This year the café on the second floor of 100 McCaul came under new management; OCAD University’s Student Union (OCADSU) now boasts the space as one of its most recent expansions. Aptly renamed “That Place on the Second Floor,” the café was reimagined with the collaboration of participants from the student body and members of the OCAD University community. We connected with Student Union representatives Simran Kaur and Hilary Cluett to find out more about how different the space has truly become.
[Image description: photo of the cafe counter, showcasing food options available for sale and a sign above the counter stating ‘For Students By Students’]
SITE-SPECIFIC: Why did OCADSU decide to operate the café as a student run business?
STUDENT UNION: We wanted to extend the Student Union’s reach and provide more for OCADians. The OCAD Student Union recognized a need for community space, healthier food options, and fostering student engagement. Drawing from similar local, sustainable cafes and food co-operatives, we built a vision that brought together innovation and entrepreneurship. Ultimately our approach to achieving success was multi-faceted.
There were weeks where we spent every moment researching sustainable initiatives all across Toronto, drawing as much information as possible about operation structures, food vendors, food cycles, waste management, and every new detail that popped up. I think it’s safe to say that we had no idea of the community we had jumped into. We discovered unsurmountable levels of passion for local food systems, and were exposed to infrastructures that we didn’t even know existed around us. Along the way we knew we had to narrow down on priorities, and that’s when we consulted the people that mattered most: students. We invited students to taste-test our vendor’s foods before we chose them, as well as our coffee suppliers. We sent out a poll to decide what the name of our cafe should be. All of our cafe staff are OCAD students.
That Place on the Second Floor has been a long process of consultation with students and OCAD U administration. Through discussions with senior leadership, we were able to align on goals around social and environmental sustainability.
[Image description: closer view of cafe’s set-up and beverage selection]
S: What are some of the priorities that inform the café’s practices and product selection?
“Our Food Advisory Committee meets regularly to set our cafe’s priorities and make decisions around menu options, so that we can make sure we’re always offering what our students are looking for.”
SU: Sustainability was built into our mandate from the beginning, which gave us criteria on how to select food vendors and suppliers. What we got from these partnerships was much more than healthy food, however, because we were able to adopt more sustainable operating practices as well. We had more options for things like waste management and low-quantity purchasing that enhanced our ability to participate in just food systems, and wouldn’t have been available had we chosen standard sources.
Another priority for us was making sure that our food is as accessible as possible, which has perhaps set us apart the most. We have a range of options for so many dietary restrictions, we often lose count! Gluten-free, nut-free, vegetarian, organic, and kosher options are all available at That Place on the Second Floor. Of course, we have general food items as well, like Jamaican patties and breakfast sandwiches.
The great thing about our cafe is that we’re always looking to fine-tune our menu options, based on student requests. Our Food Advisory Committee meets regularly to set our cafe’s priorities and make decisions around menu options, so that we can make sure we’re always offering what our students are looking for. Students can join the committee by emailing Hilary at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Image description: photo of a large jar labelled ‘feedback’, filled with feedback notes from the OCAD U community]
S: It has only been a short few months, but what has been your experience so far with running the new Student Union café?
SU: I think the most valuable experience has been the OCAD community feedback for the cafe. We’ve learned so much more about our students’ needs around food security and community. I’m not sure we had any radical approaches, because we ultimately just used the Student Union approach, which meant allowing the people who mattered most to set our priorities. We’re still under the six-month mark, but I think it’s safe to say we’ll be sticking around for a while, and are taking in all the changing needs of students to improve, day by day!
S: What is your vision for the future of the cafe?
SU: As the cafe grows, we’re looking to see how we can facilitate community and student-focused space around the cafe. Right now, many of the Student Union services are running out of the cafe, like our Foodshare program. It is also a point of contact for anyone interested in connecting to the Student Union, or finding out more about what is available to students. But, we can do more. Optimizing the seating area and wall space would give students a more enhanced experience. I, personally, would love to see some potted plants soaking up some of the sun in there.
[Image description: photo of a promotional sign for OCADSU’s participation in the Foodshare program]
S: What is the role of creativity in advancing equity?
SU: Creativity is the centre of our decision making process, because we’re all, by default, artists, designers, and creators. The true role, however, manifested in our creative problem solving, because we were able to look at ordinary (and perhaps sometimes extraordinary) hiccups and approach them in an entirely new way. The measure of an effective solution is how equitable it is in practice and execution, and creative thinking is essential to this process. Creative entrepreneurship is on the rise, and start-ups require fresh ideas and critical thinking to fulfill engagement. We’re constantly asking ourselves, how else could That Place on the Second Floor serve its members better?