Architecture Cafe shut down by McGill

McGill/News by

The Architecture Café has served its last cup of fair-trade coffee, as McGill administration has decided to close the popular student hangout.

Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson cited financial losses and improper management as the primary reasons for the decision to close the café and begin plans to “repurpose” the space as a study area. The café—which was previously student-run—had been operated by McGill Food and Dining Services for the past three years, before being officially shut down over the summer.

The café, Mendelson said, consistently lost money for Food and Dining Services, which is mandated by McGill to submit a balanced budget.

“[The Architecture Café] provided a cheap lunch, and that’s because it was a subsidized lunch,” he said. “The university cannot afford to subsidize anyone’s lunch.”

Katherine Messina, the president of the Architecture Students’ Association, disputed that the café lost money. According to Messina, the café has turned a small profit in each of the last three years.

“[The café] wasn’t making a shit-tonne of money, but we definitely weren’t running a deficit,” Messina said. “Our goal was to break even, or make a slight profit, by selling food at $1 [above cost], and that’s what we did.”

Mendelson declined to provide exact figures for the Architecture Café’s operations, but claimed that expenses such as utilities and accounting and payroll services resulted in a yearly deficit for the café.

Located in the basement of the Macdonald-Harrington Building, the Architecture Café served fair-trade coffee, pastries, sandwiches, salads, and other snacks from local suppliers such as Boulangerie Clarke and the L Corridor.

The café, founded as a late-afternoon pub in 1993, was student-run until 2007, when the administration first attempted to shut it down. An agreement was reached, however, under which Food and Dining Services oversaw the accounting, billing, and payroll of the Architecture Café, while a team of five student managers handled the day-to-day operations.

At the time of the takeover, the Architecture Café was the last student-run food service outside of the Shatner Building and Thompson House, which are operated by the Students’ Society and the Post Graduate Students’ Society, respectively. Between 2000 and 2007, McGill assumed control of eight campus cafeterias previously run by students’ societies such as the Management Undergraduate Society and the Arts Undergraduate Society.

It was only due to a passionate student response that the Architecture Café was allowed to remain open under Food and Dining Services operation for the past three years. In early 2007, over 1,500 students joined a “Save the Architecture Café” Facebook group, and more than 100 students protested outside the James Administration Building, before the administration agreed to a compromise that kept the café open.

SSMU President Zach Newburgh said he is hopeful that an organized student response could have similar results this year.

“It’s a unique space—everyone, no matter what faculty they were from—loved the Architecture Café,” Newburgh said. “So we, as students, need to do all that we can to keep the Architecture Café open,”

However, Mendelson considers this closure of the cafeteria final.

“We can’t give the Architecture Café back to the students, because there were serious problems when it was run by the students, and we can’t figure out a way that it can be run by the university,” Mendelson said. “There are no circumstances under which we will be reevaluating this decision.”

According to Mendelson, the café space will be transformed into a study area, a plan that ignores the wishes of the ASA.

“We don’t need study space,” Messina said. “Architecture students already have studios with our own desks, our own lockers, and our own storage space within the building, so we don’t need a room to study in.”

On Tuesday, ASA President Kyle Burrows, Engineering Undergraduate Society President Daniel Keresteci, and Newburgh issued a memo to Mendelson and other administrators urging them to reconsider their decision. They suggested that the EUS, “which has an extensive history of running successful business operations,” be allowed to take over the café. At press time, the administration had not responded to the memo.

Pieter Sijpkes, an Architecture professor whose students started the café 17 years ago, expressed hope that, at the very least, the spirit of the Architecture Café would inform the redesign of the space.

“Students may well have to go back to the roots of the [café] as a casual meeting space,” Sijpkes said. “The recipe is simple: put in a coffee maker for day use, sprinkle around some magazines and couches, and have some students play guitar and drums on Friday nights.”