Stauffer pondering Sodexho café

AMS concerned about CoGro competition

A rendering of the proposed Jazzman Café.
A rendering of the proposed Jazzman Café.
Photo courtesy of Bruce Griffiths

A few short months after the first ground is broken for the Queen’s Centre, students might be treated to a new service across the street.

Stauffer Library may become home to one of campus food operator Sodexho’s trendier brands—Jazzman’s Café—with the installation of an upscale coffee outlet not seen anywhere else on campus.

A formal proposal for the project will likely be presented to the Campus Planning and Development Committee—the body that oversees the development and maintenance of campus buildings—this September, with the hopes of being up and running a year later, said Bruce Griffiths, director of residence and hospitality services.

“It’s something that we should be doing,” Griffiths told the Journal. “I think students expect something like this to be on their meal plan and it’s not, and that’s troubling me.”

Residence and hospitality services has been in talks with Sodexho, Stauffer, the University Food Committee and other campus stakeholders since the library approached them with an interest in installing a food vendor some years ago.

“The idea of a café in a library is a fairly common one nowadays,” said Martha Whitehead, associate university librarian. “It’s something worth exploring—we want to make sure that we’re creating something that students want.”

AMS Food and Entertainment Director Julie Hirst said the AMS has concerns about the project.

“There’s concerns whether there should be a coffee shop in the library, as well as who should run that coffee shop,” she said. “If it becomes a direct competitor with the Common Ground then there’s a concern for how the Common Ground will survive and what the value of the student-run service [is] versus the value of a Sodexho service.”

Potentially located between two pillars in the library rotunda, Jazzman’s Café would sell mostly baked goods, sandwiches and specialty coffees, Griffiths said.

He said students on a meal plan could potentially purchase items with Flex Dollars, and seating might be installed in the rotunda and lobby.

The decision to proceed with the project would be decided upon by a vote of the Campus Planning and Development Committee sometime this fall. Eighteen voting members currently sit on the committee, including one student nominated by the AMS, one student nominated by the SGPS and the student trustee.

AMS President Ethan Rabidoux said he and his executive raised the AMS’ concerns about the project with Dean of Student Affairs Bob Crawford since Rabidoux’s administration took office May 1.

“And we’ve spoken to the Principal about it as well,” he said.

Crawford told the Journal the project has a great deal of history behind it.

The University signed a letter of intent with Starbucks to install one of their gourmet coffee outlets in the library lobby in the late 1990s, he said.

However, Crawford said then-AMS President Maynard Plant and his executive placed a high priority on ensuring the deal wouldn’t come to fruition.

“[The University] decided we weren’t going to go ahead in the face of that,” he said. “Nothing has happened in the intervening time.”

Crawford said that when Head Librarian Paul Wiens resurrected the idea of a library food outlet a few years ago, discussion became more formal.

In March 2005, Griffiths and Lorna Willis of Sodexho presented the Jazzman concept to the University Food Committee, a food services advisory board.

“This idea is in its third year of [AMS] government terms,” Crawford said. “There hadn’t been anything said [by the AMS] ... it was frustrating now that this suddenly came up.”

He said the new AMS has to ensure they are clear on their position about the project.

“It’s a very different position–[to say] ‘we shouldn’t have it at all,’ versus ‘we should operate it,’” he said.

Hirst said the AMS is still clarifying their stance on the issue, but explained their current perspective.

“We would lean towards the fact that in principle we would always support a student-run service over a Sodexho-run service, based simply on the fact that when a student puts a dollar into a student-run service, that dollar ends up somehow back to their benefit,” she said.

Crawford said a food outlet in the library would generate more overall business for the area, which includes Tim Horton’s and the Common Ground located in the adjacent JDUC.

“Do you take some sales away from existing outlets? Yes. But do you also increase sales overall in that area in a big way? Yes,” he said. “So overall it’s a good thing, but when each of the operators is independent, it would have an effect on each one.”

Griffiths said any potential profits from the project would be used to cover the University’s overhead cost, with the rest accruing to the residence and hospitality services budget.

“So really the profit goes to students in residences and part of what that money also does is it allows us to keep our operations fresh, which sort of benefits everyone who eats on campus,” he said.

Griffiths said the Jazzman Café would be considered complementary to, but separate from, Stauffer’s new Learning Commons, the first floor library renovation project already in the works.

The project, which will bring together a variety of academic support services, has its first phase due for completion by the start of the new school year.

In March, the library held two focus groups that brought together about 20 people combined, with the goal of getting student feedback on the Learning Commons plans.

“It’s funny because the students, as they looked at the plans, they said, ‘Where’s the café?’” Whitehead said.

She said beverages in covered containers and snack foods are currently allowed into the library.

“Things like what this kiosk might sell would probably be allowed in,” she said.

Crawford said the AMS’ concerns about the project are difficult to handle because the University doesn’t seek bids for potential retail spaces. Their usual route for opening a new food service would be to go to their existing contractors, primarily Sodexho and then Brown’s Fine Foods.

He said the only full-fledged student-run food service on campus, the Common Ground, was built as an exception five years ago.

“Students operate venues in which alcohol is served, the University operates venues in which food is sold,” he said.

However, since the JDUC is the University’s student centre, he said the AMS was adamant students run their own food service within.

Crawford said the University would prefer not to move ahead with the project in a controversial way.

“I would absolutely look at something on a policy change,” he said. “But [the Jazzman’s Café] is something that has been discussed and I think we’ve thought about it a lot and have it well run.”

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