The McGill administration has decided that the Architecture Café will not be reopening this fall.
The development came as a surprise to the Architecture Students Association (ASA), who managed the café independently since its opening in 1993 until 2007, when it was brought under the oversight of Food and Dining Services.
“A lot of people in the school don’t really know what has happened and we’ve only been told that it’s closed because of financial unsustainability, but we have no hard facts to really prove that,” said Carly Roualt, the Senior Manager of the Architecture Café. “We were told that it would be closed, but to wait for further confirmation of it, which we never got.”
In response to widespread student protest, the administration and the ASA came to an agreement in October 2007 that the Architecture Café would remain open with mixed management. Under the arrangement, McGill Food and Dining Services would administer the purchase of food in collaboration with the ASA. The ASA has continued to run the café since, but under the oversight of McGill Ancillary Services.
According to this agreement between the students and the administration, as long as the café broke even, it would remain open.
Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson has said that the Architecture Café was not “sustainable financially,” which he cited as the primary reason for the closure.
“We had discussions with Mathieu Laperle, Director of Food Services, about various models that might work, and we just couldn’t come up with one that was suitable to McGill… I had to make the decision that the cafe was shut down – or wouldn’t be reopened in September,” said Mendelson.
According to Roualt, in May 2010, the students were under the impression that the café was financially secure. Its financial situation apparently changed at the start of this year, as Aramark Canada took over McGill’s primary food contract from Chartwells.
“We seemed to be breaking even, and in May we had meetings with our supervisors and they said we were doing fine.… This summer they said, ‘with Aramark now, you’re not doing fine,’” she said.
In an email to The Daily, Mendelson stressed that Aramark had no part in the closure.
In 2007, Mendelson told The Daily that “there were a number of food services operations run by student groups and they have all been phased out, and that’s a strategic decision that the University has taken on the issue.”
Roault explains that the ASA has not had a hand in the oversight of accounting prior to the decision to close this summer.
“We’ve had no access to our books or to any of the numbers. So we were just told we had a verbal agreement that as long as we broke even, we could stay open,” Roualt said.
But Mendelson repeatedly asserted that there were problems of “managerial sustainability.”
“I assume it was being run in good faith by students who were really dedicated to the enterprise… but the café was essentially run like a lemonade stand,” he said, declining to go into financial details.
Mendelson acknowledged that other student-run food providers on campus – namely AUS SNAX and Frostbite, the Engineering ice cream parlour – continued operations. Mendelson described them as “historical” establishments.
SSMU president Zach Newburgh and EUS president Daniel Keresteci joined Roualt and ASA president Kyle Burrows in signing and presenting an alternative business plan in a memorandum sent to the administration Tuesday. The memorandum proposed a joint EUS-ASA managed café. At press time, neither of the parties had received a response from the administration.
“We’ve seen the balance sheets – this is not the reality, it was actually making money,” said Newburgh. “Any kind of question about the financial sustainability of this operation is mitigated by the fact that the ASA will soon become a departmental association of the Engineering Undergraduate Society. The EUS has an extensive history of running successful business operations, so there’s no reason to believe that the Architecture Café under the new supervision jointly between ASA and the EUS wouldn’t be just as successful.”
McGill is planning on converting the Architecture Café into study space for Architecture and Engineering students.
Roualt would like to see the café stay.
“Spread the word. Put more pressure on the administration to be more accountable for their actions…to show hard facts before making changes, and consulting students before these changes are made,” she said.