Cafe faces uncertain future as Newman Center closes its doors

by Sean Madigan

A favorite breakfast and lunch spot along University Avenue will be closed if the Catholic archdiocese decides to sell the Newman Center building.
The Cafe of the Americas has been serving bargain-priced meals to students ever since it was invited to set up shop in the basement of the Newman Center two years ago. The Cafe of the Americas serves homemade North, Central and South American cuisine to more than 200 people every day, said cafe chef Jeannie Inglehart.
That might change, however, now that the Catholic student ministry is closing after 73 years at the University.
Pamela Costain, executive director of the Resource Center of the Americas, a non-profit organization that receives the bulk of its funding from the cafe, said she expects the building to be put up for sale.
If the cafe is closed, the resource center will lose much of its projected funding, Costain said. And if the University buys the building, an exclusive contract with food service vendor Aramark would prevent the cafe from operating.
Organizations that use the center are only guaranteed space through December. Center staff members said they have also been told informally to look for new space after December, Costain said.
“When the building is sold at the end of December, we’re done.” Inglehart said.
Archbishop Harry Flynn of the Catholic church in Minneapolis and St. Paul said he has no immediate plans to sell or lease the building, said spokesman Tim Anderson.
Right now, the archdiocese is concerned with moving the Newman Center and its ministries to the St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Dinkytown, he said.
The resource center is located across the street from the Newman Center and made a considerable investment when the basement of the Catholic ministry was renovated two years ago, Costain said. A contract the cafe has with the Newman Center until December 1999 will be broken if the building is sold.
“To me, it’s easily the best food in the neighborhood,” said physics graduate student and daily patron Bill Cooley. The cafe is a gathering place for people. Sometimes people bring their lunches and cafe employees don’t seem to mind, he said.
The cafe is a for-profit organization, but proceeds are used to help fund the non-profit resource center. While the cafe and the resource center are not affiliated or funded by the University, many departments, students and staff members use the center’s materials, said Inglehart.
The relationship between the resource center and Newman Center has been cooperative. Besides a contractual agreement with the cafe, the centers are linked by mutual interests.
The resource center deals with human rights issues in the Americas, including child labor and sweat shops. The Newman Center, meanwhile, focuses on social justice issues.
Each year more than 2,000 people come to Fiesta De las Americas, the resource center’s food and music festival. Costain believes the block party this November will be the last without the use of the Newman Center building.
The resource center regularly holds Spanish classes in the Newman Center building, as well as a weekly lecture series. When the building is sold, those activities will be displaced.
If the cafe closes, nine employees will be out of a job.
“Most of the employees are students. There are only two of us grown-ups here,” Inglehart said with a chuckle.
Liberal studies graduate student Drew Hempel has been working at the center since January and said losing the center and cafe would be a blow to the community. It’s a great place for cultural events and organizations to meet, Hempel said.
The University immediately expressed interest in purchasing the Newman Center property, Anderson said. While the University is at the top of the list, there are at least a dozen other interested parties.
Hempel said it would be unfortunate if the University buys the building and puts the cafe out of business.
“This is just another example of the corporate domination at the University,” he said.