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Café owes a totalled $219K to various creditors, seeks new management

Photo by Tina Wallace

Café Nostalgica has endured some growing pains since reopening this fall, as the popular student bar has found itself deep in debt and without a manager.

The Graduate Students’ Association (GSAÉD) of the University of Ottawa held a meeting Nov. 26 to discuss, among other things, the financial and managerial situation at Café Nostalgica and the voting rights of some of its members.

The café has been without its liquor license since Oct. 7 and terminated its manager in mid-November.

Deep in debt 

At the meeting, the GSAÉD approved two separate motions to help Café Nostalgica with a combined $110,000 to pay employees and vendors upon finding the café did not have the money to meet its financial obligations.

GSAÉD finance commissioner Carolyn Grève reported that the café owed various creditors $189,000, some of which the executive was unaware of until Oct. 22. On that date, the association leant the café $23,000 to ensure staff members were paid on time and did so again on Nov. 12. The combined $46,000 was drawn from an $80,000 grant to the café from a Capital Building Fund (CBF), under the GSAÉD.

Café Nostalgica was revealed to owe $100,000 to the CBF, to be paid over a period of several years, as well as $44,000 to vendors (including $17,000 to Sleeman Breweries Ltd.) and $45,000 to the university.

The university is gradually collecting debts from Café Nostalgica by garnishing the money from transactions made using student cards. Grève estimates these debits add up to roughly $12,000 per month.

On Nov. 15, three days after the second grant, Nostalgica manager Kate Gauvreau was dismissed. There are few details about the removal of Gauvreau, but the GSAÉD’s student life commissioner Patricia Barra de la Tremblaye said the termination was without cause, meaning there will be no investigation and she will be given severance pay.

Grève said neither Gauvreau nor the GSAÉD could comment on the termination because the executive has consulted a human resources lawyer.

“Legally, there are things we can’t talk about, and we’re looking at steps moving forward. That’s the important thing for us,” Grève said.

The GSAÉD has posted the available position for a new manager and hopes to appoint one before the winter break.

External commissioner Seamus Wolfe said the association expects monthly or quarterly reports from the new manager that focus on a specific set of guidelines set by the GSAÉD. Grève said the reports would be “specific information, reported to specific bodies and at specific times.”

“We have always counted on the relationships of our staff members working together, and one of our goals going forward is to specifically formalize them,” she said.

In order to help ease the financial situation, Grève brought forward two motions at the meeting.

The first was to give the café an $80,000 grant from the CBF to help day-to-day operations at the café—though $46,000 of that total has already been used over the previous two months to ensure employees were paid. The motion passed with 24 in favour and one opposed, with two faculty reps abstaining.

The second motion was for a $30,000 loan to support cash flow and help pay outstanding debts to vendors. According to Grève, the GSAÉD wanted to pay a portion of the outstanding balance because many of the vendors Nostalgica works with are small local businesses that heavily rely on their contracts with the café, although its vendors are not exclusively small businesses. The motion passed with only two representatives opposed.

“We wanted to make sure they were paid as quickly as possible and in good faith,” Grève said.

The loan, which is expected to be repaid in the coming months, will bring Café Nostalgica’s total owed to the GSAÉD to $130,000 and total owed to all creditors to $219,000.

Lack of licensing

Café Nostalgica also has yet to reacquire a business license and a liquor license, despite having been open since August.

Grève said the applications for both licenses had been submitted but not completed, and the responsibility to deal with those matters was with the manager. She said it was out of the kindness of the inspectors from the City of Ottawa and the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) that Café Nostalgica was not fined for operating without a business license and for serving alcohol without a liquor license for a short time.

At the time of the meeting, the GSAÉD had applied for a business license and expected approval from the City of Ottawa within a week’s time. Once the café receives its business license, the GSAÉD will be able to reapply for a liquor license, which it plans to have by January.

Grève said the GSAÉD is looking forward to getting things back to normal at Nostalgica.

“We are keeping the café open until Christmas and we’re looking forward to coming back in January more awesome than it was before,” she said.

Nostalgica is set to hold four special fundraising events in December. The venue has purchased special event permits from the AGCO and will be able to sell alcohol at these events.

Voting rights on GSAÉD

Another motion presented at the meeting aimed to remove the voting rights of some members of the GSAÉD.

The motion sought to take the vote from the GSAÉD executive, Canadian Union of Public Employees representatives, and U of O Senate representatives, all of whom currently have voting rights at GSAÉD council meetings.

The motion narrowly failed by not receiving the majority needed for adoption, with 11 in favour, 11 opposed, and three abstentions. Those who were in favour of the motion said by limiting the vote to only student representatives, motions passed would better represent students.

Nikesh Trecarten, a student representative to the Senate who opposed the motion, said the GSAÉD should be promoting an inclusive approach to politics, not a divisive one.

“I do believe that there is a desire among students to see more cooperation between the various groups that represent their interests,” he said. “I think that students at this university don’t want to see a kind of oppositional, political setup or an engagement between the different parties that is based on oppositional practices.”

Trecarten said that while the work that is done at GSAÉD is important, everything should be kept in perspective.

“I think at this stage in politics, we’re all students, not just in the classroom, but we’re students of politics,” he said. “Meetings like this and other meetings in a sense are lessons. It’s like