Bistro leadership, left to right: Maia Ito ('21), Kitchen Manager, Maria del Rocio Ortiz Chavarria ('21), General Manager, Bella Medina ('21), Financial Manager. Photo by Ally Fisher.
The Bistro will close for the semester on Mar. 31, Bistro Financial Manager Bella Medina (‘21) confirmed. This move is being taken to ensure that the Bistro is financially secure to reopen in the fall. “Even with reducing hours to only our most busy times, increased advertising efforts, and reduction in food production, we are still losing about $800 a week,” Medina said in an email interview.
While sales totaled $32,052 last February, sales this February totaled $7,161—a decrease of roughly 75 percent. “The major problem is not a lack of Willamette support but rather the sheer decrease in the number of students, staff, and faculty physically on campus to make purchases,” Medina said.
A graphic showing the gross sales of the week of Feb. 14 - 20, 2020, compared to the week of Feb. 16 - 22, 2021. Provided by Bella Medina.
The Bistro keeps a backup account in which profits after wage, invoice and maintenance costs are stored. Money is pulled from this account when sales are not high enough to cover the costs, and also when equipment like refrigerators, stoves and cold cases need to be replaced. Before the pandemic, this account was rarely touched, but the Bistro has relied upon it to stay open since fall 2020. Over $18,000 was spent from the backup account last semester, which [was replenished by an $18,000 grant from ASWU]. $4,000 has been pulled from the account just this February.
The Bistro does not plan to ask ASWU for additional money, since their current financial situation will allow them to reopen and “hopefully be self-supporting” in the fall. “The Bistro Managers are very grateful for ASWU’s money last fall, but we recognize that that money pulls from students' events, opportunities and access that ASWU offers,” Medina said. “This move to close the Bistro is so that in future semesters the Bistro has the financial security to open again, continue to adapt to changes and be the community center it has and will continue to be.”
Outside the Bistro on the morning of March 2. Photo by Anushka Srivastav.
According to Medina, the Bistro currently employs the smallest staff size it’s had in “a very long time.” After the fall semester and an analysis on which hours were the most profitable, the Bistro’s managers reduced the store’s hours to 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and limited its open days to weekdays only. Employees were then told of the reduction in open hours, and informed that they would only be able to work up to six hours per week. Employees were also told that the Bistro may be forced to close mid-semester. As a result, two employees decided not to return to work in the spring.
“To alleviate some of the financial strain on our employees we plan to have small opportunities to do work in the Bistro such as helping with final deep cleaning, and shipping merchandise,” Medina said. They added that students looking to support the Bistro should keep an eye out for Bistro merchandise and boxes, which will be available for students, staff, faculty and alumni to purchase. Additionally, the Bistro is partnering with the Alumni Office for a virtual baking event on March 29, where prospective and current students can join in to learn how to make buzz bars. 40 free buzz bars will be available at the Bistro that day until supply runs out.
The Bistro had made a [series of business changes] in the fall in the face of reduced sales, including the reduction of open hours, flash sales and the offering of Bistro merchandise like stickers.
“We appreciate all the support departments across campus have given to keep the Bistro open up to this point,” Medina said. “Staying open as long as the Bistro has this school year was a feat in and of itself.”