Students Discuss Next Steps to Making New Mezz Café a Reality

The Java U in the Hall Building could possibly be replaced by a student-run cooperative. Photo Brandon Johnston

With students having overwhelmingly voted in the November byelections to replace the Java U in the Hall Building with a student-run co-op, the Concordia Student Union must now get to work to see if the project is possible.

A committee was formed to answer that question at last week’s CSU council meeting. VP Academic and Advocacy Gene Morrow, VP Clubs and Internal James Tyler Vaccaro and councillors Patricia Martone, Kabir Bindra and Gabriel Velasco are the committee’s voting members.

Jessica Cabana, who was part of the official “yes” campaign for replacing Java U, is an ex-officio member—meaning she can propose motions but cannot vote.

Martone, Bindra and Velasco were all elected to council in last month’s byelections. Students at large will be added to the committee next semester.

At an informal meeting in Sustainable Concordia’s boardroom on Friday, Velasco outlined the task at hand for the committee.

Velasco said there are essentially four options the committee will choose from to find a replacement for the Java U franchise: decide co-operatively with other stakeholders, put out a request for proposals, make the decision unilaterally or decide the task is impossible.

The committee will also be putting together a feasibility report, likely with outside help paid for by the CSU.

Velasco, who is also a member of the Concordia Food Coalition, is gunning for the co-operative selection model, which The Hive Café project is using.   

“We have to do a lot of outreach to see who wants to get involved,” said Velasco at the meeting.

Cabana pointed out that the Université de Montréal and Université du Québec à Montréal have numerous student-run cafés on campus. At Concordia, the student-run Café X has two locations, but only the one in the VA Building has seating.

“This is something that the [anglophone] community doesn’t have yet,” said Cabana, referring to the abundance of student-run food options available at Montreal’s two French-language universities.

Before 1998, the space where the Java U now stands was called the Mezz Café and was managed by CUSACorp, the CSU’s for-profit arm. CUSACorp still manages campus bar Reggie’s, while Java U is a paying tenant.

Java U began leasing the space in 1998. At the time, the café only had one location, at the corner of Guy St. and de Maisonneuve Blvd.

Java U has since grown to have franchises across Canada and in the Middle East.

In 2004, Concordia student Philip Ilijevski won a bid to open a new café in the space, holding a franchising contract with Café Santropol. At the time, The Link reported that Java U had their lease renewed for four more years despite Ilijevski having a verbal agreement with CUSACorp.

After eight months of what Ilijevski described as a game of cat-and-mouse with CUSACorp, Santropol issued a letter saying they could no longer commit to a franchise in the space.

The failure to replace Java U in 2004 is a reason Cabana thought it was important the question went to the ballot this time around—so that the CSU, CUSACorp’s sole shareholder, knows explicitly what students want out of the space.

But the referendum question is no guarantee that Java U is going anywhere.

“Java U’s rent is financing Reggie’s,” said Bindra, who represents the John Molson School of Business on council. “Reggie’s started making money but there’s a long way for it to go.”

CUSACorp had failed to post a profit for a decade before renting the Mezz Café out to Java U, and at the time owed over $1 million to the CSU.

The initial rent agreement saw Java U pay CUSACorp $40,000 per year. The café currently pays $78,000 in rent to CUSACorp annually.

Charging similar rent to the new café isn’t likely to happen any time soon. Velasco said it would be a kind of “double taxation” to students since the referendum question requires students—who already pay a fee levy to the CSU—to have a controlling share over the new café, instead of having a paying tenant subsidize the losses from Reggie’s.

Bindra noted that anyone making suggestions for the café should be prepared to be met with resistance. During the byelections, an unofficial “no” campaign appeared, casting doubt on the “yes” campaign’s business plans.

“It was JMSB,” said Bindra. “You have to remember they come from a culture of looking at the numbers.”

At Friday’s meeting, newly elected CSU councillor Charles Bourassa floated the possibility of a collaboration between a future co-op and Reggie’s, suggesting that the bar could sell any remaining café food at the end of the day.

Sociology student Lauren Aghabozorgi, who attended the meeting, proposed a forum be set up to take suggestions from those who had opposed the idea in the first place.

“Students can have a say in where the food is sourced from,” said Cabana about a possible cooperative Mezz Café, adding that if students come to the annual general meeting they can vote to have their needs better met the following year.

Learn more about the Mezz Café’s history in our Archives Blog.