Burritoville Seeks More Funding From the CSU Amid Potential Legal Issues
Behind all the construction on Bishop St. is a restaurant failing to live up to its name, as no burritos have been made since its closure in late May.
The board members of the Burritoville Solidarity Cooperative may now find themselves in legal trouble, so the Concordia Student Union has earmarked $6,000 from their operations budget to aid the dwindling ownership group, which was approved at a special council meeting on August 9.
Of this money, $3,500 is being held for the possible cost of declaring bankruptcy, while the remaining $2,500 will go towards legal consultations in the event that either the former owners or the landlord of the building sues Burritoville. The co-op still owes money to both parties, according to Jordan Lindsay, one of its board members and the former CSU Vice-President of Finance in 2012.
“It’s a very modest sum with everything we have, so it will get used if it needs to and that’s because we are a support member,” said Lucinda Marshall-Kiparissis, the current CSU General Coordinator.
While Burritoville has closed, it has still not officially filed for bankruptcy yet.
Legal counsel may also be needed to countersue, as Burritoville board members alleged that the value of the restaurant was misrepresented in order to make it seem better than it was. Stock value was inflated, as was the value of assets such as restaurant equipment, Lindsay says.
In an emailed press release from the former owners, David Tamas, Steve Aitchison and Jono Aitchison said they were “floored” after they found themselves listed as the main reason the business failed.
“After years of studies and meetings and complete transparency there is no way this misfortune is our doing,” they added in the release.
Despite the CSU being the primary donor of the original purchase, they don’t expect to be a part of any legal issues.
The Original Purchase
Back in 2015—under the mandate of CSU President Benjamin Prunty—they voted in favour of donating $100,000 to help purchase Burritoville, which was just the beginning of the union’s involvement with the fledgling co-op.
Burritoville’s proposal had gone through the CSU’s finance, sustainability and fund committees before being presented to council.
“In order for [Burritoville] to come to that point to get that vote from council, they had to be in communication with the CSU for a really long time and have their business plans there,” said Marshall-Kiparissis. “Going back there was overwhelming support from council.”
The $100,000 donation to the CFC was passed without any student referendum. However, Marshall-Kiparissis, who was a councillor when the original purchase was made, said this happened because students had approved the food system special project funding policy in 2014. The policy allows the use of money from the Student Space Accessible Education and Legal Contingency fund to expand and create mainly student-run, sustainable food initiatives.
The SSAELC fund has been accumulating approximately $1 million a year for over ten years up to that point. At the time when council approved to fund Burritoville, former VP Finance Heather Nagy said they had “roughly $9 million” in the account.
“For full disclosure, I was around during the inception of this project and this gives me a pretty good insight on whether the project is viable, as I have seen it from start to finish,” Prunty said, according to official minutes of the April 8, 2015 meeting. “Giving $100,000 is a large amount of money and I do not want the CSU or myself to promote a project which will not be successful.”
In the 2014 CSU by-election under Prunty’s presidency, a similar question was asked about approving $102,536.79 to cover legal fees for The Hive Café, another student-run eatery located on the Hall Building’s mezzanine.
When questioned in 2015 why they chose not to ask students to approve the money for Burritoville, Prunty said, “For $100,000, we thought it was okay to make a decision.”
“I do not want the CSU or myself to promote a project which will not be successful.” —Former CSU President Benjamin Prunty
What Allegedly Went Wrong
Since the original purchase, there were many unforeseen problems with the building that Burritoville had to pay for. Before the closure there was a water explosion in the men’s washroom, Lindsays says, where flushing a certain urinal would cause the water to flush above the cash register.
The winter also gave the building more problems, which were caused by a “drain” on the roof.
“Whenever [the weather] got warm, [the snow] would start melting and we would get a massive flood going through the top of the building,” said Lindsay.
In April, when the co-op members realized they were in trouble, they went back to the CSU for money. There had been two proposals presented to the sustainability and finance committees. The first proposal was sent back to Burritoville with comments and other feedback in order to improve the likelihood of it being voted for by council.
Once they came back with the second proposal, it still was not enough. According to CSU Sustainability Coordinator Lana Elinor Galbraith, what Burritoville wanted was too big of a commitment from the CSU, therefore the proposal never made it to council.
“It was a plan, according to the committee, that didn’t make the project sustainable in the long term,” Galbraith said. “It was helping [Burritoville] for the next two years so it can get together a little bit, then once the two years were over, stand on its two feet, but there was no guarantee.”
Burritoville was roughly looking for $250,000 to get back on their feet as a sustainable business, Lindsay says.
The CSU will continue to be a support member for Burritoville and would be willing to support Burritoville should any legal matter arise. Marshall-Kiparissis said if any proposals were presented to the CSU, asking either for material or financial support, they would have to go through the standard process of going through the CSU’s committees, and then to council.