Nearly all college house cafes will be closed this semester after an internal audit found the cafes may not have been in compliance with sales tax regulations.
While the exact details of all potential sales tax violations are not clear, Executive Director of College Houses and Academic Services Martin Redman cited as an example that sales tax should have been applied to 84 percent of all products sold in the Rodin College House cafe .
A separate inquiry by a consultant raised concerns about whether sanitation standards were being optimized at the cafes. Since the cafes were not licensed businesses, they were not inspected to ensure they had met regulatory requirements.
Redman said the decision to close the cafes in Rodin, Harnwell, Harrison, Riepe and Kings Court college houses was based on both of these findings.
“My concern was we were functioning as a business instead of a program,” Redman said. “Once we start selling, we cross a higher code threshold to care for the people we are selling to.”
Redman admitted that he was “99 percent sure the cafes are not in compliance” with regulations. This could have spelled serious trouble for the University. “If in our cafe environment the code compliance folks came by and found we were out of compliance, they would shut down those cafes not in compliance and we would face fines,” he said in a follow up email.
Redman said that the decision to close the cafes was “very difficult,” but as soon as he knew something was potentially wrong, he “did something about it.” Even though the cafes weren’t found to be actively violating health codes, he felt that ensuring student safety was paramount. “God forbid a student got ill because we weren’t doing what we were supposed to,” Redman said.
The decision to not reopen the cafes was made at the end of June after the audit — which was started to investigate the profits of college house cafes. The only college house to keep its cafe will be Gregory College House, which will no longer sell food there, instead giving out food for free on a less frequent basis.
The college house cafes will not be reopened until the licensing issue has been resolved, which could take anywhere from three months to a year, Redman said.
Students were generally unaware of why the cafes closed, and some raised concerns when they found out about their closure.
College junior Ivy Johnson , a former cafe manager in Harnwell, created a petition to reopen the cafe, which has currently received over 150 signatures.
After learning that the cafes were closed because of possible regulation issues, Johnson said it was a problem that students were not given enough notice to adjust.
“Several work-study students relied on the cafe as a job to cover not only books for coursework, but also food and other necessary materials,” Johnson said. As a manager, she had no idea the cafes were closing, she later added.
“Without this job, several students have been forced to carry an extra burden of stress as they engage in a last-minute job search while trying to balance academics,” Johnson said.