Soma Café relocation pushed back to fall

UWSA coffee shop continues to siphon student fees

Dylan Hewlett

Construction delays have pushed back the relocation of the financially beleaguered Soma Café to fall 2013, the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association says.

The café was originally slated to move out of the Duckworth Centre in fall 2012 and replace Café Bodhi on the first floor of Lockhart Hall. However, Andree Forest, UWSA vice-president internal, said unforeseen challenges have delayed retrofitting the area. 

Unable to elaborate on the nature of those delays, Forest says that plans to cover the $8,000 renovation of Soma’s new location are still being discussed.

“Construction is being coordinated by the university administration,” she said. “We’ve just been playing the waiting game.”

Forest is confident the move will be complete during the upcoming summer, with the café opening by fall.

Opened by the UWSA in 2008, the café has accumulated a deficit of nearly $250,000. It has lost close to $30,000 in student fees this year alone.

The UWSA blames the deficits on Soma’s barely visible location on the first floor of the Duckworth Centre. Online reviews of the eatery, meanwhile, complain of inconsistency in both the service and product of the café.

As Soma awaits its move, the UWSA has cut staff from three to two working during any given day, and reduced its hours of operation, closing each day at 3 p.m. and remaining closed during weekends and summers.

Despite these efforts, more could have been done to ensure Soma’s financial success, Forest said. “It’s been difficult. Our focus was on creating a new business plan for the new location,” she said. “We thought we’d be moving.”

In 2011, the UWSA board recommended the café’s closure. However, student support resulted in $150,000 of the UWSA budget being designated to keeping Soma open for another year.

The UWSA has not considered how much money it’s prepared to lose before considering permanent closure of the café.

Forest believes student support is enough of a reason to work at preserving the café.

The plan for the new location is focused on first breaking even, then ultimately generating profit once that is achieved, she said.

The UWSA has not considered how much money it’s prepared to lose before considering permanent closure of the café.

“We were anticipating the move much earlier,” reasoned Forest. “We were anticipating a guaranteed steady inflow of customers.”

Alain Beaudry, a University of Winnipeg business student and former private business consultant, maintains that Soma should close, unless the UWSA can establish the café as a unique choice for campus food and drink.

“If it’s just a place to go buy coffee then no,” they will not be financially viable, said Beaudry, adding Soma has to set itself apart from other on-campus food choices.

Reducing hours and number of staff are obvious attempts at reducing operating costs, but are not enough to convince Beaudry that Soma can turn around.

“Whether that’ll work or not depends on whether or not they can come up with a unique offering,” he said.

The university has confirmed that a pharmacy is expected to occupy Soma’s current home after the move, but did not speak to the delay of its installation.

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