Board of Library Trustees: cafe problems

A special committee of the Board of Library Trustees met Wednesday, August 20, starting at 6:00 pm in the Trustees Room on the top floor of the main library. Trustee Judith Vanderkay chaired the meeting with five other board members, including Michael Burstein, the board’s chair. The committee is looking into how to help the operator of the cafe at the main library cope with reported financial shortfalls.

Cafe space was added during renovations completed in 2003. It is located on the ground floor, just to the right of the main stairs, going down. The cafe has a work space of around 150 square feet and table space about the same size on either side of an open corridor, near the periodicals room and teen center. Cafe management has changed since the cafe opened.

When the trustees re-advertised in 2010, there were two proposals. The current concessionaires, who also run KooKoo Cafe at 7 Station St., were chosen over operators of VineRipe Grill, at the Putterham Meadows (Lynch) golf clubhouse. The current operation began early in 2011. According to Sara Slymon, the library director, a 3-year agreement was up for extension early this year. So far, there has been no extension of record.

KooKoo’s Nest, as the cafe is now known, is open between 10 am and 3:30 pm Monday through Thursday. It serves sandwiches, soup, salad, muffins, scones, cookies, juices, soft drinks, espresso and other coffees. Food is brought in from Station St. Sandwiches and half sandwiches are $7.95 and $3.95. Some are vegetarian, others are tuna. Of six listed, not all may be available. Latte is $3.25 and $3.75, and Snapple beverages are $2.25.

Ms. Slymon said Ali R. Mohajerani and Elizabeth A. Dunford, owners of KooKoo, were seeking $700 a month to compensate for operating losses. According to Ms. Slymon, Mr. Mohajerani said their library cafe has always lost money. They had agreed to a dollar a year for the space, but Trustee Gary Jones, who monitors financial matters for the board, said he could not recall a payment.

Trustees on the committee could not understand why, if they had been losing money, Mr. Mohajerani and Ms. Dunford waited so long to raise the issues. Apparently, they have not met with the board since the current agreement was reached. When the board meets next in September, the committee voted to recommend not providing subsidies for the cafe, but they also voted that “the committee would entertain any request from KooKoo’s to meet” about problems.

Mr. Jones said he had contacted Lauren Stara, a library building consultant at the state Board of Library Commissioners, and heard that financial problems at cafes in municipal libraries were fairly common. However, he said, ones in Watertown and Framingham were reported to be paying rent and doing fairly well. The cafe concessionaire in Watertown confirmed that he has always paid a few hundred dollars a month to the library.

Red Leaf Cafe, at the Watertown library, is located just inside the main entrance, to the left. It occupies the Friends of the Library Room, set up when the library was expanded and renovated several years ago. That offers at least twice the total space of Brookline’s cafe. Walls of the table area are lined with bookshelves, about 150 feet of shelves mostly filled with paperbacks. Many books are available for sale. Red Leaf Cafe is open from 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday and from 10 am to 3:30 pm Saturday.

Watertown’s cafe serves a menu similar to Brookline’s, except that some sandwiches are made with meats and all sandwiches there are made to order. Full size sandwiches range from $5.50 for melted cheese and tomato to $7.25 for ham and cheese, with three bread choices. Cappuccino is $2.65 and $3.25; sodas and juices are $1.95. The manager said he meets with the library trustees most months and gets business from employees at the nearby town hall, police station and fire station.

Brookline could probably do more than it has done to promote business for its library cafe. Trustees at the committee meeting sounded willing to help, as did Ms. Slymon. Unlike the situation with Brookline’s cafe, Red Leaf Cafe is featured on the Watertown library’s Web site. The morning after the committee meeting, signs appeared at entrances to the main library, announcing a “new” KooKoo’s Nest cafe on the ground floor.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 21, 2014

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