Burritoville’s sad end

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Photo from Co-op de Solidarité Burritoville Facebook page

I’m late to this news but am shocked to learn that Montreal vegetarian restaurant Burritoville is no more.

For over a decade  it served Mexican-style vegetarian fare on Bishop near Concordia’s Hall Building. I met one of Burritoville’s owners, Jono Aitchison, many moons ago when he worked for and later owned Burrito Nation on Sherbrooke St. in NDG. I used to stop by for the incredible quesadillas he made with organic cheese and green salsa. They were so good I can still taste them.

For Burritoville Jono teamed up with his cousin Steve Aitchison and their friend Dave Tamas and moved the restaurant from NDG to downtown Montreal. They purposely set up near Concordia because they saw their students as key customers and felt they shared Burritoville’s socially conscious values. The restaurant celebrated food, art and music. With a varied menu (in 2010 McGill Daily reporter Eric Wen said it had “the best burrito in town”) liquor licence and plenty of space, Burritoville was not just a place to eat downstairs but upstairs where there was a bar, a piano and a stage equipped for performances it saw all sorts of events, comedy nights and music. It was a community, a gathering place for meetings and conversations, a place where you’d find all sorts of interesting art on the walls, a place that challenged you to think.

I haven’t been to Burritoville in a while. I saw mentions in my Facebook feed of a solidarity co-op and thought maybe Jono, Steve and Dave were trying a new ownership model. What was going on was an ownership handover that failed so miserably the restaurant shuttered its doors.

Here’s what Jono posted on Facebook about what happened:

To all who knew and loved Burritoville,

Since the doors opened in 2004 on Sherbrooke St. in NDG, as Burrito Nation, to the 2008 move to Bishop St. downtown, Burritoville has always had the mission to nourish and provide a positive space in the community. We served this mission for over a decade and it was both the most rewarding and challenging venture any of us have entered into. It was truly a labour of love and in light of the recent downfall we wanted to reach out to our loyal customers and friends to express our gratitude and sadness.

In the spring of 2013 each of us had reached a point where we considered pursuing new directions in our lives and decided to investigate our possible options, including selling the business. Shortly after we were approached by an enthusiastic group of students, led by an equally enthusiastic professor, from Concordia. From initial discussions it appeared that these could be the best people to see our work continue and grow into the future. Further discussions revealed that such a takeover could be feasible for both sides. Soon after, as we were seeking employees for the new school year, we hired three 3 people from the group. Talks progressed slowly but we understood they were serious and needed time to build support.

Over the following 2 years multiple 3rd evaluators were brought in resulting in many surveys, studies and reviews. Meetings were held and negotiations for the sale took place. At the same time support from the Concordia student body and CSU was growing, the Coopérative de Solidarité Burritoville was formed, with our involvement, and all seemed on track for a successful transition.

As the point of handover neared, it became apparent to us that they would be unable to smoothly realize their ambitions for the Co op if the entirety of the “money for purchase” from the CSU was given to us, as anticipated. As such we agreed to defer a significant portion of the purchase price, in order to give them a better start creating a payment schedule allowing them to complete the balance of sale by December 2016. We expected they would need time to establish themselves while seeking to achieve the improvements they envisioned immediately. We were hopeful Burritoville would flourish with this new energy and continue to grow in new ways. As of August 2015, the Coop officially took ownership of Burritoville and began implementing changes.

To our great disappointment we recently heard that the troubles facing the coop were so overwhelming that there was a threat of closure. This news was heartbreaking. As more information became public we found ourselves listed as a primary reason for the demise. We were floored. After years of studies and meetings and complete transparency there is no way this misfortune is our doing.

Beyond our grief at seeing Burritoville come to an end we are extremely proud of all we, and the community did with it. Many connections we made and which were made by others at Burritoville are lasting. Our memories and the moments had there live on. We have had many people tell us their stories of what Burritoville meant to them and at this time especially it is great to hear as it reminds us why we did it. We provided a space and the people came and made it what it was.

So now to all the geeks and gamers, the freaks and funny people, the wordsmiths and hoofers, the songsters and jammers, the Fantasians and thespians, the storytellers and artists of every stripe, to our friends and lovers and the best employees ever and to the hungry legions who came back again and again and anyone else who crossed our threshold, we love and miss you.

Jono, Steve and Dave

 

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Burritoville’s sad end

One thought on “Burritoville’s sad end

  1. This is an odd story. I did a search, and no stories about it. I guess if it had happened before the term ended it would be in the student papers, but this couldn’t have been sudden.

    All I saw were announcement to discuss it, and some comments. And typically, one was supposed to attend the meeting to get details (rather than details being a lure to the meeting). How can a viable go bad like this? The original owners even old it t lower price, and seem to have accepted a slower payment plan, so the business had money to operate.

    People seem in love with the concept of a “coop”, but maybe that’s the downfall. A lot of the comments didn’t question the structure. Yet I know in the early seventies “food coops” were the place to get things if you were vegetarian, yet by 1979 when I stopped eating meat, most had disappeared, people loving the idea but finding themselves busy when it was their turn to help.

    These university based coops seem reliant on student money. And while they get a fair amount of money, somehow it’s not enough.

    Michael

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