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MacHall Carl’s Jr. unlikely as students debate burger chain’s ethics

By Scott Strasser, June 20 2016 —

As students butt heads over the potential arrival of a Carl’s Jr. in MacHall, negotiations between Sweet & Savory and the burger joint have reached an impasse.

While the prospect of a Carl’s Jr.’s on campus seemed promising last month, the franchise’s vice-president general manager of Canadian operations Jeff Branton said the sale has become less likely.

“We’ve been unable to come to business terms with the existing tenant. Unless things change on that regard, we won’t be pursuing the sale,” Branton said. “We’d love to be there. Hopefully something can happen down the road. As of right now, I think the negotiations have broken up.”

Branton said the impasse is due to finances.

“Our local owners are uncomfortable with [Sweet & Savory’s] asking price,” he said.

Sweet & Savory owner Diane Pham couldn’t be reached for comment on the state of the negotiations.

Students’ Union vice-president operations and finance Branden Cave announced the possibility of Carl’s Jr. coming to MacHall at Students’ Legislative Council on May 10.

But some U of C students recently expressed concerns about the ethics of a Carl’s Jr. coming to campus.

Fifth-year psychology and development studies student Clare Hickie wrote an open letter to Cave expressing concern for the franchise coming to the MacHall food court.

Hickie’s letter criticized the company’s sexist advertising strategies and lack of healthy and vegetarian food choices.

“I strongly oppose the addition of a Carl’s Jr. as an on-campus food vendor due to its exclusionary business model,” reads Hickie’s letter. “From its sexist and retrograde treatment of women to its lack of accommodation for dietary restrictions, the [franchise’s] policies do not fit with the inclusionary mandates of the University of Calgary and the Students’ Union.”

Hickie’s letter cited the SU’s 2014 survey report, which states students requested healthier food options in MacHall at the time.

“The burgers and main dishes served at Carl’s Jr. are not only high in calories and low in nutritional value, but also fail to address the need for healthy and affordable options,” reads the letter.

Cave said Hickie’s concerns are legitimate, but SU policy doesn’t allow for offensive advertising in MacHall.

“The concerns surrounding the advertising are very valid. This is why [Carl’s Jr.] wouldn’t be able to put up any offensive advertising in MacHall, as per our policies,” Cave said.

Hickie’s letter gained traction — and backlash — when she posted it to Facebook on June 18.

Third-year chemical engineering student Teng Rong started a counter-petition on June 18, arguing why students should welcome Carl’s Jr.’s arrival.

Rong said he wanted to make sure more students were aware the debate was going on.

“That’s usually how it happens — a vocal minority speaks loudly and the rest of us don’t get a voice,” he said. “I just want students to know there’s another side to this debate.”

Rong’s counter-petition argued students should vote with their wallets if they do not agree with Carl’s Jr.’s business model.

“I don’t think it’s discriminatory for Carl’s Jr. to target young men,” he said. “I think it’s the company’s right to have a target audience and by doing so, it doesn’t make it inherently sexist.”

Rong’s counter-petition has received 23 signatures as of June 20. He plans to send it to the SU for discussion.

Of Hickie’s concerns, Branton said Carl’s Jr.’s advertising appeals to the franchise’s core demographic, which he said is “young men who like burgers.”

“Yes, our advertising is very edgy — we’re not one of the largest players on the map, so we do things that are a little more aggressive,” he said. “We tend to do it a little tongue-in-cheek. Obviously that style is not going to appeal to everyone.”

If Carl’s Jr. comes to MacHall, it will be the food court’s second hamburger vendor, alongside A&W.

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