Campus eatery might not reopen due to unpaid rent

Anna Vignet/Senior Staff
Campus restaurant Saigon Eats, which is among the vendors in the Bear’s Lair Food Court, closed recently as a result of outstanding rent totaling $32,000.

For the last week or so, one of the vendors in the Bear’s Lair Food Court has remained conspicuously closed, raising concern that the vendor may not be able to pay its rent.

More than one explanation could be behind the recent closure of Saigon Eats on campus. It could be that Henry Pham, the UC Berkeley alumnus who owns and manages the Vietnamese food outlet, is making use of summer’s end to take a vacation or, as was brought up in a meeting of the ASUC Store Operations Board last Thursday, financial issues may be compromising his ability to pay.

At the meeting, Associate ASUC Auxiliary Director Tom Spivey reported on revenue the board still has to collect and said Pham has yet to pay about $32,000 in rent. According to Spivey, the first rent payment was due for Saigon Eats on May 1, about four months after it opened.

Spivey also noted that three of Pham’s other businesses have filed for bankruptcy.

However, Spivey said Pham had been in contact about a week ago and had said he would pay the rent — though that has not yet happened.

“I am worried that he is financially not viable,” Spivey said at the meeting. “He promised to come in and pay his rent, and he has not to date.”

Pham could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Though Spivey said at the meeting that he is going to try to recover the money, he also conceded that “there is a risk we will not receive these funds.”

If Pham cannot pay, the Auxiliary may seek to terminate his lease. But that could also result in the storefront remaining empty until the renovations of Lower Sproul Plaza begin in about a year.

On Jan. 18 of this year, Saigon Eats opened up in the food court alongside a Subway outlet after nearly eight months of vacancy in both locations. Both vendors had been expected to open on Sept. 1, but the opening was pushed back to the beginning of the next semester largely as a result of maintenance delays.

Because of this, the board saw a further projected revenue shortfall in a budget that had already been running a deficit.

ASUC President Vishalli Loomba said in an email that the board is “monitoring some of the concerns” discussed at its most recent meeting and is working with Pham “for the best possible solution.”

“Of course our number one priority is always providing a service for students while also keeping our fiduciary responsibility in mind,” she said in the email.

But despite concern over Pham’s ability to pay, Spivey said it may just be that he has taken leave prior to the start of the academic year.

“A lot of times before the first week of school or a week after school ends in May, a lot of the tenants tend to take a vacation,” Spivey said in an interview. “We just hadn’t heard of it, we didn’t know, so we’re trying to reach him and find out.”

Though Pham is currently late on his rent, Spivey said the vendor’s business on campus appeared to be doing well, attracting crowds of customers during the regular school year.

Graduate Assembly President Bahar Navab said she is hopeful that the money will be paid.

“Obviously, it’s definitely a concern, but I’m hoping he’ll come through as he said and it will get resolved,” Navab said.