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  • Chrissy Ewald, Staff Writer

ASWU clears Bistro’s $42,000 debt

Photo by Jason Lehman

On Thursday, Oct. 26, the Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU) Senate voted to eliminate the Bistro’s outstanding debt from the COVID-19 pandemic. Following conversations between ASWU exec and Bistro leadership, ASWU President Mira Karthik (‘24) and Treasurer Milo Greenberg (‘24) proposed a bill to use ASWU’s endowment to eliminate $42,000 of debt from the Bistro’s university account. The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate. Now free of debt, the Bistro can use future profits to buy and repair equipment, purchase supplies and fund new events and services.

Though Karthik and Greenberg both emphasized how rare this sort of grant is, last week’s vote is the second time ASWU has given the Bistro money. Karthik was a first-year senator the first time, when ASWU gave the Bistro an $18,000 grant to remain open in fall 2020. This year’s grant is much larger, which Greenberg framed as positive. “If [the Bistro] ask[s] for less money … then every profit they make still goes to paying off the debt,” he said. “So they’re not actually seeing any benefit, really, from the money.” Now, instead of future profits going to debt payments, the Bistro can replace aging equipment and expand services.

Karthik and Greenberg began conversations with Bistro Manager Max Kass (‘24) and administrators over the summer about the possibility of drawing from ASWU’s endowment to eliminate the Bistro’s entire debt burden. ASWU’s endowment is a little-known pot of funds that is separate from the university’s endowment. It was set up twenty years ago with the goal of accumulating enough money to replace student fees as ASWU’s source of funding. If the initial financial plan pans out, the endowment will be large enough to replace student fees in about 10 more years.

The fund currently sits at about $360,000. It has been used a few times since its inception, including to buy a stage for on-campus events. However, this is likely the largest pull ASWU has taken. “It shouldn’t be, you know, only people in 30 years that can see the benefit,” Greenberg said.

Karthik and Greenberg said they don’t anticipate this setting a precedent of bailing out the Bistro in the future. “Maybe in another 100 years, when there’s another pandemic, this will have to happen again,” Greenberg said wryly. “But it’s definitely not planned on.”

Karthik said ASWU is confident the Bistro has returned to profitability and will stay that way for the foreseeable future. “They showed to us that they will be putting their own investments to continue to make that profit,” she said. “It’s a very intentional one-time funding.” Kass gave a presentation to ASWU at the Oct. 19 Senate meeting that showed the Bistro has been turning a profit this fall semester, the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. The Bistro is also undergoing an audit by students at the Atkinson Graduate School of Management to identify a sustainable business plan for the coffee shop going forward.

Karthik said the relationship this grant has built incentivizes the Bistro to maintain profitability in years to come. “Now we have a stake in your success, and students all have a stake in your success because we’ve pulled out money from an account that money was going into from students,” she said, addressing the Bistro. According to Karthik, ASWU will have conversations with future management to ensure accountability and support for the coffee shop.

She added that one of ASWU exec’s goals this year has been to prioritize supporting student organizations. “[The Bistro] is such a wonderful space that we have on campus, and there’s literally no other space on campus that can replicate it,” she said.

The money will likely be disbursed to the Bistro within the next month. “I’m super happy this worked out,” said Karthik. “This was really one of my big, big, big goals this semester, and I’m happy that [the Bistro] is going to be supported. … They’ve put in so much work trying to solve this problem and this is the least we can do to support them.”

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