Juniper Café granted only three-month extended lease despite public outcry

City and Tett Board to lead negotiations for new purchaser, transition period 

The current operators of Juniper Café signed their initial lease in 2015. 
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Juniper Café’s owners incited a public outcry following the release of an email alleging their mistreatment. A City of Kingston report has proved the allegations false.

On Jan. 22, Commissioner of Community Services, Lanie Hurdle, submitted an information report to City Council concerning the fate of Juniper Café.

The current operators of the café, Epicurious Catering (ECI), will see their initial lease—set to end on Jan. 31, 2019—extended three months following ongoing conversations with the City and a significant public outcry that included an over-5,000 name petition.

The City will simultaneously lead negotiations for a new lease with a confirmed buyer, permitting mentorship between the current owners and the potential owners during the extended lease period.

Outcry over the situation at Juniper Café began on Jan. 14, following the release of an email from owner Amber Thom was posted to the public via social media outlets such as Facebook.

Speaking to The Whig Standard, Thom didn’t intend for the public release of the email that alleges members of the Tett Board of Directors—who manage the café’s building at the Tett Centre—“nothing short of terrorized” its owners.

In the email, Thom alleges the Juniper’s “10[-]year lease … was cut short last year; it’s no secret we have had many major struggles with the Tett Exec and management.”

Thom cites “major struggles,” such as not having proper air conditioning in the café for two and a half years, unexpected garbage bills, and a 400 per cent increase in rent costs.

According to the report submitted to City Council, the issues were resolved by the end of the first term of the Café’s lease—which originally ran from August of 2015 to July 31, 2017. “This was unfortunate, but perhaps to be expected, considering the [Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning] was operating under a new programming model in a new space,” the report reads.

Thom’s email—despite being written over a year after resolutions to the café’s issues—garnered considerable attention online, inspiring an online petition created by a Queen’s student. It received 5,042 signatures before being closed.

Despite Thom’s allegations, the City report confirmed the café’s lease was scheduled to end, under extended-operation agreements, on Jan. 31, 2019. Throughout the fall of 2018, the Tett Board tried to facilitate plans for new owners who’d follow in ECI’s footsteps and operate the space.

The report states ECI received continuous offers to help find a new owner and also the opportunity to extend the lease for three months, which the couple recently agreed to after the petition and outcry.

ECI returned to the table in November with a potential purchaser and a new proposal, asking for an extension of their 2015-17 initial lease—which had been already extended to 2019—to run until July 31, 2020.

The Tett Board couldn’t respond because the new proposal diverged from previous discussions. The Board left their offer to extend the lease on the table until April 2019.

With little communication between ECI and the Board last November, the Board moved towards searching for a new operator itself. ECI indicated a purchase and sale agreement, but there was no contact with a lawyer representing a purchaser. The Board pursued the search itself as the Jan. 31 deadline approached.

At this point, Thom’s email had reached concerned community members and the online petition had garnered thousands of individuals’ support, forcing the City to step in.

Following a Board of Directors meeting on Jan. 18, 2019, the initial proposal to extend the café’s lease until April 30, 2019 was agreed upon. This was also in line with an email sent to the City by Thom herself asking for the extension period that’d been offered to ECI since October of 2018.

ECI’s lease will formally end on April 30, 2019.

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