General News · 22nd November 2011
Nat King Cono
Fellow Cortes Islanders and CNFC Members,
Just want to share with you the response I sent to CNFC board president Ron Bazar regarding his recent posting about the Co-op's intention to stop supporting the Co-op Café financially.
Much doom and gloom about the current state of the Co-op and the Café has been rumoured. It's time that a full and transparent statement of facts and figures comes to light. I believe that the Co-op's founding principles and guiding underpinnings are to provide food at affordable prices to Cortes islanders and not to be driven solely by a for-profit model. I'm sure that a majority of Cortesians want both the store and café to survive. Let's get creative, supportive and find ways to pull together to ensure long-term sustainability and goodwill.
First off, I want to thank you for all the volunteer work you've put in to the Co-op Board, during what has been, and is, a very challenging time. No doubt, that's a huge understatement. I also appreciate the efforts by other volunteers to try and establish accounting systems that provide more up to date reports of the financial picture.
I also want to express my strong support for the pre-pay system for members. It seems like an entirely rational approach for raising capital during the seasonal drops in business. I can't imagine a better way to raise money—having members provide the Co-op with cash that is then used to by goods at wholesale prices, then given back to individual members, gradually over time, in the form of food at retail prices. While this may appear on the surface to be labour intensive, surely with the finance committee's economic expertise there are options for streamlining and making this an efficient win-win system.
I must also express my extreme disappointment that the Co-op will no longer support the Café. I can only surmise that looking at the current economics, it may not seem viable, but I believe this is extremely short sighted. All businesses on Cortes go through seasonal adjustments, with many needing to adopt a line of credit to get through the lean months, knowing that busy season profits will more than pay for whatever is needed from a line of credit. This can be avoided by issuing a public call for pre-pay capital with clear articulation of what the funds will be used for.
It seems to me that the Café hasn't been given a fair chance. First off, it didn't open until July of this year and we all know that it usually takes at least a year or two before restaurants begin to post profits. As well, there has been virtually no marketing to get the word out about the Café and it's offerings, other than the occasional notice about a Friday or Saturday night event. I provided detailed suggestions to Julian Ayers for what could be done to substantially enhance the menu and make it appealing, along with regular and sustained marketing to inform and entice the entire spectrum of Cortesians. As well, to have the café close at 4:00pm is economic suicide. All experienced restauranteurs know that alcohol sales are what create profits. Evening beer and wine sales haven't been given a fair shake. I know that anytime an evening event is staged, the daily take for the Cfé at least doubles, due largely to alcohol and additional food sales.
The Café is the only game in town. Benny and Ruth were able to run a year-round restaurant for years in the Taka Mika. Surely the Co-op, with a creative menu, ingenuity, listening to Cortesians cuisine preferences, daily specials, regular evening events, and sustained marketing can succeed. All Cortesians long for a year-round establishment they can patronize. Furthermore, the membership gave overwhelming support for the Café when they were canvassed prior to the project getting started. I'm confused about who has the authority to withdraw the Co-op's support. I think that before such a radical shift occurs, the membership needs to be consulted.
Perhaps I don't have the full picture, but I feel that the Co-op membership, as a minimum, and the entire Cortes community as a whole, deserve a detailed explanation for what ever is prompting a very serious decision to withdraw financial support and likely force the closure of the Café. I strongly believe it's gem waiting to be polished with fantastic potential and a long-term sustainable future, that serves all Cortesians as a gathering place and community-building hub. To not have this realized would be tragic.
Comment by ron lund on 27th November 2011
it is hard to run a cafe on cortes. but the rewards are the kind people you meet make it all worth while.
it hard to run a cafe even a successful one.
cafes on cortes remind me of crab traps that some times get abandon on the bottom of the sea.
these "ghost traps" as they are called continually catch crabs, as each new crab that comes into the trap becomes bait for the next crab.
Co-ops and Restaurants don't mix.
Comment by scott mercs on 24th November 2011
I owned the restaurant and building from 1999 to 2010. Running the restaurant myself, from '99 to 2004, I managed to lose about 45k in 6 years. Leasing the restaurant to the Sunset, and the other part of the building to the Co-op, I was able to focus on getting out of debt and would have been successful had the septic field not completely collasped and forced me out of business, as well as the Sunset people who were running a successful business. Benny and Ruth invested about 200k into the business, sold it to Sweet Mamas for 75k, came out of the 11 Taka Mika years with no assets. I took over Sweet Mamas financing, with the support of Renewal Partners, and in 11 years invested about 75k of my own money, eventually leaving with nothing. Renewal Partners equalled my investment, and received little back. The restaurant business on Cortes is very difficult, so as a person who helped launch the Co-op with subsidised rent, by giving up my small apartment, it breaks my heart that we still believe our wonderful little Co-op has a role as restauranteur. I have worked as a food and beverage advisor to Arctic Co-ops Ltd., based out of Winnipeg, for the last four years, and I am dismayed that so many successful Co-op stores up here also become burdened by costly restaurants that drain the otherwise successful Co-ops of their finances and human capital. How many Co-op restaurants survive down south? The Cortes Natural Co-op had a good relationship with its original landlord, and the future restaurant tenants at 800 Sutil Point Road can have the same relationship if the Co-op nurtures and subsidizes a restaurant start-up that shares the same sensibilites and values that the members have so successfully supported for eight years thus far. For heavens sake, good people, get out of the restaurant business, and lease it to a separate venture. It will only ever be a burden to the members if it is managed by the Co-op Board and members, and there are dozens of people on Cortes alone that could lease the business from the Co-op and open a successful venture, with your guidance and support. Julian and Suzanne have sage-like wisdom on this topic, and Marc and Dina were successful in their own way until our septic field failed. Kelly across the street does so many things right and her take-out model has proven more successful than any full-service concept in the community. They all understand the painful challenges, burdens and successes as well as anyone on Cortes, and are wise counsel. Miss you all, love Scott.
Comment by marc (formely from the Sunset) on 24th November 2011
we did our best for year round fun, too bad about the septic field!
Yes indeedy Greg!
Comment by Heidi on 23rd November 2011
Having lived on Cortes for 4.5 years, I definitely see the need of a daily cafe and meeting ground, in summer and ESPECIALLY in winter.
In the winter, who doesn't need a warm place to chat with friends and sip a hot drink, eat a healthy meal?
There are so many people and such stimulus during the summer months with a great local/organic cafe to boast the island's bounty and kitchen craftsmanship, the cafe is sure to do well!
I don't know what's going on over there, and I haven't lived on the island now over a year, but quit yer squabbling and put together something enjoyable for all! I want to come back to hang out & dine in a success, not be crushed to see a loss.
Comment by Mike Moore on 23rd November 2011
Thanks Greg for expressing yourself about the Cafe situation so eloquently. I agree with everything that you wrote.
The Co-op started years back with a vision that seemed to a lot of folks to be unrealistic for our small island. "What another store in Mansons? Who's going to buy overpriced organics anyways?" The Co-op only made it because of dedication, love, lots of volunteer hours and staying true to that vision.
The cafe is going to need the same things in order to survive.
Comment by ian king on 23rd November 2011
this was my advise to one of the board members, to at least dived the two so both would not go down if one fails. it is beyond me how anyone thinks that they can make a profitable go without a proper septic field. save your money folks and do things right.shipping dirty dish water to campbell river does not pay.
Comment by Doug on 23rd November 2011
I agree with everything Greg says. In my view, by far the most valuable service the Cafe can offer is a place where members of the community can gather in the evenings for relaxed eating and socializing. The food doesn't have to be organic and vegetarian; there doesn't have to be table service; there doesn't have to be a special, often noisy, event. Nor does it have to be open every evening. Closing each day at 4 o'clock is, as Greg says, suicide.
How to run a cafe......
Comment by Myrna Kerr on 23rd November 2011
After Ruth and Benny left the Tika Maca and it had gone through a couple of unsuccessful attempts by other people to operate I asked Benny how he managed to run it for so many years successfully.
Benny told me that he subsidized the opertation with his pension and that he and Ruth worked "all hours" for very little compensation to keep it going.
Has anyone that committment, the energy and the personal money to do it again? I doubt it.
It is sad that we can't have a winter restaurant but I do not believe there is the population base to support one.
Comment by Lovena on 22nd November 2011
Yes! The Co-op Cafe can be the best thing going! Let's put our creative minds together and come up with a kick ass menu and evening events!