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Whidbey ferry patrons go hungry

Washington State Ferries announced the winning vendors who will take over food service on state ferries, but Whidbey Island riders will be packing their lunches indefinitely.

According to ferry spokesperson Pat Patterson, no one submitted viable proposals for either run.

Michael Cho, president of CDX Corporation in Mukilteo, takes exception to that assessment.

Cho was the sole vendor who bid on the Mukilteo/Clinton run. He had proposed serving a “grab and go” type full menu, but said the ferry system rejected his proposal for two reasons: the run was too short for a full menu, and he was requesting to use special equipment which would not be interchangeable with other boats if the system had to take a Mukilteo ferry to another route.

Cho disagrees with the vendor selection panel’s decision, and hopes the two sides can still work out an agreement.

“We haven’t given up the pursuit yet,” he said. “We’re still in the game.”

Cho said he has studied the requirements of the route and believes he can serve breakfast items, hamburgers, hot dogs, even pizza and espresso on the 20 minute crossing.

Cho also said he met with previous galley workers, who agreed his fast food-type full menu concept would work on the route. While the riding time is short, crews could be prepping food while the boat is loading and unloading and still deliver a fresh product.

And, he is willing to reduce the menu if it proves to be unworkable.

The second concern, regarding the ability to switch ferries, came as a surprise to Cho.

The ferry system has been saying since January, when galleys closed after Sodexho opted out of its contract, that it wanted to focus on fresh, locally produced food. Cho said ferry officials also asked for capital improvement suggestions for the galleys. He suggested adding an espresso machine — something Sodexho didn’t offer — and a conveyor-type oven for faster cooking.

Cho feels he is being penalized for doing what the ferry system requested. He offered to outfit three ferries with the same “concept specific” equipment, but his offer was turned down.

What troubles Cho most though is that he offered State Ferries 10 percent of CDX’s gross revenue, and scored high in the preliminary round in the financial area.

The ferry system worked out separate revenue sharing agreements with winning vendors Cascade Concession Services from Vancouver, Wash. and Sound Food Cafe, Bakery & Wine Bar of Vashon Island.

Cascade Concession will pay the ferries 7 percent of the first $5 million of annual gross revenues and 10 percent of annual gross revenues over $5 million, plus an additional amount up to 5 percent towards vessel galley upgrades.

It will provide food service on the Seattle/Bremerton, Seattle/Bainbridge Island and Edmonds/Kingston routes year round, and the Anacortes/San Juan routes from June through August.

Through Labor Day, Sound Food Cafe will pay the ferry system a $1,000 per month rental fee plus additional costs to serve the Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth route.

“This is much less than would have been paid under the former contractor but better embraces the business opportunity that was a significant money loser for the previous concessionaire,” Brian Volkert, state ferries business development manager, said in a press release Monday.

Rick Unrue, owner of the Belmont Hotel and Restaurant in Port Townsend, was the sole bidder to propose serving the Keystone/Port Townsend route, but he was also rejected.

A “Non-selection notice” from WSF stated that Unrue’s proposal was not comprehensive enough and that it would take an “inordinate amonut of time and effort for BH&U (Unrue’s company) to correct tis proposal deficiencies …” Although Unrue, like CDS, was selected in the preliminary round, the notice said the proposal did not address issues such as management, operations, menu and pricing.

Unrue had planned on offering a “Taste of Port Townsend” selection of menu items from local restaurants, wineries and breweries. He thinks one of the deficiencies the ferry system is talking about is the lack of Port Townsend vendors actually signed on to the plan.

The decision did not come as a surprise to Unrue, and ferry officials had told him several weeks ago that they might not bring up food service on the outlying routes right away. The notice stated that as well.

“I’m not torn up about it, but a lot of people in the community hoped we could get the contract,” Unrue said.

Unrue is also not ruling out the possibility of providing food service on the route in the near future. He said ferry officials agreed to revisit his proposal at a later date, and may use the Vashon run as a model for food service on the Keystone route. It is also based on using fresh foods from local restaurants and bakeries.

Resumption of any food service is dependent on concessionaires reaching a labor agreement with the Inlandboatmen’s Union, as galley workers are union members.

Patterson said the ferry system has learned through this process that the old full service model is problematic, but said they are working to provide food on all routes, including those serving Whidbey Island.

“We won’t rest until we have food service on all routes,” she said.

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