Collective reopens after permit debacle

After being shut down by the Students’ Society on January 25, Midnight Kitchen, the Shatner Building’s popular vegan food cooperative, reopened for lunch on Friday with a renewed permit.

The cooperative’s sudden closure was the result of a “communication fiasco” between Midnight Kitchen and SSMU, said Emily Zheng, an administrative co-coordinator for the cooperative.

“It was just a huge misunderstanding,” she said.

The confusion, which shut down the cooperative for two days last week, began in December, when, according to SSMU Vice-President (Clubs and Services) Anushay Khan, she sent Midnight Kitchen an email inquiring about their progress on the renewal of their operation permit. The cooperative had operated under a permit since last spring, when Midnight Kitchen sent two of its members, Salka Thali and Matt Lee, to be trained in food management and safety, in accordance with new provincial regulations.

But Midnight Kitchen never received the email, Zheng said. Instead, the cooperative first learned their permit would need to be renewed on January 10, when Khan sent them another email. In response, Midnight Kitchen held a meeting about renewing their certification, Zheng said, but they didn’t think there was any rush to do so.

Midnight Kitchen’s permit expired on January 21, however, Khan said. Four days later, SSMU General Manager Pauline Gervais and Khan approached Midnight Kitchen at lunchtime.

“We were in the process of cooking when Pauline and Anushay came up,” Zheng said, “and Pauline told us that our permit had expired, and unless we had a renewed permit, we couldn’t keep serving.”

SSMU allowed Midnight Kitchen to serve the food they had already prepared for the day, but required the collective to shut down immediately afterward. According to Khan, SSMU could have faced a $2,000 fine if an inspector had happened to drop by the Shatner Building after the permit had expired.

“We got lucky that no one came by and checked,” she said.

After Midnight Kitchen’s closure, miscommunication between SSMU and the cooperative continued. In an interview on Wednesday, Zheng said Midnight Kitchen could remain closed for the next two months.

But Midnight Kitchen was shuttered for days, rather than months. According to Zheng, SSMU simply needed to prove that 10 per cent of its kitchen staff had been properly trained. Because Thali and Lee had taken a course last year and were still cooking for the cooperative, the recertification process was.

“As soon as the paperwork was in, we were able to reopen,” Zheng said.

Khan said it pained her to shut down the cooperative, even for a couple days.

“It was two very sad days,” she said. “But the law is the law.”

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