News | SSMU continues plans for student-run cafe

Plans for a student-run cafe in the Shatner building are ongoing, according to SSMU VP Finance and Operations Jean-Paul Briggs, but they are also contending with several major hurdles.

Chief among them is SSMU’s precarious financial situation as a result of the University requiring SSMU to begin paying for part of Shatner’s utilities – a sum entirely covered by McGill in previous leases.

“That’s not to say that we’re not committed to [a student-run cafe], or at least seeing if it’s possible,” said Briggs.

Because lease negotiations are ongoing and confidential, SSMU executives could not tell The Daily the percentage of utilities SSMU expects to pay in coming years, nor by how much their rent is set to increase.

The preliminary SSMU budget for 2012-2013, however, forecasts a $214,478 deficit, the majority of which Briggs ascribes to increased rent and utilities cost-sharing.

The student union has traditionally broken even in years past.

While a student-run cafe has been a potential project for SSMU in the past, the 2010 closure of the Architecture Café precipitated campus-wide mobilization and spurred last year’s executive to spearhead a two-year plan with the goal of opening a Shatner building student-run cafe in fall 2013.

A major problem, however, appears to be significant miscommunication between this year and last year’s SSMU executives. Both Briggs and SSMU President Josh Redel said they took office assuming that a lot more had been done in terms of detailing the actual business model that the student-run cafe would adopt.

“It’s very frustrating, because we’re very dedicated to making this project happen, but a lot of the legwork we expected to be done wasn’t,” said Briggs.

“This was always supposed to be a two-year project,” said former VP Finance and Operations Shyam Patel, who led the student-run cafe initiative last year. “We did this strategically, other SSMU executives tried to rush the project…which is exactly why this was supposed to be a two-year brainstorm.”

The McGill Tribune reported on September 17 that plans for the cafe had been complicated by exclusivity contracts held by current Shatner lease-holders, which would prevent the student-run cafe from selling specialty coffees and teas, as well as a lack of space in the building.

However, Briggs told The Daily that these issues are in themselves are “not insurmountable” and that SSMU’s Operations Management Committee is conducting a feasibility study to assess how they might be dealt with. The feasibility study working groups will also charged with drawing up a detailed business plan for the cafe in conjunction with dealing with sustainability issues.

The groups will be finalized this week, said Briggs, and will likely begin meeting on a bi-monthly basis next week.

While the Shatner building is at fully occupancy, a lease with a current tenant could be allowed to expire. The problem, says Briggs, comes with the loss of revenue for the student union incurred by giving a space once occupied by a paying tenant to the student-run cafe, which would likely pay little to no rent to the union.