Soon, hungry students won’t be able to buy a Runza sandwich, the state’s beloved meat pocket, at Nebraska’s largest university.
Runza has run a store at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln student union for a decade, but it will close at the end of the semester in May, said Becky Perrett, spokeswoman for the Lincoln-based restaurant chain. The university recently informed Runza of the decision, Perrett said.
The chain’s response to UNL’s decision is contained in a letter to the student newspaper by Runza Restaurants President Donald Everett Jr. The letter was published Tuesday in the Daily Nebraskan.
Perrett said the chain has heard from students and other customers who thought Runza decided to pull out of the union. The purpose of the letter, she said, is to make it clear that Runza wanted to stay.
“We very much wanted to stay,” Everett’s letter says. “Unfortunately, the university chose out-of-state vendors to take our place.”
Everett’s letter says “out-of-state brands combined for a bid approximately $10,000 more than the Runza-only bid.”
Charlie Francis, director of the Nebraska Union, said he could not talk about specifics of the bidding and terms of the agreements because final contracts have not been signed yet with the two new restaurants that are lined up to take over Runza’s current space. He said he expects the agreements to be finalized in the next several weeks.
The Daily Nebraskan reported Thursday that Chick-fil-A and Steak ‘n Shake will share the space. Francis said he could not name the restaurants until the agreements are signed but said they will open by late summer.
Francis said the university’s request for proposals did not ask for two vendors to fill the space. But he said the university ended up receiving such a proposal, and the union’s board liked the idea. The board includes UNL students, faculty and staff.
“We encouraged people to be creative and give us their best offer,” he said.
The Runza chain has deep roots in Nebraska, with the first restaurant opening in 1949 in Lincoln.
The chain has a trademarked term for a superfan, “Runzatic.” Some people who move from Nebraska talk about Runza cravings and make one of the restaurants their first stop when they come back to visit.
UNL students have mixed feelings about the coming change.
Robert Keck, 26, a senior from David City, Nebraska, said he is sad to see Runza go.
“Replacing a business that was grown in Nebraska is a mistake,” Keck said. “I think we should support some of the businesses, especially Runza, that were started here.”
Kathryn Zielny, 21, a senior from Rancho Santa Margarita, California, said she’s on the fence.
“I’m not from Nebraska, so I’m indifferent,” Zielny said, “I’ll be happy with whatever comes as long as they have fries.”
Everett’s letter also said the chain contributes significant funds to the university and the NU Foundation: “Runza contributes amounts that significantly exceed our profits from the union location to support the university and the University of Nebraska Foundation in many ways. We received no credit in the bidding process for a sizable contribution to the new College of Business building, for our continuing support of the University Foundation, or the multi-million dollar sponsorships of Husker Athletics.”
The letter says the chain recently signed a new separate contract to provide more than $1 million of support over the next few years.
Francis said that to be fair to all vendors submitting proposals, the university’s evaluation criteria does not take such contributions into account.
“It really comes down to what is in the best interests of the (university),” he said. “It’s a business decision.”
World-Herald staff writer Cheyenne Rowe contributed to this report.