Java U Managers and Customers Speak Out on Café’s Closing
Student Co-operative Set to Replace Café in Hall Building
After over 15 years in the Hall Building, Java U is set to be replaced in the spring with a student food co-operative.
The problem, management says, is that they still haven’t been told directly that decision is final, and are still expected to pay $20,000 for renovations to the bathrooms Java U shares with Reggie’s bar.
The café has leased the space from CUSAcorp—the for-profit arm of the Concordia Student Union—since 1998, but will be replaced by a student-run co-op after undergraduates voted overwhelmingly in favour of the proposal in a November referendum.
“[CUSAcorp said last November] they would probably not renew the lease after May,” Java U franchise manager Jace Li said. “But it was us that asked [CUSAcorp] for the update because they had not told us anything.”
In fact, Li says she only heard CUSAcorp would be replacing the Java U with a student-run co-op after reading about it in The Link two weeks ago.
But CUSAcorp President Scott Carr says it’s “unfair to say there is no dialogue” between CUSAcorp and Java U.
In late August, CUSAcorp met with the location owners and Java U head office to let them know about the possibility the franchise’s lease would not be renewed.
“The contract that we have is clear and we do not feel the need to be opening a dialogue with them on an ongoing basis about their current lease agreement,” said CUSAcorp chairperson James Tyler Vaccaro.
“We both know the obligations of both parties for it and we know the end date for it.”
CUSAcorp was bound by CSU council in a vote on Jan. 8 not to renew Java U’s lease, cementing the mandate established by the November referendum requiring CUSAcorp to help establish a student-run lessee in the space.
A financial needs assessment is being completed by CUSAcorp to evaluate the viability of installing different kinds of student-run co-op business models in the space. The report will be presented to CSU council in February.
Taking up Space
Java U was founded by Asher Adler, a Concordia graduate, and Ron Mofford in 1996. Their flagship location—still open today—is at the corner of de Maisonneuve Blvd. W. and Guy St. Thirty locations are now open worldwide, including in Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, but the company’s very first expansion was into the Hall Building mezzanine.
The current lease between Java U and CUSAcorp sees the café pay about $7,500 per month in rent, according to Li. Carr—also the CSU VP Finance—could not confirm how much the café pays in rent because that information may be confidential.
A student-run initiative is expected to lease the space for free, but no business models have been approved so far. Services and financial feasibility reports from a CSU committee and CUSAcorp respectively are being presented to CSU council in February.
Requests for proposals for the space are due Feb. 24.
According to Li, Java U is also responsible for paying for a quarter of the construction costs for any of the space shared between the café and the student-run bar Reggie’s, which is currently closed for renovations.
Li says Java U was told they would be responsible for paying 25 per cent of the $80,000 total cost of renovating the shared bathrooms, which she says is unfair considering they’re being forced to vacate the space.
Carr says the contract is quite clear on Java U’s financial responsibility for the bathroom space, adding that Java U is essentially paying for the damages incurred over their time in the mezzanine space.
“If the construction occurs before they are removed, then yes, the contract allows us to charge them,” he said.
“Because they’ve been around for so many years and they got the chance to use the bathrooms so much, you can throw it back and say the value of the bathroom has gone down over time because of so much use, and although they may not reap the benefits of a brand new bathroom they also reaped the benefits of a bathroom continuously being used.”
A Place of Our Own
Hayley-Jean Lochner is a final-year creative writing student at Concordia. She says she regularly buys coffee from the mezzanine Java U location primarily because of its proximity to her classes.
“It’s out of convenience [I go there]; it’s at the bottom of the escalator and it’s certainly not cheaper than other coffee places around […]. As a space it’s also not particularly inviting,” she said.
Geography graduate student William Zullo says he also frequents the campus café out of convenience, adding that the popularity of cafés around the downtown campus keep Java U from getting too busy or crowded.
However, both Lochner and Zullo say they wouldn’t be against replacing the Java U with a student-run café.
“It’d be very interesting to see if things change if a student co-op was put in there,” Lochner said.
“It would make a big difference. If it was a student co-op I would go out of my way to go there,” she added—with one caveat: more affordable food.
As for Li, who says prices are as low as they can be considering the amount they spend on their cuts of meat and chicken, she says a student-run café can be profitable only with good management.
“I mean an actual manager, not a student doing the job. Students are busy with school and I know they need experience working as a manager but a manager is really important; they need to be in control,” she said.
“Whether a business makes money or not comes down to the manager. They need to do a good job.”