News  Arch Café books released

Part one of a two-part series

Deputy Provost Morton Mendelson has disclosed a series of hitherto-confidential documents relating to the Architecture Café, showing that the cafe posted a small deficit in fiscal year (FY) 2009-2010. The development follows a motion proposed by SSMU President Zach Newburgh at the September meeting of McGill’s Board of Governors demanding the publication of the numbers.

The documents, prepared by Mendelson’s office at the request of the Board of Governors and presented to the Board on October 22, reveal that before McGill Food and Dining Services (MFDS) was compensated for its services, the cafe ran a $171 deficit in the 2009-10 school year. Its gross profit was $33,186, though after the payment of student employees and managers, repairs and maintenance, and overhead costs, the numbers dipped slightly into the red.

Questions remain about the specifics of the MFDS’s role in the management of the Arch Café, as MFDS director Mathieu Laperle was out of town and unavailable for comment. The document states, for instance, that the Arch Café was costing the MFDS an additional $15,000 in salary and benefits and “other expenses.”

“The Architecture Café did have problems while it ran under the radar,” wrote former Café manager Carly Roualt in an email to The Daily. “But it never lost money until 2007. And it appear[s] to be the managerial apparatus that was forced upon it in 2007 that ran it, technically, into the red.”

The café was put under a “mixed management model” involving the Architecture Students Association (ASA) and McGill three years ago, after the administration threatened to shut it down. The responsibilities were shared between students and MFDS (and its precursor, Ancillary Services) with students managing “purchasing” and MFDS taking control of “food costs and labour costs.” The nature of these costs remains unclear.

After reviewing the released documents, SSMU President Zach Newburgh said that “there was an opportunity for the University administration to assure the financial stability of this café by working with students but it did not do so.” The document, however, maintains that MFDS officials met with students from the ASA throughout 2009 and 2010 “on the need generally to be environmentally and financially sustainable, and more specifically on matters related to managerial sustainability.”

Mendelson stressed that the café “was not being run professionally and could not be run professionally because students are not professionals in this industry.”

The report’s projected expenses for the 2011-2012 school year show that the Arch Café would have lost $73,211 in FY2011-12. The lion’s share of this expense stems from an apparent decision that a full-time manager with a salary of $49,200 would have been hired if the cafe’s operation had continued. The document also projected an increase in the cost of casual labour from about $30,000 to roughly $39,000. There is no projection for the current school year.

The cafe’s financial statement attributes the salary increases and the new management position to “the unionization of casual staff.” Mendelson confirmed that this is a reference to the last year’s union certification campaign of the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE). AMUSE officials have said that the figures are “hypothetical,” as the union has not yet entered collective bargaining with the administration. Dan Ahmad, AMUSE’s Communications Officer, wrote in an email to The Daily that the “salary of managers has nothing to do with any union at McGill and is dictated by the University.”

Former SSMU councillor Alex Shee also examined the document, part of which reads, “At the end 2009-10, we were forced to conclude that the [mixed management] model was not financially or managerially sustainable, and there did not appear to be a viable alternative.”

“What I would ask is this,” said Shee, “If you really, really, really looked at the alternatives, did you look at funding through SSMU? Did you look at the possibility of an opt-outable fee? … If their response is ‘We looked at it from a financial point of view and it just didn’t seem right,’ then how come it made money in the past?”