The Many Convoluted Histories of Reggie’s
Concordia’s history can at times be strange, but just when you think things were as odd as they could be, turn and take a look at Reggie’s.
About three weeks ago, VP Finance Keny Toto and former councillor Ramy Khoriaty gave a presentation to the Concordia Student Union on the past and current state of this university’s student bar, Reggie’s.
Both Khoriaty and Toto sit on the board of CUSACorp—the for-profit arm of the CSU—and are the operations consultant and treasurer, respectively.
CUSACorp oversees the operation of Reggie’s, and collects rent from its neighbour, Java U. The CSU is the sole shareholder in the corporation.
Over the past year, Reggie’s has seen some drastic changes, both esthetically and by way of its internal structure.
“We gave the presentation because there have been a lot of changes at Reggie’s, especially internally,” explained Khoriaty. “It’s not the Reggie’s that we knew before, and it was important to take some time to show this to the Board of Directors.”
The presentation went on to outline some recent problems with the bar, including alleged “corrupt staff,” alcohol theft, lack of maintenance, the firing of nine employees and the resignation of four others.
Another point addressed a deficit, or loan, from the CSU of about $1.4 million.
Since its inception sometime in 1977, Reggie’s Bar has been a bit of an enigma—rather than one simple, chronological history, Reggie’s has many different histories, depending on who you ask. The only real thing that unites the different tales is that this bar, in all of its incarnations, has seen a lot.
Follow the Money
Reggie’s has, especially in recent years, come to be seen as a bit of financial disaster.
Once located on the seventh floor of the Hall Building, Reggie’s moved to its current location in 1994.
The move wasn’t free, but the CSU helped foot the bill.
Since then, that bill—with the help of several deficits posted by the bar over the years—has grown to make up the approximate $1.4 million debt it owes the union.
“The advances from the CSU are non-interest bearing, and are without a specific term of repayment,” said Toto. “[Negotiating payment] would be up to the shareholders—which is the CSU—and the Board of CUSACorp to decide that, and to see if there could be a plan to repay it.”
According to Khoriaty, despite their efforts, CUSACorp has had a tough time addressing this.
“We have not yet discussed the $1.4 million we have in debt,” said Khoriaty. “It’s on CUSACorp because of the past debts we’ve had. Whenever we have profits, the accountants are putting them straight away towards closing this $1.4 million, however we’re very far from it.”
Despite the mounting debt, both Toto and Khoriaty claim that CUSACorp is doing better.
According to documents shared with The Link by CUSACorp, the corporation is set to break into the black by an estimated $20,000, this year.
“Financially, Reggie’s is looking pretty good right now. We passed our sales target for the year ending Dec. 31, 2012,” said Toto. “Our target was $200,000, and we went over that to reach approximately $220,000. Since then, at the end of February, we’re at $305,810, which is very good.”
Despite being financially on the upswing, Toto wrote in his Feb. 8 executive report that Reggie’s was “going through a tough time.”
This, according to Khoriaty, referred to another issue with the bar’s staff.
“The bigger picture here is that there is no bigger picture. [Reggie’s is] like an annual hamster wheel.”
—Marlow Wilson, Former Reggie’s Manager
The “Corrupt Staff”
Reggie’s recently fired its general manager due to alleged issues with his work ethic.
However, Khoriaty suggested in his presentation that this staffing issue is nothing new, claiming that Reggie’s had a “corrupt staff” last year.
Khoriaty cited issues with stolen liquor and missing funds, recalling that in one night he counted six bottles of spirits, each around $40 in value, that had gone missing.
“When I started this year, it was a year of change,” said Khoriaty. “I was thinking about three phases: first of all, cleaning house and getting rid of everything that was bad; then stabilization, and then renovation. To be able to clean house, the first step was firing people. When there is this much alcohol missing and being given away, you cannot work.”
In total, Reggie’s fired nine employees between April and September 2012, and lost four more to resignations.
Khoriaty said that over the summer, he and the rest of CUSACorp met with their lawyers and decided the best way to move forward was to fire a certain amount of people and start over.
Owain Harris, a former bartender and interim manager at Reggie’s for about seven years, remembers things differently.
“We were all given temporary lay-off notices in April 2012,” said Harris. “I thought that I was coming back to my job in September, as did a lot of people. I was planning on coming back to the bar, and they decided put other people in those positions.”
As for the allegations of corruption, Harris said they were insulting, though he admitted Reggie’s does seem to have a history with staff issues.
“Allegations of corruption have been going on at that bar since the day I started work seven years ago,” he said. “I heard about shady things going on at the bar. There’s always been trouble associated with that.”
Marlow Wilson, former long-time manager and bartender of Reggie’s, said that while not ideal for the bar, its many issues can at least provide those affected by them with a valuable lesson.
“I think a lot of people have made mistakes and have learnt from these mistakes. That’s part of the experience for everyone,” he said. “[The university] is sort of a microcosm of a real society where you have businesses and political organizations and the interplay between them teaches people things—I think there is something to be said for that.”
An Issue of Governance
Khoriaty said this year was intended to be one of change. The first steps toward a solution, he said, unfortunately involved removing former staff.
But, pointing fingers may be part of the problem.
“I’ve seen every generation of ‘blame the past and promise the future,’ and it’s always the same story every year,” said Wilson, who was a student at Concordia from 2004 to 2011.
“That’s optimism, and it’s a good thing for people to have, but it only happens in student organizations where the past isn’t there, and the past becomes a sort of narrative that the people trying to draft the future want it to be.”
One thing that everyone seems to agree on is the presence of an inherent governance crisis.
Members of CUSACorp’s Board turn over every year, and so keeping institutional memory is a problem.
Comparatively, general managers of Reggie’s hold three-year contracts.
“Nobody wants to take responsibility,” said Wilson. “ I can tell you that from a traditional governance perspective, things were not always done the way that you’d expect them to be done for a private corporation.”
This lack of clear leadership, and the divide between the corporation and the staff, seems to be at the root of Reggie’s’ problems.
“The bigger picture here is that there is no bigger picture,” said Wilson. “It’s like an annual hamster wheel.”
Ultimately though, Reggie’s has come a long way, and it could be on the up-and-up.
Despite the contentious past, Harris recognizes the potential that the incoming changes have to help the bar in the long run.
“I’m proud to see that it’s becoming something good,” he said. “When I started there it really was a hole in the wall. I think that students deserve to have a good place to hang out.”