Aspire at West Campus brings local food vendors to residents’ doors

Aspire at West Campus apartments, for UI graduate students and faculty, recently partnered with local food vendors to provide their residents with dine-out options during COVID-19.


Grace Smith

Workers for Paco’s Tacos, Ted and Butch, prepare street tacos and walking tacos for residents at Aspire at West Campus Apartment Complex on Oct. 1, 2020. Aspire at West Campus is partnering with local food vendors to supply dine-out options during COVID-19.

Claire Benson, News Reporter

Food vendors throughout the Iowa City area are collaborating with the Aspire at West Campus apartment complex, which houses UI graduate students and faculty, to provide residents with restaurant-quality food from multiple vendors right outside their doors.

Benjamin Magee, Aspire’s leasing and marketing manager, said in an email that the complex partnered with restaurants in the area who are able to serve the public via mobile platforms, whether it’s through delivery or a food truck.

“Bringing in local vendors allows our residents to indulge without entering a restaurant or even leaving the community,” Magee said. “In this new environment we’re all living in, finding moments of ‘normalcy’ are important and meaningful to everyone — including treating yourself to a meal from a local restaurant.”

Magee listed participating vendors such as Marco’s Grilled Cheese, Guild, Wilson’s Apple Orchard and Farm, and Papa John’s. He said their inclusion was enjoyed by staff, residents, and the restaurants themselves.

“We were thrilled that many of them were as excited about the idea as we were,” Magee said.

The complex’s Community Manager Travis Hotz initially proposed the idea to collaborate with neighboring restaurants and food trucks to bring local food right to their residents, something Magee said has been a convenient option long before COVID-19 limited dine-in experiences.

“Even before the pandemic, food trucks and the like have become a convenient way for people, especially students, to try new things or quickly pick up old favorites,” Magee said.

Magee said it has been rewarding working with local restaurants and introducing or reconnecting them with customers at the complex.

“We also enjoy the sense of Iowa City camaraderie by working alongside local restaurant owners to introduce new customers or allow them to see familiar faces that they haven’t seen in a while,” said the manager.

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Jade Paterno, an owner of Marco’s Grilled Cheese, said Marco’s had done several neighborhood events over the past spring as a way to bring their goods and services to the community – something he said was very successful.

“[This initiative] was just really well received,” Paterno said. “People really enjoyed having the Marco’s cart right there in their neighborhood. It’s kind of a fun way to have dinner with your friends and your neighbors.”

Paterno said Marco’s was avidly promoting these events on their social media, which she believes prompted the collaboration between Marco’s and Aspire at West Campus.

She said this initiative between Marco’s and Aspire has helped recover some funding the restaurant lost over the spring and summer because of COVID-19.

“It’s been really positive,” Paterno said. “We typically get very busy with caterings in spring and summer, and so with [COVID-19], a lot of these activities were either canceled or rescheduled, so this was just a fantastic way to just fill in that gap.”

Paterno said Marco’s plans to visit the Aspire complex several more times in October.

UI junior Olivia Barker currently lives at Aspire at West Campus with her fiancé Logan Harris, who is a first-year graduate student.

Barker said the couple have been living at Aspire since July and have attended several of the events this fall where local food vendors visited the complex.

“We’ve really enjoyed it,” Barker said. “We love the food trucks and are always looking forward to when they’re going to have the next one.”

Barker said both her and her fiancé are relatively unfamiliar with the restaurants and food vendors around the Iowa City area.

“We’re both fairly new to Iowa City,” she said. “When they bring in some of the local restaurants to do their food trucks, it’s really cool for us because we get to try the food in a more casual setting, without having to go directly to the restaurant or get carry-out, and with [COVID-19] and everything going on, that’s even more difficult in normal.”