Coffee, a burrito bar, hot dogs and a comfortable seating area are four things that Open Pantry, 824 N. 16th St., began offering on Aug. 30, 2007, when it opened its new location below Campus Town West.
“This great relationship between Marquette University and Open Pantry will not only provide one of the most innovative places to shop for fresh foods and daily needs, but also provide a place for students to gather to study or watch games on TV while enjoying a coffee from the Willow Creek Espresso Bar,” Robert A. Buhler, the president and CEO of Open Pantry, said in an August 2007 press release.
However, according to a former employee, the goal of the store isn’t being achieved and the environment isn’t always appropriate for students.
“The clientele at Open Pantry is mainly composed of homeless people purchasing 4-packs of Milwaukee’s Best and Steel Reserve,” said Tyler Holcomb, a junior in the College of Engineering and former Open Pantry employee. “Most of these people are highly disruptive and cause many problems for Marquette University—for the students, for the employees of the store and for the company.”
Holcomb has noted several instances when the safety of both employees and customers has been compromised.
Once, Holcomb said, a drunken man bought hot dogs and sat down. When employees looked over at the man, there was a puddle of urine on the floor underneath his chair in the seating area. The employees then confronted the man and he was uncooperative. The Milwaukee Police Department was contacted, and the man was escorted out of the store after approximately 30 minutes of arguments with the officers. Holcomb had to clean and disinfect the area thoroughly.
According to Holcomb, several similar incidents occurred, but were ignored by the management. He quit after a threat from a disgruntled customer.
“The reason I quit was because upper management made no changes to try to promote student sales,” Holcomb said. “They do nothing to try to solve the problem of the homeless people hanging out there and causing problems. I think a lot of students don’t go there because of that.”
Because of his experience, Holcomb thought of a couple ways to improve the store. One idea is only selling cases of beer—most of the troublesome customers buy either four or six packs. Another of his ideas would be to have a security guard stationed in the store for late nights. He wrote a letter to the Open Pantry corporate office to share his ideas.
“The number of times Public Safety and the Milwaukee Police Department have been contacted on Open Pantry’s account is absurd,” Holcomb said. “It is completely outrageous that the employees must contact men and women who are trained to use weapons in order to combat a disruptive situation.”
Despite the incidents, many students continue to shop at Open Pantry.
Alex Rios, a senior in the College of Communication, said he shops at the Open Pantry frequently, but has never seen or heard of any altercations.
“I need to buy the necessities, he said. “It has beer and eggs.”
Michael DeSarno, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences said he still buys food at the store even though he hears stories about disruptive customers from his friends.
“Despite everything, I still go there because there isn’t another supermarket-like place.”
Open Pantry management was unable to comment.