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USF’s decision to replace ‘cultural icon’ Pollo Tropical is disappointing, students say

Pollo Tropical will be replaced by a second Chick-fil-A location with breakfast options and longer hours of operation starting this fall. ORACLE PHOTO/JEISLIAN QUILES-SIERRA

Upon arriving in Tampa, junior criminology major Ana Hernandez said she felt a certain culture shock. Hernandez, who moved from Venezuela to Miami as a child, found it hard to find familiar food as often as she did in Miami, where the Hispanic community is bigger.

USF’s on-campus Pollo Tropical, located just a brief walk from the buildings she has most of her classes in, offered some respite. There, she was able to find familiar tastes once again.

“I lived my first year at Juniper Poplar and they do nights where they have Mexican food or Cuban food, but that’s only for a week,” she said. “Pollo was always there.”

The restaurant, however, will be replaced by a new on-campus Chick-fil-A this fall. However, Pollo Tropical will not remain off campus forever.

“Pollo has been a great brand partner and we look forward to continuing that partnership on campus at a new location in the future,” she said.

But in the meantime, the decision has left some students, like Hernandez, disappointed. However, Pollo Tropical will not remain off campus forever.

Cicalese did not elaborate on when USF would get a new on-campus Pollo Tropical.

The new Chick-fil-A will be the chain’s second location on campus in addition to the one in the Marshall Student Center (MSC), which opened back in fall 2019. 

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With just a 10 minute walking distance from the MSC, the new location will be in Sessums Mall, next door to the University Lecture Hall and across from Cooper Hall and the Judy Genshaft Honors College. It will offer breakfast options and longer hours of operation than the MSC Chick-fil-A. 

The Chick-fil-A at the MSC doesn’t offer breakfast and is open from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and until 4 p.m. on Saturdays, and doesn’t open on Sundays. 

Chick-fil-A’s menu includes chicken sandwiches and nuggets, as well as salads, mac & cheese, waffle fries and milkshakes.

Hernandez said the new Chick-fil-A location is necessary because the existing one is very busy, but that there was no need to get rid of Pollo Tropical.

“I do think it’s a good idea that they’re gonna have a bigger menu and breakfast, but I feel like having Pollo also gives other alternatives, and I think it’s one of the healthier alternatives on campus,” she said.

Hernandez said even though there is a Pollo Tropical across the street from campus on Fowler Avenue, having one on campus was convenient because students could pay with dining dollars. 

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Pollo Tropical is a Florida-based chain that was founded in Miami in 1988 and offers a variety of Hispanic and Caribbean inspired options like sweet plantains, black beans, Cuban sandwiches and more.

Cicalese said the decision to bring a second Chick fil-A to the USF Tampa campus “reflects the university’s dedication to enhancing campus life by providing students with diverse and popular dining options across campus.”

Other food options across campus include multiple restaurants such as Papa John’s, Panera Bread, Panda Express, Moe’s Southwest Grill and Bento Sushi. In addition, USF’s dining halls offer different food stations which include pizza, hamburgers and other meal items. Flip Kitchen at Argos Exchange also offers a rotating menu.

A demand study, conducted in early fall 2022, surveyed the students on their preferences and showed the majority of students mentioned Chick-fil-A as their favorite on-campus dining location, according to Cicalese.

Sophomore studio art major Alena Zichelle said she used to think one of the strengths of USF was the variety of dining options, especially considering USF has a very diverse student body.

“I feel like it appealed to a lot of students, especially to myself on the tour that I had taken,” she said. “ I don’t exactly have a problem with the addition of another Chick-fil-A, it’s more so the replacement of something that a lot of students enjoyed already.”

Zichelle said she and her friends used to enjoy the food and culture of Pollo Tropical and are “sad and disappointed” to not have the restaurant on campus anymore.

“It’s a bit harder to access that kind of food being on campus when it’s not right there for us,” she said.

Audrey Zilay, a junior professional and technical communication major, said she was “disheartened” by the decision to replace Pollo Tropical with a Chick-fil-A because the restaurant is already present on campus, and the distance between both is too short.

USF Dining announced the replacement of Pollo Tropical with a new Chick-fil-A with an Instagram post on their account on June 26, which has around 30 comments from students who don’t agree with the change, with only one being in favor.

Zilay said the decision is disappointing because of what Pollo Tropical means culturally.

“It’s probably the only or one of the few locations where Hispanic people and people of Caribbean culture can get food they’re familiar with,” Zilay said. “I think taking away such a big cultural icon of USF and that kind of represents South Florida to begin with is pretty sad.”

This story has been updated.