Published in The Link 36.19 on February 2 2016
Last July, the managers of Café X sat down for a video interview to outline their vision for the future.
Emily Karcz and Burcu Emeç laid out their need for support from the Fine Arts Student Alliance, to set up a board of directors, initiate a fee levy, get more stability and keep offering great service to their community.
“Because the café is constantly in flux, it’s been harder to create systems that stay in place,” Emeç said in the video.
A year on, Café X has hired a new manager, Shelby Wams. They have a board of directors. There’s a fee-levy from fine arts students—$0.11 per credit—to support their operations.
This is just a series of internal overhauls that helped pull the student-run not-for-profit out of debt. The most visible change was an increase in prices, between $0.15 and $0.50 on most items. The least visible change was a grant from FASA to pay off the debt they had accrued in the previous years by unknowingly undercharging for food.
“We lost a lot of money,” Karcz says today. “We went into debt because we weren’t structured enough to sustain ourselves. And we weren’t calculating our prices correctly—we weren’t calculating for the taxes we were being charged by the government. We had a cushion of money that was slowly disintegrating, and when we dove into all the numbers of the business, we realized we weren’t breaking even.”
Karcz and the management took action, once they realized the venture was in jeopardy. But, because of the ad hoc development of Café X—it started as a punky, DIY hangout for the precursor to FASA in 1983—Karcz says there was no meaningful information on finances passed between generations of management. She says they didn’t even know where their diminishing reserves originated.
“We were scrambling to pick up these pieces and find information,” she says. “We basically had to make all the accounting templates and start analyzing information from when we started managing.”
Externally, FASA sent an email last spring alerting students to vote on the new fee levy, in April. The fee levy was passed, and began in the fall semester. Then, in November, Café X sent a message out to the fine arts student body, explaining the price raises, and the fee levy. None of these communications mentioned a grant.
“FASA helped us get out of this debt that we were in. Now we’re sustainable but it’s a very fine line if we aren’t supported,” Karcz says. “Our goal is to keep things affordable for people, but it’s not easy when you don’t have support.”
Karcz says the details of the grant are easily accessible by interested students, if they ask FASA. It was voted on during the Dec. 2 FASA general meeting, she says, and students had the chance to inquire then. However, leading up to the meeting, students weren’t alerted about the grant—and the meeting notes were not available on FASA’s site at press time.
The money for the grant came out of last year’s budget, and was given a special exemption to be used, Karcz says.
“It was all very transparent,” she explains. But she won’t say how much the grant was—or the size of the banished debt. FASA hasn’t commented either.
Karcz, for her part, is looking to the future.
“We’ve built a good structure for the business at this point,” she says, listing the changes: a well-regulated accounting system, re-evaluated prices and a greater understanding of the way it all works. Plus, Karcz says management has changed the system, so that all of their knowledge gets passed down to the next managers.