Brantford Williams runs up large deficit

The Williams in Brantford, operated by the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union– the only food option offered to students by the university– has lost $231,815 so far this year, and is expected to lose an additional $20,000 before the end of the year. Members of the WLUSU board of directors expressed concerns about the figures when the financial snapshots for the last two periods were presented at Friday’s meeting.

“I’m glad it came up at the meeting, because the board needs to be discussing it,” said WLUSU general manager Mike McMahon. “What we have is a Williams operation in Brantford that will not make money; in fact it will lose a substantial amount of money this year.”

When The Cord contacted directors following the board meeting to comment on the issue they declined, citing instruction from board chair Saad Aslam.

“The board doesn’t know enough about the in-depth operations of the business,” said Aslam.

“Directors are concerned about the deficit in Brantford, and we’re wondering how long it has been going on.”

Aslam added that he has spoken to some directors who are interested in seeking alternatives for food operations in Brantford, and those who wish to do so may bring these up at the next board meeting, or transition suggestions to next year’s board.

McMahon did explain that the loss of money at Williams was not enough to cause a deficit in the WLUSU operating budget; therefore, it will not cost students money.

“That doesn’t mean there is no problem. The problem in Brantford is that there is not enough business during the off hours of operation,” said McMahon. He added that what WLUSU needs to do is figure out how to maintain the resource for students but make the business come closer to breaking even in the meantime.

“At what point is it too much of a service to provide?” questioned McMahon. “Right now, Williams is too much of a service. We need to get it back into a balance to make sure it’s responsible.”

McMahon noted that the next step in dealing with the loss of money will be to look at the hours of operation, as well as speak with the landlord and franchisor, who in February was made aware of the concerns WLUSU has with Williams.

“Right now we are not looking at closing the store, we are looking at reducing the cost of operating the store and we can’t help but look at the hours where it is not busy,” said McMahon.

He explained that the Williams in Brantford was never supposed to be successful as a stand-alone business; instead it was designed as part B of a two-phase meal plan with the dining hall.

“When WLUSU decided to open [Williams], management thought it was the best option at the time,” said Aslam, adding that it might now need to be re-examined to fit the current environment of Brantford students.

After the university scrapped the plan for a dining hall due to the high costs associated with it, Williams was pushed forward as a temporary alternative for students to have access to healthy food.

“That’s the main message we are putting across to the university right now, that it’s not a matter of when, but how quickly can we bring a dining hall to students in Brantford,” said McMahon. “When you’re touring a university and the 17-year-old has no option for a square, healthy meal to be prepared, it starts to be a stretch.”

He added that until the university is able to develop a plan for a dining hall, a more feasible model for running the Williams must be established.

“One of the reasons it so tough to decide what to do with the store is because it is something downtown that gives students, if they need one, the option for a healthy square meal,” said McMahon.

“Beyond that you’re looking at diner-style, greasy-spoon hamburger joints.”

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