On July 13, 2018, a fire broke out in McIntyre Medical Building, known among students as McMed. According to the CBC, the fire started on the outdoor terrace of the building, with most of the damage sustained on the fifth floor, where Med Café is located. This left the building without any dining locations. Though most of the building was up and running again by the following semester, Med Café remained closed until December 2019, when it quietly reopened with a renovated seating plan.
According to Marisa Albanese, the senior director of Student Housing and Hospitality Services (SHHS) at McGill, the re-opening of Med Café with a new seating plan, was a concerted effort that involved several McGill organizations working together.
“[SHHS] is responsible for food services on campus,” Albanese said. “We worked in collaboration with Facilities Management and the Faculty of Medicine [on this project]. There was an [in-depth] design process, and the whole area was renovated.”
While the previous seating area featured long tables reminiscent of a classic high school cafeteria, the new space feels warmer and more welcoming, with smaller, round tables. Additionally, the café added a lounge area in the back, which features carpeted flooring and colourful couches for students to relax on. Furthermore, more microwaves are now available in the seating area to allow students and staff to reheat food from home.
“What we want is for students to feel comfortable in the space, to study and […] hang out with their friends,” Albanese said. “You’ll notice that the back room […] was actually walled off before, so the Faculty of Medicine made a decision to tear down that wall and extend that space, [to] add more seating for students [….] You’ll notice [that there is more] window space [now]. We have a banquette that goes along the windows and seating, so you can actually sit outside while eating.”
Samuel Rahman, U3 Representative for Pharmacology Integrative League of Students (PILS), feels that the new cafeteria is a much more inviting and comfortable space compared to what it was before.
“The food is relatively the same, but the actual cafeteria is much nicer now,” Rahman said. “It’s actually [incredibly] nice. There are more seats, and if you actually go inside, there [are] sofas and a nice lounge area.”
While Med Café has made tremendous changes in revamping their appearance, the menu did not change drastically. Med Café offers the same selection of grab and go snacks, found in other spots on campus. There is also a self-serve salad bar and a hot food buffet that offers both vegetarian and vegan meals. Options for the hot food buffet are changed frequently to allow for a variety of food from different cuisines, ranging from roasted potatoes to Asian-style crispy pork belly with buns. These selections remain relatively homogenous to other campus-owned cafés, since many spots on campus are owned by one operator, Dana Hospitality.
“The [food options] aren’t dramatically different,” Albanese said. “[They are fairly] similar [to what they were] in the past [….] The only difference is that there’s a new operator managing the café [….] That really [motivated] all of our cafeterias and all restaurants on campus to get started with the new vendor in June 2019.”
The re-opening of Med Café is important for students like Rahman, who work long hours in McMed. While the lower half of campus contains a multitude of food options within a short walking distance of each other, finding food on the upper side of campus—Stewart Biology and McMed—can be a trek.
“I work in a lab on the 12th floor, so I’m always [in McMed],” Rahman said. “Med Café is one of the only places in the area [to easily grab food or a coffee]. The [second] closest option is Second Cup [inside the Stewart Biology building] or the Subway [located on Dr. Penfield]. It’s not great, [especially] the coffee at [Second Cup], which is expensive.”
Especially during the winter, McMed can feel isolating. Diana Di Lorio, U3 Representative for Physiology Undergraduate League of Students (PULS), is happy that Med Café offers more expansive food options than Second Cup. However, she believes that Med Café can still do better in terms of its pricing.
“The options available in the café are on the pricey side,” Di Lorio said. “I’ve been to [… Med Café] during lunch hours and have seen more options than in the original, but [I still thought] it was pricey. In fact, I have [overheard] other people discussing the food prices [in Med Café] before, so I [don’t] think I’m [alone in this.]”
Issues with food affordability and availability have long been a point of discussion among McGill students. First-year students living in residence pay $5,975 for the mandatory meal plan, but often face a lack of options for their dietary restrictions. A 2017 article in The McGill Tribune argued that residence dining halls should have more gluten-free, vegan-friendly, and non-dairy items for students who need them. In 2014, the Tim Hortons in Redpath Library was controversially changed to a Premiere Moisson, sparking debates about rising food prices on campus. Posts complaining about expensive food and the lack of good quality food can be found all over r/McGill.
However, Albanese explained that her colleagues had given positive feedback on the menu pricing at the new Med Café, saying that the food that they had bought was cheaper than expected.
“My understanding of the hot and cold food items that [can be] purchased there is [that they cost] about nine to 10 dollars, because it’s all about the weight,” Albanese said.
Rahman noted that he was surprised when Med Café had re-opened because it seemed out of the blue.
“I think it opened during late winter exams, but no one was here [so no one knew about it,]” Rahman said.
For now, Med Café remains a quiet affair, owing to the lack of announcements to its reopening.
“We [haven’t] done [any] advertising yet,” Albanese said. “We’re going to have a small launch very […] soon. We were set to have one last week, but we had to cancel unexpectedly.”
Even with some publicity, Med Café remains a cafeteria whose purpose is to serve the needs of the students and faculty who study and work in upper campus. With this purpose in mind, many students have voiced their admiration for its improvements in where they eat and study, as well as their disappointment in the lack of what to eat between their study period.