On April 13, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) sent an email informing its students that Sadie’s, a student-run cafe located in the SSMU building, would permanently close on May 5. The cafe–formerly known as simply the Student Run Cafeteria or SRC–had continuously faced deficits since it opened in 2013, and reducing these losses has been an important goal for SSMU executives year after year. Even so, the email notice came as a surprise to many students because, up until that point, SSMU had shown no signs that Sadies’ closure was probable.
The announcement was particularly poorly received among Sadie’s staff, who, according to Assistant Manager Madison Lowe, had not been involved in the decision-making process. Not only was SSMU’s email on April 13 the first time that Lowe had heard about the cafe’s closure, but it felt especially abrupt considering she had already signed a year-long employment contract to work until February 2018.
“Last year we were open for all of the summer, [but this year] we were given no notice that there would even be the possibility of us closing just for the summer, let alone permanently,” Lowe said.
Although SSMU is still honouring its contracts by helping Sadie’s’ staff find employment in other departments, Lowe pointed out that the lack of forewarning prevented staff from making alternative plans for the summer.
“[The executives] intend on finding replacement jobs for all of us in SSMU […] but they haven’t guaranteed us anything,” Lowe said. “Also, there were positions in the SSMU office I would have applied for, but the deadline [has passed] and we didn’t know about [Sadie’s closure] until last week.”
In an effort to gain clarity about the decision to close, Lowe spoke to Sadie’s Kitchen Manager Simona Trunzo and SSMU Food and Beverage Director Alessandro Sangiovanni. Yet, neither of them claimed to have been consulted about the decision, which only added to Lowe’s confusion and dismay.
“[Sadies’ closure] is very strange because, if […] Sadie’s wasn’t making enough money, don’t you think they would’ve talked to [Trunzo and Sangiovanni]?” Lowe said. “Because those are the two people who are [at Sadie’s] all the time, who order the inventory, [and] who are in charge of sales.”
Former SSMU vice-president (VP) operations Sacha Magder also implied that Sadie’s made promising fiscal improvements during his tenure. In Winter 2017, he rebranded and advertised Sadie’s in order to increase its visibility and business. In an interview on March 30, he claimed that he improved Sadie’s financial circumstances significantly, estimating that the deficit was cut by 30 to 50 per cent over the course of the year as a result of his efforts.
“The rebrand for Sadie’s seemed to be really well received,” Magder said. “We’ve doubled our sales numbers almost every single month, we posted a profit in the month of February, we’ve broken even a couple other months, [although] we’ve still been posting deficits in a number of other months.”
Despite this progress, Magder was only cautiously optimistic about the future of Sadie’s, and acknowledged that it was difficult to justify supporting it given its ongoing history of deficits.
“The issue is that [Sadie’s is] still posting a fairly significant deficit and this is the fourth consecutive year that it’s posting a significant deficit,” Magder said. “Given the fact that the base fee failed last year, it does set us up for a position where we’re thinking on this critically.”
Following the announcement of Sadie’s closure, former SSMU VP finance Niall Carolan explained the financial considerations that went into SSMU’s decision. Seeking a definitive solution to the deficit, SSMU intended to prioritize improving Sadie’s throughout the 2016-2017 academic year, and then reevaluate the numbers at the end of the school year to see if the cafe was worth saving into the future.
“Sadie’s has posted operational deficits since it opened in 2013,” Carolan wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “Having a student-run food operation was deemed a priority for the SSMU, and in 2016 the Legislative Council made a decision to keep the operation running for one additional year.”
Sadies’ financial success at the end of the 2016-17 academic year was in line with what had been budgeted for the cafe at the beginning of the year. The 2016-17 budget provided room for Sadie’s to run a deficit of $100,000, which would be an improvement from the $120,000 deficit of the previous year. Carolan estimated that, in the final budget report on May 31, Sadie’s would have run a deficit between $80,000 and $100,000, which was slightly better than expected, but not enough in his eyes.
“While I am saddened by losing Sadie’s, we can no longer justify continued investment into an operation that is detrimental to the financial health of the SSMU and the range of services it provides,” Carolan wrote.
When trying to understand the decision to close Sadie’s, Lowe theorized that all the money spent on improving Sadie’s misleadingly increased its deficit, making it seem like Sadie’s was a failing business when it was actually only incurring temporary costs. Many of SSMU’s investments into Sadie’s rebranding were expensive, but Lowe explained that they were only one-time costs. To Lowe, the decision to close Sadie’s was premature and unfair because if it had been given more time to operate, these costs would only comprise a fraction of the revenue that it would make over several years.
“I feel like it could almost look like we’re not making money because they haven’t looked at what they’ve invested,” Lowe said. “The only numbers I want are just Sadie’s [to see] if [sales] are going up, and I’m 95 per cent sure they are.”
There is still no official statement on what SSMU plans to do with the space that Sadie’s once occupied on the second floor. In interview, Lowe cited rumours that the old SSMU executive team had considered moving Midnight Kitchen—a free, non-profit, student-run lunch and breakfast service—to Sadie’s former location. The current SSMU executive team has made no official statement to support this claim.
“SSMU cannot confirm whether Midnight Kitchen will be moving into Sadie’s space,” current SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva said. “We will be clearing up space issues come September.”