Magic Carpet Foods, a 36-year-old food truck staple on Penn's campus, is now relying on GoFundMe donations to stay open.
Known for vegetarian fare, the popular food truck located behind the Stuart Weitzman School of Design took a hit when Penn's campus shuttered and city-wide coronavirus measures kept them out of business for five months. When they reopened on Aug. 12, Dean and Debbie Varvoutis, the couple behind Magic Carpet, were expecting things to pick up and make up for their losses. It hasn't been that simple.
“[The] University is quiet. Even though we’re doing online delivery too, the majority of the students living up around 40th Street are not really walking down, so we are relying on the adults," Magic Carpet manager Debbie Varvoutis said. "We’re doing about 10% of what we normally do. It’s horrible.”
Varvoutis said Magic Carpet used to have an average of 250-350 customers a day before the pandemic, but now has only about 50 customers a day. They have also had to make budget cuts, reduce the number of people working at the truck from nine to only three, and shorten operating times by closing at 2:30 p.m. instead of at 4 p.m.
“There’s no class getting out at three o’clock so it’s pointless to stay there when you know everyone’s had lunch,” Varvoutis said.
Varvoutis also emphasized that they have more expenses than many other food trucks on the street.
“Our overhead is enormous compared to most other vendors on the street," she said. "We have a twenty five hundred square feet kitchen, we have all the insurances in place, we have all the food costs because we make all our food – it’s very different than some of the vendors that have a garage with just a freezer and a refrigerator."
Magic Carpet’s fate now depends on their new GoFundMe page, and Penn’s decision about the spring semester. Varvoutis says she's optimistic about the truck’s future if Penn opens campus to students again in the spring but is not so sure they can survive another closed-campus semester.
“We just need to sustain our operation," she said. "We can’t just keep going into debt and not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. We can only go so far before we would have to close.”
Magic Carpet's GoFundMe page, which was launched Oct. 4, has raised more than $2,500 — a small portion of the $100,000 they need to stay in business for the next five months. Still, Varvoutis is grateful for the contributions and support from Penn students so far.
Magic Carpet is Nursing sophomore Claire Dubois' favorite mobile food spot, and she said she is trying to go as much as she can while living off campus this semester.
“I waited all of quarantine to come back and have Magic Carpet," she said. "When I first went home, I tried to look up recipes and make cookies just like they made them, the banana ones.”
College sophomore Shaanti Choi-Bose, who also lives off campus, tries to visit often.
"It’s incredible how they make all vegetarian and vegan things taste much better than most plant-based alternatives," Choi-bose said.
Though Varvoutis is worried about closing, she remains hopeful.
“Dean calls it a Covid War. I would hate to lose the Covid War," she said. "We’re willing to stay and fight as long as it’s feasible.”