option: on the captive market of Chartwells

Chartwells has what can best be described as a “captive market” on campus. Or maybe a better term would be “monopoly”. This may seem strange to many students, but it turns out this isn’t uncommon on college campuses. UNM, NMSU, and Eastern New Mexico University all have a single food provider on their campuses. So do most universities around the country.


“Bigger food providers can benefit the university because they make big contracts with people who provide food and services. That way we can get the best prices we can on food,” said Melissa Jaramillo-Fleming, Vice President of Student and University Relations. Without a food distributor like Chartwells, the only other option is for the college to provide food “in-house”. NMT used to do this, but it cost the university a lot of money.


“That would mean that NMT would be providing the employees, the management, ordering the food themselves, and operating like a restaurant, or like [M Mountain Grill]. With Chartwells, they do all the work,” said Valerie DelCurto, Director of Auxiliary Services. Chartwells operates as its own business, they just use the physical facilities on campus.


Part of the deal large companies like Chartwells make with colleges is to be the sole food provider on campus. Food courts on other campuses, like UNM, normally have fast food restaurants as part of their lineup, but those are still owned by the single food provider. The fast food places are just licensing their product to the big provider. We do not have that at NMT simply because there wouldn’t be enough business to make up the cost. Chartwells would have to put down a large amount of money to get licensing privileges from another restaurant, and then some how make that money back in sales.


“Bigger universities can do that, because they have the amount of students to support those different venues,” said DelCurto.


There just wouldn’t be enough business to justify doing that at NMT. Even the coffee shop in Fidel isn’t an actual Starbucks, it just serves Starbucks coffee. “If we had a full blown Starbucks on campus, it would be a part of the franchise and Chartwells would have had to put up a certain amount of money. That’s why [the sign in front] says ‘We Proudly Serve,’” said DelCurto.


Last semester during dead week, we had the food trucks parked on the street near Brown Hall. They were technically “off-campus”, even if it was by only a few inches.


“Chartwells was supportive of that. They understood that sometimes you want something different. That’s another great thing about Chartwells, is that they’re very supportive of events that can benefit students,” said Jaramillo-Fleming.


In theory, a restaurant could still open up across the street from campus, but in Socorro there is an issue of space. This makes our odds of more diverse food options slim. However, Chartwells is sending a survey team to NMT in March, and part of their task is to find if there is interest in a coffee shop at Skeen Library. If it looks good, we could have ourselves a new coffee shop on campus.

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