Sanctuary Cafe will close June 15; unreconciled differences with University Church are cited

Ellen Lose, manager of the Sanctuary Café, inside University Church, which is closing next week. (Photo by Owen M. Lawson)

By SAMANTHA SMYLIE
Staff writer

On June 5, Sanctuary Cafe announced that they will be closing after being inside of University Church, 5655 S. University Ave., for over two years.

Started in April of 2017, the independent cafe became a place for U. of C. students and local community members and organizations to convene to enjoy art, converse about social justice issues and eat baked goods. The cafe hired chefs who were once incarcerated, the staff was paid $15/per hour, all food was made from 10 ingredients or fewer, and meats were sourced from humanely raised animals.

The cafe was an effort started by Stories Connect, a writer’s collective that sought to give marginalized writers a space to explore the intersection between identity and unjust systems in society.

The partnership between Stories Connect/Sanctuary Cafe and University Church started off as a perfect match because they mirrored each other’s core values.

“We embraced the historical values of University Church as a church that made space for LBGTQIA people, hung the Black Lives Matter flag higher and higher until it could not be removed by vandals and believed that the U.S. justice system was inherently flawed, as demonstrated in its treatment of migrants seeking political and economic violence in Central America,” said Stories Connect/Sanctuary Café a statement.

However, a statement released by the church on June 5 revealed that the relationship soured at the beginning of the year. The church could no longer host the cafe.

“The church needs to cover facility costs and the cafe couldn’t meet the payments that it had agreed to… While we sat to negotiate these and other issues, the church offered a new space-use agreement to Stories Connect/Sanctuary Cafe, taking these concerns into consideration — an agreement that they did not sign. We then found out that the church isn’t even zoned for a business such as a café, which exposes us to serious legal risks,” stated in the Church’s statement.

The church decided to end its business relationship with the organization and cafe on March 31. In order to give employees a week to prepare for the closing, the church requested the cafe close on April 19. The cafe stayed open on April 20, and that is when the church decided to pursue legal measures to evict the cafe.

The organization and cafe refute claims made by the Church. Stories Connect/Sanctuary Cafe said in a statement that the Church knew that they did not secure a business license, they were the ones to find out that the Church was not zoned for a business and that the church refused to communicate with the organization and cafe when it came to the terms of the space-use agreement.

“The problem that we are naming is that there was no conversation. This was a decision made by the finance committee of University Church back in March,” said Ellen Lose of Stories Connect. “The reasons named are varied. From the statement that the Church made it would seem like it was a collaborative process or a process at all and that Stories Connect was negligent in signing the lease which was transitioned to a space use agreement. Those conversations about that transition and Stories Connect making it clear that we had concerns from our lawyers who advised us to speak to the lawyers who drew up the agreement or have a mediated discussion,”.

The final day of business for Sanctuary Cafe will be Saturday, June 15. The organization is focused on safely and peaceably exiting the space and will be working on rebuilding Stories Connect as a writers’ collective.

“If the right location, people, idea, or way for Sanctuary Cafe could exist in a new space. We would be completely open to that. Though we looked at other spaces in Hyde Park, this thing that happened here at Sanctuary Cafe was a unique and organic community that began with great intentions,” said Lose.

s.smylie@hpherald.com