Reggie’s Bar Forced to Adapt to Bankruptcy Concerns
Management Hopes Reforms Will Help Balance Debt
Reggie’s, the student bar located on Concordia University’s downtown campus, is in the midst of a financial crisis.
Shylah Wolfe, president of Reggie’s board of directors, described its current situation as “not good,” emphasizing that the bar “has always struggled financially.”
In 2011, Reggie’s was at the centre of a financial controversy after CUSACORP, a former for-profit wing of the Concordia Student Union that owned the bar was deemed “un-auditable” by an accounting firm. At the time, the campus bar was its greatest source of income.
In June 2015, Reggie’s abandoned CUSACORP and became a solidary cooperative the following year.
The bar’s current financial crisis began at the start of the pandemic, explained a worker who denounced the conditions at Reggie’s to The Link and wished to remain anonymous.
Given that the bar had to shut down for months on end due to COVID-19 lockdowns, the board took out a loan to secure the bar’s footing during this uncertain time, they explained. Wolfe confirmed that the first loan was taken out in 2020, and the second in 2021. “Technically right now we're liable for $40,000 to pay back by the end of 2023,” she said.
Reggie’s board is taking drastic steps. Since December, the bar shut down its kitchen to reduce operation costs. Multiple staff members were laid off, said Jessica Bortnik, the operations manager, at a board meeting which took place on Jan. 16. “We don't like the fact that the kitchen has to be closed, and […] we've had to lay off the [kitchen] workers,” Wolfe told The Link in a separate interview.
On Jan. 9, Reggie’s partially reopened its kitchen with a reduced menu, selling only snack items like gummy worms and chocolate-covered pretzels, as opposed to its typical hot menu. “This [menu] is just a compromise from completely closing the bar […] this is the best we could do,” added Wolfe.
However, the lack of staff has weighed down on the staff’s general morale, stressed Sen Huang, a worker and board member, at the same board meeting. “No one deserves to work two jobs and get paid for only one,” he said.
Huang also alleged that the lack of staff led to violations of protocols established by the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food, stating that without kitchen staff, servers are not properly trained to put food on a plate.
This violation was deemed irrelevant following the kitchen’s reopening by the rest of the board. Wolfe has since denied these allegations. “To my knowledge, the server's job description and expectations have not changed,” she said. A worker who wished to remain anonymous has denied this. “We had to prepare food and take it directly to customers,” they told The Link.
On Jan. 19, Reggie’s announced that it would be reintroducing a hot food menu, expecting to reach a minimum sales target of $21,000. The board also plans to re-hire two to three former kitchen staff. The menu will be further revised on Jan. 30.
Nonetheless, Reggie’s is still in a “very stressful” situation, explained Wolfe, as the board of directors struggles to pay back the loan within the deadline. At the board meeting, members voted to kick out The Link and enter a closed session for the conversation regarding Reggie’s current financial state.
It is unclear how close Reggie’s is to repaying the loan—something that is of great concern to some. Former board member and current general manager of the CSU Robert Henri believes that the situation is worse than is being let on. “I'm always concerned with the lack of transparency in an organization that is student-led. They're trying to hide that things are in pretty bad shape.” he said.
Nonetheless, Wolfe is hoping for a change. “I wish the CSU would be more willing to support us right now,” she said. “I expect them to come knocking on [the CSU’s] door again for financial support,” he said, specifying that the union is not enthusiastic to help this time.
Tensions continue to run high as members put the blame on various factors for this issue.
Wolfe, who became the board’s president in July 2022, was critical of the lack of action taken by past management to pay back the loan. “In my more frustrated moments, […] I do feel angry about some of the decisions I've inherited,” she expressed. “[Reggie’s] spent about three times the amount of money on food and labour for foods specifically,” she stated.
After Wolfe’s appointment, Henri was allegedly asked to step down. Current board members dispute this. Wolfe stated that Henri was up for re-election but did not attend the annual general meeting nor did he re-run for the board.
However, some disagree with the blame put on past management. “I think [the last manager] was probably one of the best if not the best managers that the organization had,” said Henri.
A Reggie’s employee who wished to remain anonymous for job security reasons and who worked with both the former manager and Bortnik stated that both made mistakes. “[The former manager] really left the financials in shambles,” they stated, alleging that Reggie’s has not been profitable for years and is tens of thousands of dollars in debt. However, they also mentioned that the current board is supposedly making decisions that “do not work in practice” and have not bothered to patronize the bar.
Wolfe also pointed to issues of the former structure of Reggie’s. “It's been a historically pretty bro-ey [male-dominated] place, and we got a new board of directors in May that really wanted to bring back some principles of cooperation,” she said.
Olivia Champagne, the John Molson School of Business student representative on the board, further emphasized Reggie’s history of valuing male employees above women. “This undervaluation of women's labour has a dollar figure attached to it which will become clear when the CNESST Equity investigation results, for the period of 2015-2020,” she added. These results were released on Jan. 23, however, not publicly shared as previously promised. When going to Reggie’s to view the report that was allegedly public, an employee initially said that the report was not yet released. However, after further inquiry, it was revealed that the report had been released and The Link was refused access to the document.
Concerned with fixing the gender unbalance, the new board members had been unable to respond to Reggie’s financial needs.
Not everyone agrees. A woman employee told The Link that this is not the cause of all their issues. “Even before [the former manager], Reggie’s wasn’t profitable and the decisions being made by the new board are not generating any more revenue.”
Yet they still have hope to recover. Champagne mentioned how Reggie’s received a grant to launch the Solidarity Supper Program—a pay-what-you-can program for students facing food insecurity on campus—every Tuesday evening. “The Reggie’s Solidarity Supper Program is also acting as a proposed solution to the financial unfeasibility of Reggie’s current menu offerings whereby the kitchen operations need to be completely re-imagined otherwise face a complete shutdown,” she stated.
While the blame for the mismanagement remains disputed, attendees of the board meeting agreed they wanted the best for Reggie’s. “We want to make sure that we have meaningful work for people and […] keeping Reggie's open so that there's good jobs for workers and a bar for the students,” said Wolfe.
This article originally appeared in Volume 43, Issue 10, published January 24, 2023.