Ché Cafe: a UCSD Landmark’s Struggle to Survive

T he Ché Café, a UCSD vegan co-op and DIY, all-ages venue founded in 1980 as a safe haven for those interested in radical politics, faces closure. It will be the end if the Ché fails to raise $12,000 to renew its insurance plan by March 2012.

“Over the years, it has been [financially] hard for them,” guitarist and co-founder of a Ché Café Benefit blog Jesse Kranzler said. “There have been a lot of freak-outs like this where they need money or they will close down.”

A break-in last year, in which a $5,000 PA system was stolen from the co-op, also exacerbated the situation. This theft depleted the Ché’s reserve funds and made it difficult for them to make more recent insurance payments. The necessary payments have increased over time, and the university requires this insurance policy to show their condition of operation.

Now the insurance payment has risen to $12,000, and since the Ché lost its 501(c)(3) federal non-profit status last November, the payment will rely on private donations.

“From a legal standpoint, [losing their non-profit status means that] they won’t get as much official help, but I think the artistic community will come together for them,” Kranzler said.

In light of the issues that have arisen, Ché regulars have started the Ché Café Benefit blog on Tumblr to raise the money needed to save the Ché.

“[The blog] is more about raising community and awareness,” Kranzler said.

However, the blog’s fundraising efforts have also had a degree of success.

“As of now, we have raised nearly $1,000, which is good, but if we are going to make $12,000 by the spring, we need to continue to grow the fundraising projects,” musician and Ché Café Benefit blog co-founder George Pritzker said.

During the 1980s, the Ché was a local hot spot for punk and reggae shows and went on to be a key venue for hardcore, post-punk and independent artists.

Today, while still an on-and-off vegan cafe, the co-op is primarily a venue for touring and local musicians of all styles, including hosting dances for UCSD’s DJs and Vinylphiles Club.

“It’s all vegan and it’s drug and alcohol free,” Pritzker said. “It’s a haven for leftist thoughts and grass-roots activism and it’s important, especially in San Diego where it tends to be a more conservative county. We need these places like the Ché to balance that out and create a haven for more radical thought.”

The blog begins with an introduction to the Ché’s history as a space for counter-culture discussion, vegan food and DIY music.

Then, it becomes a series of bands’ testimonials about the Ché and its value to the San Diego music community.

“The Ché Café is still my favorite music venue to this day,” San Diego musician Chad Stroup wrote in the blog. “It is unfathomably important that the show-going kids have somewhere they can turn the negative weights of the world into positive energy. That alone is reason enough for the Ché to survive.”

Those involved with the blog have had varying fundraising ideas. Some bands are posting songs available to download for a donation, while others are planning benefit shows.

Given its all-ages, non-alcoholic and open-minded policies, the musical community of San Diego feels that the loss of the Ché would be substantial.

“Over the course of the decades, a lot of venues have started to disappear and the all-ages scene has dwindled and has since become dominated by bars and the 21 and older scene,” Pritzker said. “The fact that it’s not a bar and not a place where people can buy alcoholic drinks makes it that much more about the music.”

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