Knoxville businesses object to new Tennessee foodservice options

Cumberland Avenue restaurateurs say university stealing customers with its Panda Express and Raising Cane eateries.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The scales have been tipped on The Strip.

UT's food service provider, Aramark, made its debut on Cumberland Avenue Sept. 19 with the opening of Panda Express and Raising Cane's. These new establishments have already gained condemnation from the Cumberland Avenue Merchants Association, comprised of various business owners and managers from The Strip.

Unlike other restaurants on Cumberland Avenue, the two UT Dining locations accept Dining Dollars as payment from students, creating what the Cumberland Merchants Association describes as an unfair competitive advantage.

At their October meeting held last Wednesday at the Goal Post Tavern, CAMA discussed the negative effects that the new businesses have created for their restaurants, like an already evident decrease in revenue.

"They've noticed that their sales have declined," Rob Wynkoop, owner and operator of Gyrene Burger, said of the many Cumberland merchants affected by Aramark's presence. "That's unfortunate, because it's hard enough to do business as it is."

However, CAMA is not taking the recent hit to sales lying down. They've created an online petition advocating that Dining Dollar payments be extended to all vendors on The Strip. Debbie Billlings, treasurer of CAMA and president of Graphic Creations, said she hopes students will voice their support through "Free Our Food UTK."

"We're trying to get the University to level the playing field a little," Billings said of the petition. "The more the students can help sign the petition, that gives us more power to go to the state."

Jeff Maples, senior associate vice chancellor of finance and administration, understands CAMA's concern over unfair competition, but he maintains progress is being made to allow the use of Dining Dollars at other restaurants.

"There's a lot of work behind the scenes before we can make that happen," Maples said. "In the meantime, what we're doing is no



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