Students may soon be able to enjoy drinks at the Highland Pub and Higher Grounds Coffee Shop once again.
Simon Fraser University is developing plans to reopen food and beverage options in Maggie Benston Centre on a limited basis in the coming months after reaching an agreement with the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) to assume operation of the facilities.
The university intends to continue to use the spaces as a pub, coffee shop, and food court featuring small and local retailers, according to Mark McLaughlin, director of SFU Ancillary Services.
“It is important to have a vibrant heart on our campus and it was disappointing to see it closed down,” explained McLaughlin.
The student society transferred the Highland Pub, Higher Grounds Coffee Shop, Maggie Benston Centre food court, and catering services to the university at the end of August following an effort to find a new operator to run the food and beverage services.
The SFSS permanently closed its food and beverage services — the Highland Pub, the Ladle, Higher Grounds Coffee Shop, and catering operations — this summer due to ongoing financial losses.
— The Peak (@PeakSFU) September 1, 2017
The food court remains open while the university gears up to relaunch the Higher Grounds Coffee Shop this fall and the Highland Pub next year. In the meantime, the pub will still be a venue for special events such as pub nights later in the semester.
“We still see it as a campus pub,” McLaughlin explained. “But we have a few ideas about how we think we can improve things.”
McLaughlin noted that one of the challenges in the past has been that the pub held a liquor-primary alcohol license, meaning that those under the legal drinking age were not allowed on the premises.
“Our vision is to probably switch it to a food-primary alcohol license so minors can come in,” he said, explaining that the delay in fully reopening the pub to students is due to the time it takes to change the liquor licensing.
The agreement between the SFSS and SFU stipulated a $250,000 commitment from university for renovations in addition to a $450,000 lump sum payment to the student society and 35% of the income from food court leases over the next decade.
SFSS President Hangue Kim said that the initial and ongoing payments could total approximately $800,000 for the society over the next decade, though the amount will depend on the number of food court tenants and the rental rate. Another factor is that the SFSS will no longer be racking up an average loss of $350,000 annually in its operations.
The SFSS Board of Directors has yet to determine how it will spend the additional money, according to Kim.
“There is no shortage of needs in our organization for funding and we are going to use our [b]oard term to understand what students need and allocate the funds accordingly,” he said.
McLaughlin said that the ongoing deficits attached to the food and beverage operations were a concern for the university.
“The business model is a difficult one,” he explained. “One of the key things is going to be the Highland Pub, we think that should be busy every evening.”
“We really want to animate the place.”
The Peak asked McLaughlin if the agreement is a good deal for the university.
“Financially, we will find out over time,” he replied. “I think it is a good deal for the community because it is all about creating these great social spaces.”
“We have greater financial resources so if we have a bad year we can absorb it [more easily],” he added.
According to McLaughlin, SFU dining made a commitment to create “fun, vibrant spaces” that offer local, fair trade, and sustainable productions and maintain local vendors in the food court in addition to hosting pub nights and allowing students to use the space at no extra charge. Another of the key commitments was also to eliminate the financial burden on the SFSS, he noted.
The university is in the process of finding a food service operator to reopen the Highland Pub and Higher Grounds Coffee Shop.