Café Descartes owner says Stroger Hospital rigged coffee vendor bid process, blocked him from opening shop at Stroger

By Scott Holland | Feb 26, 2016

The owner of the Café Descartes string of coffee houses has demanded at least $7.6 million from Cook County, saying officials at Stroger Hospital rigged the bid process over the rights to operate a coffee house in the hospital.

The owner of the Café Descartes string of coffee houses has demanded at least $7.6 million from Cook County, saying officials at Stroger Hospital rigged the bid process over the rights to operate a coffee house in the hospital.

Arshad Javid, founder and president of Café Descartes, filed the complaint against Cook County Health and Hospitals System and the Stroger Hospital Auxiliary on Feb. 23 in Cook County Circuit Court. The complaint also named Stroger Auxiliary president Sue Williams, and treasurer, Joan Pouleson, as defendants.

According to the complaint, Javid has been in business since 1993. His company's website said he now operates seven Café Descartes locations drizzled across Chicago, with a flagship location at Michigan and Wacker. The complaint said Javid first tried to open a coffee shop in the hospital in 2005, hoping to supplant Awake Café, which opened its Stroger branch in 2003.

Javid said Awake Café has operated in the hospital for more than a decade without a contract, a situation he said conflicts with Cook County Procurement Code. The hospital has leased the coffee shop space to the Auxiliary, which then subleases to Awakenings, the company that operates Awake Café.

After years of probing, Javid said the hospital system on Jan. 9, 2015, issued its first request for proposal for the Stroger coffee shop with a Jan. 30 deadline. However, the hospital then took until Aug. 1 for the contract award, which again went to Awakenings. Although the RFP documents purportedly stated the contract should be for two years, the deal Awakenings signed was a three-year agreement, expiring July 31, 2018.

Javid further noted that, although it appeared the county hospital system was managing the bid process, the Auxiliary was the contracting party with Awakenings. On Sept. 1, he asked to see the Awakenings proposal, the contract and the bid tabulations. On Sept. 1, however, the hospital system’s attorney wrote back, saying the “selection and contracting process” was deferred to the Auxiliary and supplied him the “only responsive documents” the system had: the Awakenings proposal and the sublease contract.

On Oct. 30, Javid contacted the hospital’s purchasing department via email in hopes of accessing the bid tabulations, but he now believes no bid tabulations were calculated, and he said he cannot explain how Awakenings came to be selected. He asserted the Awakenings proposal did not have a time stamp indicating it was received before the deadline, nor did it supply sales information.

The complaint has formally accused the hospital system of improper assignment of duties to the Auxiliary, arguing there is no evidence the system formally gave the Auxiliary the responsibility of bid review and awarding a contract. Javid also alleged a conflict of interest count related to the long-term relationship between the Auxiliary and the coffee shop. On its proposal, Awakenings listed Pouleson as a reference, which Javid contended should have been reason enough to take from the Auxiliary any ability to act as a sole evaluator and decision maker for the contract award.

He also argued Awakenings’ bid was insufficient, which he said should have led to its rejection or a bid evaluation penalty, and that the contract terms are improper, writing, “when comparing Café Descartes’ proposal with Awakenings’ proposal, Café Descartes’ proposal is clearly superior.” The complaint also alleged fraud and called for sanctions.

Javid asked the court to award $7.3 million in punitive and exemplary damages, as well as $370,000 for costs associated with the bid process and lost revenue. He asked the court to declare the existing contract void and impose an injunction stopping all Awake Café operations at Stroger Hospital.

Further, Javid asked the court to either award the Stroger contract to his business or to mandate a new request for proposal process.

Javid’s attorney is Janice Dantes, of Chicago.

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Cook County Health and Hospital Systems Board Janice Dantes, Attorney at Law

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