A Collective Layer of Interior And Exterior Challenges
– Anne Cassidy Carew, UICC Board Member
As you slide down the banister of life, may the splinters never point in the wrong direction.
On October 26th, the United Irish Cultural Center had its general meeting where about 200 people showed up. During the meeting, we had multiple guests and members stand up and share their opinions and comments. The common questions were: How did we get here? What is the plan for the future?
How did we get here? —The Center has been around since 1974. It was not just one thing that got us here, it was a collective layer of interior and exterior challenges. Over the years, Boards have gathered data from members, past board members, patrons and consultants. This board analyzed that data and also reviewed recommendations from professional food and beverage advisors. In an attempt to take the Center into the 21st century while honoring the Irish legacy in San Francisco, the board took the input and focused on investing for potential revenue growth, evaluating the infrastructure and current business structure of the Center, examining our restaurant business in SF and reacting to declining membership and an aging building.
Based on recommendations from professionals and input from members we took advice. In the past two years, we invested in a Club Executive Director, who was selected through an extensive hiring process. We invested in an additional restaurant chef to provide an improved dining experience. We invested in a marketing person so that we could now advertise our 501c3 business. With our 501c7 business structure, the Center was dictated by strict IRS revenue guidelines.
In 2005, a membership questionnaire went out to 4100 members. 902 responses were returned that’s 78% non responsive. In 2009, the membership committee worked again to gather data and information. Only 52% of the charter memberships were still owned by the original purchaser.
In 2018, there were 2100 charter members that were deceased. Along with original membership decline, we have seen a migration of members move out of the area or not have access to the Center. Some of the elder members will not come out at night. Membership dues were voted on by the Board in 2007 and were not implemented until 2013.
Infrastructure and Business Structures
As these investments were taking place, two boards, the 501c3 and the 501c7 were merging. Merging of anything, is never easy. Lawyers and accountants are necessary in reviewing and counseling, making sure we were doing everything legitimately. This too was a necessary investment.
Why did we merge and become a 501c3? As a 501c7, activities were limited to members only and income had to come from membership. As a 501c3, programs and services can be open to all. Tax deductible donations were not allowed as a 501c7. In 2007, the 501c3 became a reality. It has taken the last couple of years for the merging to be complete. Donations are now tax deductible and we are not limited to a (declining) membership to provide revenue and support events. We are now able to ask for support from the Irish Government and grants that support 501c3’s.
Food and Beverage Business in SF
Again, while all of this is going on, we have a bar, banquet and restaurant business that has seen increases in operational costs, food costs and liquor costs. According to the TOAST TAB BLOG, in an article dated June of 2017, there were “4415 restaurants in San Francisco” and “according to the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Performance Index, just 30% of restaurant operators reported a same-store sales increase between August 2015 and August 2016, while 53% reported a sales decline.” In 2012 the minimum wage was $10.24 an hour. Today, as of July 2018, in San Francisco, the minimum wage is $15.00. That equals a 46% increase in hourly wages.
The banquet business at the Center, in general, has decreased for many reasons. The aging facility was recently painted inside and out. However, it still is a 1974 facility. The traditional wedding and event party venue has been traded in for the winery and farmhouse venue. Over the last couple of years on a random Thursday lunch or a Friday dinner the restaurant might have welcomed 20 patrons. The restaurant on those days was still fully staffed to support the operation of a restaurant – with wait staff, cook and kitchen support staff. On our last four days of the bar and restaurant, we served 800 meals. It’s unfortunate that it took a closing weekend to see the restaurant packed.
As mentioned above, we have an aging building. Some members look at it fondly with great memories of years gone by. This nostalgia does not sell, when it comes to food, beverage and event business. The reality is that we need some big ticket items like a new roof, an updated HVAC system, new bathroom upgrades and plumbing that would require construction through the kitchen. We also need modernizing with technology/wifi, lighting, and sound systems, just to name a few.
The Short Term Plan
When you have an aging building, a declining original membership, a challenging business plan in San Francisco with the highest minimum wage in the country, investments that did not pay off and the merging of two non profits, there is a good chance that it is time for an updated plan. As a board our number one goal is to keep the doors of the Center open and we know that with that goal comes a list of
priorities and a plan.
- We are in the process of creating a budget for 2019 – evaluating the needs of the Center while we transition.
- We are working on an efficient business plan that will support the budget.
- We are in the process of getting quotes for a 2018 year end audit. Based on timelines that have been shared with
us, we are hoping to have audit results by March 2019.
- We are looking at our cultural programming by collaborating with clubs and organizations and increasing the
number of people celebrating their Irish Legacy through events, gatherings, and concerts.
- We are moving forward with a year end fundraising plan to support multiple facets of the reorganization.
- We are working on growing and expanding our membership.
- Due to the holiday season and attempting to iron out our priorities and plan for 2019, we have scheduled
the next general meeting on January 10th at 7:30 pm in the Saint Francis room.
We have a very valuable mission and the property to support that mission. See what you can do to support the efforts to continue the heritage and legacy of the United Irish Cultural Center.
- Make a donation. There are many ways to support: scholarship program, library program, building improvements,
Cultural programs, and the general operational fund.
- Membership 2019 dues, pay them online. Valid through 12/2, receive 1 free ticket to the Christmas concert on
12/9 with a renewed membership
- •Not a member, join the club. Valid through 12/2, receive 1 free ticket to the Christmas concert on 12/9 with a
- Attend an event at the Center, check out our Facebook and website for updated events in 2019.
Join us for December events: Cork Dinner 12/1, Irish Comhaltas Christmas Ceili 12/2, Irish Concert 12/9,
Ulster Club Christmas 12/14, Irish New Year’s Eve countdown December 31st starting at 3pm.
- Attend our next scheduled meeting, January 10th, 2019 at 7:30 pm or check our website for updates.