Future uncertain for college cafe

Nov 19, 2020

Katina's Cafe is located in the McLane Commons building on the Kenai River Campus and served breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Credit Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Katina’s Cafe, the food service operator on contract with Kenai Peninsula College, will likely close due to a unique set of circumstances that made operating during the pandemic impossible.

Owned by Tina Lagoutaris, Katina’s has been on contract with KPC since 2016 to provide meals to students on dining plans at its Kenai River Campus. Though Lagoutaris runs it as an independent business, the cafe is located inside the college.

“We’re sandwiched between the biology lab, the chem lab and the commons area," she said.

Which means when KPC switched to a mostly online system and locked its doors to the public this spring, Katina’s had to shut down, too.

Katina’s is unique in that most facilities like it are run by their home colleges. KPC operates its own college bookstores, for example, and UAA in Anchorage provides dining services with the help of an external operator.

KPC does not have a formal dining system. Instead, Katina’s has exclusive use of a KPC kitchen and serves food a la carte. Outsiders were welcome to use the cafe but most business came from students, faculty and staff.

Lagoutaris said she likes that system. But now she’s not sure she can renew the contract for the next school year.

“I can’t do it with the customers being locked out of the business. And like I said, it’s nobody’s fault, there’s no one to blame. You can’t put those kids at risk," she said. "It’s just a sad way to end up going out of business.”

Katina’s is in the middle of it’s current contract with KPC. Lagoutaris says she was hoping the cafe could get financial help from state and city CARES programs, which she estimated could have come out to about $10,000. That would give her enough money to pay for insurance and licenses for the upcoming year, she said.

Lagoutaris was for the most part eligible for relief. But both programs require recipients use their grants to cover expenses incurred within a certain time frame — up to eight weeks after the application deadline for the state and until Dec. 31 for the city. Lagoutaris says she did not want to buy food, especially perishable goods, without knowing when campus would reopen, which won’t be until next fall, at the earliest.

“I can’t justify buying all this stuff, taking the chance that we’d be open in January," she said. "Which we’re not gonna be.”

She already has lots of supplies piling up, from coffee cups to gallons of frying oil, that she’s tried to sell on Facebook. But she’s had no takers so far.

A lot of the ingredients came from her own home, including produce from a greenhouse and eggs from their chickens. Some of it, she’s dumped or donated.

Luckily, Lagoutaris runs her business debt free. She pays her distributors when they drop off products and she does not have any employees — it’s just her and her husband.

They’ve gotten to know a lot of students and college staff over the last few years.

“I see ’em around town and they all say hi to me, and stuff like that. ‘We miss your food!’ We miss the kids. We miss the teachers," she said. "I mean, I can tell you what their favorite food is and what they like to eat.”

While it’s not certain that Katina’s won’t renew their contract for the upcoming year, it looks unlikely that they’ll be able to get business going another year, Lagoutaris said. On top of COVID-19, KPC shut down its dorms in June due to lower enrollment and budget cuts, which reduces the number of students on meal plans.