Baby Berk a crowd-pleasing favorite for some UMass students

By Stephen Hewitt

Coated with neon colors, armed with a state-of-the-art kitchen and serving some of the freshest food on campus, the newest mobile meal machine at the University of Massachusetts has had its fair share of success in over a month of its existence.

Baby Berk, the brightly colored food truck that can seemingly be spotted from a mile away, offers an alternative food option for students on-the-run and in need of a quick fix of lunch or dinner with a palpable menu that includes cooked meals straight off the grill.

From Orchard Hill to Southwest, the food truck is giving students all over campus chances to quench their appetite seemingly at any point in the day. And according to Executive Director of Auxiliary Enterprises Ken Toong, the truck is receiving high praise and success in its early going endeavors.

“Baby Berk is doing well, and our students and staff really love the food,” said Toong. “Many of them follow the truck through Facebook and Twitter, and it’s building excitement and community on campus.”

Through social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter, Baby Berk has gained a large following in its short existence. It has amassed nearly 600 followers via Twitter, and over 200 “likes” on its Facebook page, although the majority of its updates on Facebook are controlled by the “UMass Dining” page.

Nearly every day, these updates inform its followers of where they can find Baby Berk at any given point in the day with a pre-determined schedule.

Popular hotspots for the truck so far have included the library, the Lederle Graduate Center and the “horseshoe” in the Southwest Residential Area, as it parks in various areas throughout the day from lunch time until the early hours of the morning – sometimes even until 4 a.m. – feeding hungry students.

“The students come out a lot at night, so they’re finding it pretty easy to find us,” said Jason Dinelle, one of the managers on board Baby Berk. “During the day, we struggle a little more because it’s more along the professional lines [like] the staff members and professors [bringing business in], so it’s a little more difficult getting the word out to the students, even through Twitter and stuff, but we’re exploring some other avenues to help that too.”

Dinelle noted that even though the truck doesn’t receive much business during the day, it still attracts “a couple hundred” customers per day due to the night craze.

In addition to making itself available during the weekends and at the peak of campus nightlife, Baby Berk also parks outside events where there are large crowds, including concerts, football games and most recently, outside the Mullins Center a couple of weekends ago, where a long line formed in front of the truck following the hockey team’s home opening game.

“It’s pretty good,” said sophomore Dan Stubbs. “I like how it’s convenient to wherever I happen to be. Coming out and seeing this here is just nice.”

The diverse menu that the public can choose from may be one of the reasons behind the truck’s consistent business so far.

The truck offers five different types of burgers – the Black and Blue Wall, Worcester, Hampshire, Franklin and Baby Berk – as well as regular hamburgers, cheeseburgers and veggie burgers that can be custom-made and that each provide different ingredients and toppings. Additionally, customers can choose from French fries, onion rings, clam chowder and beef chili to round out their meals, as well as a can of soda or bottled water.

“The food is actually better than I expected it to be,” said graduate student C.J. Carey. “The service is relatively good for a truck. A lot of times when you do food trucks they’re super slow getting food, but it’s not bad.

“The price is a very favorable aspect,” added Carey. “Most places on campus you’ll end up paying like $7 for like a decent-sized lunch, and you can get good food here for relatively cheap.”

According to Dinelle, the food seems to be affordable for most of the students, although they have raised concerns over the food truck not offering a certain payment option.

“They gotta take YCMP swipes,” said junior Michael Breeling. “Everyone that I’ve talked to would use [Baby Berk] a lot more if they could use their swipes here.”

YCMP – short for Your Campus Meal Plan – is a meal plan system which allows students to eat at several establishments throughout campus instead of paying in cash, but Baby Berk only currently allows customers to pay through cash, credit or UCard debit. Although many students have voiced their concerns over the service not authorizing swipes, there are no plans in the near future to make that possible, noted Dinelle.

“I haven’t heard too many complaints,” said Dinelle of the pricing. “[The students] would like us to take swipes but that’s not in the cards right now. We try to model our price points kind of after a fast food restaurant so that it would be affordable.

“I don’t see it happening,” added Dinelle of the possibility of adding YCMP swipes as a price option in the near future. “I think it’s technologically impossible.”

While students may have to dig deep in their wallets to enjoy the Baby Berk goodness for the foreseeable future, it seems to be just one of a very few amount of pitfalls in the truck’s design.

On top of offering its authentic burger selection, Baby Berk is soon to offer meal specials, according to Dinelle, in the hopes to attract new customers and enhance an experience that is turning heads – and noses – all around campus.

“We’re going to set off some chef specials for burgers soon,” said Dinelle. “And so we’re going to try and mix the variety up a little bit. We’re going to make some small additions to the menu, but other than that, we’re doing good right now, everyone’s happy with the food and we’re going to keep rolling with it.”

Stephen Hewitt can be reached at [email protected]