Thursday, Nov. 1, 2007

New Deal Café makes cuts to stay open

Cooperative’s loan request is denied

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In order to stay open past September, the New Deal Café in Greenbelt has reduced its hours of operation from seven to four days a week and cut 10 employees from its staff.

The cuts came following a special membership meeting Sept. 16, where members reached a consensus of cutbacks, New Deal Café Board Secretary Bill Wilkerson said.

The café, a cooperative enterprise run by a board of directors and located in the Roosevelt Center, has struggled financially for years. It has unpaid loans, a depleted line of credit and outdated equipment. With donations and loans from Greenbelt residents and organizations, the café has managed to stay open for seven years.

‘‘Since it has opened, the New Deal Café has been a great place to meet new friends and share new ideas and information. It has a very stimulating atmosphere,” Wilkerson said.

Joel Moodie, the café’s general manager since June, said the restaurant accumulated $60,000 in debt from unpaid loans and not investing in capital projects for the restaurant.

Café board president Peter May said the café owes money to the city of Greenbelt for using the kitchen in the community center to prepare meals and to Bank of America. He said equipment in the kitchen at the café is outdated and does not operate properly.

‘‘With the limited resources we have, we decided to cut back the hours,” Wilkerson said. ‘‘The changes have resulted in customer service improving because staffing is not taxed as much. We’re able to keep the place cleaner as well.”

Since Sept. 17, the New Deal Café has relied heavily on 30 volunteers for its daily operations. The café also runs on a limited schedule. It is open from 11a.m. to 2p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Thursdays, 11a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m. Fridays, 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Sundays. The café is closed Monday through Wednesday.

May said to get the establishment out of debt, management applied three weeks ago for a loan from the National Consumer Cooperative Bank, a cooperative financial service company, to pay for kitchen renovations and debt consolidation. However, the request was denied.

‘‘We had a strong business plan, but the reason for the denial was that the banks are not taking much risk at this time. The money would have gone to the cooperative and since we don’t own the building, there would have been no collateral. But we’ll pursue other alternatives,” May said Tuesday.

May also said the board will discuss the future of the café at a special membership meeting Nov. 11.

Wilkerson said since the loan was denied, the cooperative’s options are to sell shares of stock, sell the café to a private group or close.

Some Greenbelt residents such as Barbara Davis have a strong connection to the café.

Before Davis and her husband, Dwayne Davis, settled into their Greenbelt home three years ago, she said they frequently visited the café.

‘‘My husband and I practically lived at the café before our stove got turned on,” Barbara Davis said. ‘‘I do acknowledge having a restaurant is one of the most difficult businesses you can possibly run. I would love to see the business be viable, but it’s a tough structure.”

May said more than $150,000 worth of improvements need to be made to the café.

‘‘Right now our refrigerator doesn’t work, our espresso machine is broken, our cash register is broken but we’re getting by and our HVAC system needs to be replaced. We have a lot of work that needs to be done,” he said.

May said the changes to café’s operations have even changed his responsibilities as board president.

‘‘Since the changes, I have had to act as a shift manager on one or more shifts a week. I now work 10 to 15 hours a week in the café, when before I would just go to board meetings,” May said.

The cooperative restaurant has approximately 100 active members and one full-time employee.

E-mail Marcus Ngbea at mngbea@gazette.net.