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Université de Sherbrooke

All things change, even people’s taste in food. And the student community at the Université de Sherbrooke is no exception. It was precisely to provide students with access to a more varied and higher quality menu, while seeking to take the place of the former food concession on campus, that a dozen students at the university established the Café CAUS worker cooperative. And since August 2009, Café CAUS has served 1,000 meals a day, employs 50 people and reinvests its profits in the university community. A win/win recipe!

Though Maclean’s magazine ranked the Université de Sherbrooke as the number one French-language university in a 2006 poll, it also revealed that the institution’s food services cut a sorry figure. This was all it took to prompt a handful of students to try and change the situation. And the timing was perfect for submitting a new proposal as the food concession’s contract was due to expire in spring 2009.

“It was of course a major project as the concession represented an annual turnover of more than $3 million, 50 employees, six food service counters around campus and even catering services,” recounts Christelle Lison, vice president of the cooperative’s current board of directors.

With no time to waste, the students immediately got to work, developing the fine details of a solid business plan and appealing to different partners so as to add credibility and professionalism to their endeavour. “The cooperative model seemed like the best solution for an organization such as ours in a university setting” points out the board’s president Kristalna Vincent.

The student group then had to secure funding that would enable them to launch operations should the cooperative obtain the mandate from the university. With the $250,000 they managed to raise, in addition to having found a dormant partner, the Café CAUS eventually managed to negotiate an over-the-counter agreement for a five-year food services contract, which will terminate in 2014.

“On 14 August 2009, we were finally ready to take the innovative change of direction and offer the university community a new formula,” the vice president proudly states, adding that the Café CAUS thinks big because they are currently working towards setting up a bistro.

The Université de Sherbrooke students can now not only benefit from higher quality services, they can also reap in the rewards of its fringe benefits. Because it is a worker cooperative, the Café CAUS makes a point of reinvesting in order to guarantee a higher standard of student life. The cooperative has thus sponsored numerous events and projects, such as sports tournaments, back-to-school activities, the Vert & Or sports teams and even conferences and colloquiums. Students can also use the Café CAUS’s structure as a research laboratory, completing assignments based on the business model with the goal of improving it.

“From the very start of this adventure, we didn’t want to just provide the student community with services, we also wanted to be an integral part of it. And I think that up to now we have succeeded,” asserts Kristalna Vincent.




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