After close to three years of demands from students, SSMU will open the student-run café (SRC) on January 6, 2014. The SRC will take the former place of Lola Rosa Xpress and Tiki Ming in the second-floor cafeteria in the Shatner Building.
A press release from SSMU stated that the SRC’s mission “is to be the student-designed, student-driven, and student-operated hub for sustainable food service on campus. The café will be driven by student needs from the core and will additionally serve as a cooperative framework for student-led sustainable food projects and initiatives.”
Former SSMU President Josh Redel will serve as the manager of the new SRC, while Kathleen Bradley, the Finance Coordinator for McGill Farmers’ Market and a member of the Second Servings team, will be the head chef.
“There have been a lot of blood, sweat, and tears in this project for a lot of years, from a lot of people,” Bradley said. “So it’s really nice to see that it’s finally coming to fruition.”
Due in part to the SSMU cafeteria’s limited hours, for the time being, the new SRC will only be open for breakfast and lunch. Bradley also added that the SRC is not designed to compete against other student-run initiatives, such as SNAX or Gerts. Additionally, due to an exclusivity clause in SSMU’s contract with La Prep, the SRC cannot serve specialty coffees such as cappuccinos or lattes.
Menu options will include sustainable breakfast, lunch, and snack fares, with prices set at around $7 to $8 for a soup and sandwich combo, and around $1 for coffee. Affordable catering will also be a potential option for student groups, according to organizers.
According to Bradley, the SRC is also a collaborative venture, with help from sustainable organizations such as McGill Food and Dining Services, the McGill Food Systems Project, Plate Club, and even CKUT.
“SSMU is here to provide a really solid framework [...] Part of that isn’t just serving food, but allowing groups to build onto it, and students at-large to piece it into something bigger,” said Redel at a press conference with campus media.
Before January, the finishing touches must be put on the physical space, and awareness and engagement campaigns will be rolled out. A campaign to name the restaurant is already underway, and Redel said that there will be additional events targeted toward gathering feedback on the plans.
However, not all students are entirely happy with the announcement; some are more in favour of the past idea of a student-run ‘space,’ as opposed to a lunch counter, as the current plan stands.
Jane Zhang, a participant in a competition held in 2012 to design a model of the café, told The Daily, “[Many people] were expecting more of a sustainable space [...] for students to gather and talk about sustainability. So the fact they are just taking over this counter in the SSMU cafeteria wipes away that whole idea.”
“It’s a complex issue,” Redel admitted. “More or less, [the current space was] in really good shape for opening up a simple food service, to the point where we can save money that was put aside for something bigger. [That way when] we know for sure what we want, and we have a really good, concrete idea, we can say, ‘now let’s really put a big investment.’”
A long, winding road to a new café
In 2010, the closing of the 17-year-old student-run Architecture Cafe prompted campus-wide mobilization, with over 300 students protesting its closure at one event. The McGill administration, which had taken over the café three years prior, cited financial mismanagement as the primary reason for the closure.
In response to student demand, the 2011-12 SSMU Executive spearheaded a plan that proposed the grand opening of a new student-run café in Fall 2013. At the Winter 2012 General Assembly, then-VP Finance and Operations Shyam Patel put forward a motion that set aside $200,000 for the café. According to Redel, the start-up costs of the new café will not reach that amount.
SSMU held a Sustainability Case Competition for a new café design in the winter semester of 2012, with plans to open the winning design in September 2013. Although the winning team was awarded a $4,000 prize, as well as a promise that their business plan would be adopted by SSMU, nothing ever materialized.
Zhang was one of the members of the winning team in the competition, and said that she was “under the impression that what we were producing would be the model for the café.” The team designed multiple models, including business, organizational, and promotional, and networked with local businesses in order to create its design.
According to current SSMU President Katie Larson, that year’s executive “had the case competition without really having a concrete way to implement it.”
“There was a lot of miscommunication,” she added.
However, Redel said that the ideas from the competition served as a foundation and inspiration for the current SRC.
The 2013 SSMU Executive began a six-week long consultation process entitled the “Summit on Space in the Shatner Building” after an announcement that Travel CUTS/Voyages Campus was leaving its location on the first floor of the Shatner building.
However, Redel told The Daily that the former Travel CUTS/Voyages Campus space wasn’t as big as originally imagined for the café, and would complicate the design. Additionally, the people behind SRC decided that using the kitchen equipment available upstairs would be more economically feasible than spending money on renovations of the travel office.
The ongoing lease negotiations with McGill, which now continue into their fourth year, constituted another complicating factor cited by last year’s SSMU executives. SSMU will have to begin paying utilities, as well as increased rent, for the entire Shatner building – creating an uncertain financial situation.
Although SSMU is still in the midst of lease negotiations – which, according to Larson, are going “really well” – McGill has given SSMU the green-light on the café project.
The entire process leading up to the announcement has left much to be desired for some students.
“I think everyone sort of agrees that it has been very secretive and we didn’t know very much about it,” Zhang said, “which is ironic because the whole thing was supposed to be this student-led, transparent thing, and it seems very opposite to what Arch Café was and represented.”