Board bails out business

After the Mar. 4 meeting of the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union (WLUSU) Board of Directors (BOD), WLUSU has set in motion a plan to bail out the ailing Williams Fresh Café outlet it operates at the Laurier Brantford campus.

The Williams, which was opened in Nov. 2008, has thus far accumulated a deficit of $655,398 and is projected to add another $150,000 on to that amount by the end of 2011.

Mike McMahon, WLUSU general manager, presented the BOD with a proposal to redirect funds reserved for the creation of a food service business in Brantford into the Williams in the hopes that the business will get back on its feet. The motion passed after some deliberation.

“What we want to do is stabilize Williams and not have the burden so unfairly rest on an operation in Brantford that’s very popular with students,” McMahon explained.

Originally set for construction in 2009, the food services building plan was never put in motion.

With approximately $271,000 available in reserve funds, McMahon also hopes that other factors will increase traffic to the café, including a 500-employee call centre, which may be moving into the Market Square Mall where Williams is located.

Though McMahon heavily emphasized the call centre’s potential for an increase in traffic to the café during the meeting, he later disclosed to The Cord that there are no confirmed plans for the call centre to move into the mall.

“That is certainly speculation,” he said.

During the meeting the call centre was presented as a catalyst for the café’s improvement. Director Jonathan Collaton expressed some skepticism.

“We’re just hoping the call centre shows up and stops us from losing money?” he asked during the meeting.

During the café’s first year of business, a different call centre was operating in the Market Square Mall. Despite its presence, the Williams still operated at a deficit of $202,626 in 2008.

Vice chair of the board Chris Walker supported the reallocation of funds, which he explained was possible by way of a majority vote by the board.

“I voted in favour of freeing up the money because it makes good financial sense,” he said, stating that what the funds were originally intended for, a WLUSU business in a university-funded dining hall, is no longer feasible. “Right now the union is not in a financial position to be creating another food service that in all likelihood will also be in a deficit situation,” he said, noting that the fee had no other determined use at present or planned for the future.

In addition to the possible presence of a call centre, Brantford is introducing a new arts-based business information technology program, which hopes to bring over 100 additional first-year students in Sept. 2011.

Though the motion passed, many directors echoed Collaton’s reservations. Director Seth Warren, who abstained from the vote, was doubtful of the fate of the business if the call centre did not materialize.

“Basically, it’s throwing the money at it with a prayer,” he said. “What sort of tangible action can we take?”

Warren, who abstained from voting, later expressed that he felt the solution was not a long-term one. “I feel like it’s kind of a cover-up, a band-aid solution,” he said.

While students at the Waterloo campus enjoy a variety of food options at its dining hall, and other food services, Brantford students have been left with a small selection of pastries, soups, sandwiches and salads to choose from at Williams.

“It doesn’t provide the full dining hall scope of course, because the nature of the operation is that we have a menu that we can’t deviate from as part of the Williams program,” McMahon explained.

Despite the dire financial situation and the doubts that the business will continue to improve, McMahon was more positive about the environment that the café provides for students.

“Sure, you can criticize that there’s not anything on the tables that’s been purchased,” he said, “but the tables are full, laptops are out, and it is the only study space that is provided by either the university or the students’ union in Brantford that feels at all like a home environment.”