News | The cash flow of student-run food services

How student cafes make ends meet

After the closing of the Architecture Café last year, the finances of student-run food services came under fire. Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson described the Arch Café as being “run like a lemonade stand.” The Daily investigates how remaining student-run food services are operating on campus this year.


Located in a nook within Leacock, SNAX is a non-profit managed and run by Arts students, and operates under the purview of the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS). This year SNAX received $2,000 from the Arts Undergraduate Improvement Fund.

An average transaction at SNAX amounts to $2, and with about 500 customers a day, the outfit turns daily revenue of $1,000. All profits go towards the operating start-up cost at the beginning of each academic year, which includes $8,000 worth of product.

Manager Jennifer Cox said spacing presents a challenge for SNAX, as a lack of storage space means buying products in bulk is not possible. SNAX is taking steps to improve sustainability with a price-incentive campaign to encourage re-usable mugs.

“I think we’re going to continually raise our coffee prices little by little as an incentive. The cost of that cup is something we would like to take out of our expenses all together,” she said.

Midnight Kitchen (MK)

Another food service on campus, MK, is one of the last still offering full meals. Run by a collective of students, MK’s success in the spring 2011 referendum won the service a one dollar fee levy, raising fees to $2.25 per student per semester.

The collective spends between $1,000 and $1,500 on bulk food orders each month. Approximately 150 students attend each serving and donations vary from $15 to $50 each day.

Lisa Miatello, volunteer coordinator of the collective, noted that MK sustains a loss from opt-outs. “About 12 to 14 per cent of undergraduates opt-out, so we take a substantially big hit from that,” she said.

Despite opt-outs, the increased fee levy allowed MK to hire four paid staff members. Three coordinators earn an annual $9,216 stipend, and one driver earns a $3,072 stipend. The coordinators work between 15 to 18 hours a week and the driver works 6 hours. The four stipends amount to 38 per cent of the collective’s annual budget.

MK also created a $500 discretionary fund that will be awarded on a monthly basis to sponsor like-minded social and political projects. The fund sets $250 as the maximum amount that can be allocated per project.

Organic Campus

The farmers’ market at McGill sells the products of one farmer, Berhanu, who grows, bakes, and delivers all foodstuffs for Organic Campus at no cost. Organic Campus sells Berhanu’s goods, and writes him a cheque for 90 per cent of the revenue. If Organic Campus has no plans to use the remaining 10 per cent, it also goes to Berhanu.

Julien Dinerstein, treasurer of Organic Campus, said that “sales near the beginning of the semester and towards the end are a bit lower. When we’re outside, we tend to sell a lot more – it can range from $500 to $1,000 a week.”

Products usually sell-out by week’s end – if not, leftovers are donated to MK. Organic Campus also has ties with SNAX, selling them bread weekly, at cost, for an additional $104 of revenue.

Organic Campus is volunteer-run. “[Barhanu] tried to pay us once, but we couldn’t accept it,” said Dinerstein.


The finances of the ice cream operation are an annex of the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS). Between 20 and 300 customers come by a day – depending on the season – which amounts to anywhere from $50 to $400 in profits each day.

Frostbite tries to keep its prices as low as possible, despite financial obstacles. Manager Juan Giha said, “We’re scratching our heads as to how to keep our profit margins low while competing with rising costs, taxes, and minimum wage.” Frostbite increased prices by 25 cents last month.

Other obstacles included construction in the Engineering complex over the past two years that caused frequent power outages, twice melting all ice cream. In correspondence, Giha said McGill reimbursed the costs.