Hidden Grounds launches petition to cater for Rutgers University
Tucked away under the sidewalk of Easton Avenue is Hidden Grounds Coffee Shop, a small store that is attempting to branch out through involvement with the local community.
The shop launched an online petition to find support from the Rutgers and New Brunswick community in order to reach their goal.
For the past year, Hidden Grounds has been working toward becoming one of the University’s approved coffee and food suppliers, according to their petition on Change.org.
Anand Patel, the owner of Hidden Grounds, said hosts of events are trying to reach out to other caterers in order to impress their guests and stand out from other events. The issue is that Hidden Grounds is not in the system to be a caterer for University events.
“It’s not that Rutgers does not want to help us,” Patel said. “It’s the fact that nobody knows how to help us.”
He said the people who are meant to be decision makers at the University have no position to help businesses or student organizations to cater and enter them into the system.
“Nobody seems to have information,” he said. “Either nobody was told that the process was in place or there might not be a process. When you go to one department, they send you to another.”
Hidden Grounds has been contacted by organizations such as HackRU, TEDxRutgers, the Zimmerli Museum, the Arabic Student Association and more, according to their online petition.
Yashna Chugani, the catering director at Hidden Grounds, has been consistently approaching the University in order to become a catering service and finds it frustrating that there are no staff members capable of helping her.
“We’ve basically just been going from one office to the next, to the next,” Chugani said. “About two weeks ago we went to each campus and each student center to figure out who we need to talk to. They would send us to another person.”
Chugani spends every Tuesday morning visiting offices and people, either faculty or students, in order to spread the word and figure out how to start the process of becoming a caterer.
Many events are also held at Hidden Grounds to become involved with the New Brunswick and Rutgers community. A few months ago Hidden Grounds held a Johnson & Johnson event for women’s entrepreneurship.
“We try to focus on Rutgers, because it is part of our community,” Chugani said. “But we are trying to expand even if it is out of Rutgers.”
Fraternities and sororities have also approached Hidden Grounds for donations and have them present at events, and Hidden Grounds is attempting to work with them, she said.
Hidden Grounds found at least one big event to cater despite the strict rules and regulations of the University, HackRU.
“If you want to cater from an official vendor from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., then you can only select from the vendors in the system,” Patel said. “If its after 5 p.m. or overnight, you can have catering from anywhere in New Brunswick, so we did the coffee catering for HackRU.”
Hidden Grounds catered for HackRU from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., Patel said.
HackRU aims to support its New Brunswick community, so they first reached out to Hidden Grounds to cater midnight coffee because they wanted to showcase a small, local business, said Michelle Chen, HackRU lead organizer and a School of Arts and Sciences junior.
“We loved the idea of being able to serve a coffee experience with different bean blends, pour-overs and artisanal teas rather than mass brewed coffee out of a carafe,” Chen said in an email.
HackRU is planning on having Hidden Grounds back in the spring for all of their events, but this is not currently possible in the fall due to the University’s catering restrictions, she said.
“The on-site time that I spent with their team was overwhelmingly positive,” Chen said. “ They were professional and organized and were able to outline exactly what equipment, space, etc. they would need.”
The petition started after being passed back and forth by University faculty for six months, Patel said.
“It’s one thing to say we’re being contacted by organizations and another to present a case with a petition,” he said.