Dean’s Date woes do not seem to have dampened the brisk business of the Princeton Coffee Club’s latest venture — a pilot for a student-run coffee shop in the heart of campus. In fact, the line for free coffee in Campus Club’s Tap Room was surprisingly convivial for a campus perturbed by impending deadlines and examinations.
To the smooth vocals of Stromae or Christine and The Queens, Benjamin Roberts ’22 queues patiently. “I’ve been here pretty much every day since they opened,” he says, waiting on a latte. “I really like the vibe — more social than a lot of the common spaces on campus, and really relaxed.”
The line seems not to bother many students, Alex Kaplan ’21, president of the the Coffee Club, explains. “With our current equipment, it might take five minutes to get a customer a latte when we’re very busy, but something that I wasn’t expecting was that it gives customers five minutes to escape their work and chat to friends before getting back to it.”
The pilot has proved hugely popular, notes Kaplan. Between its opening on Wednesday, Jan. 9, and late morning on Monday, Jan. 14, the club served 866 students. In that interval, its busiest day, Friday, saw 196 customers, who chose from a selection of lattes, espressos, filter coffees, and teas.
Princeton is the only Ivy League institution that does not yet have a student-run coffee shop, according to Kaplan. At peer institutions, such spaces provide a space of welcome relaxation from the usual grind of schoolwork. At the University of Chicago, for example,
“I reached out to a number of student-run coffee shops who were really helpful for figuring out things such as opening checklists and how to get the project off the ground,” explains Kaplan. He also hopes to learn of some of the problems that have befallen shops at other institutions. “Harvard’s student-run coffee shop is in the [University’s] Law School, and quite out of the way of most students,” he says.
Kaplan is keen to avoid this mistake. When first pitching the idea to the ODUS in October 2018, he described a plan for the coffeehouse to become a cornerstone of Princeton student life. “It’s not just a channel for coffee,” he says. “This place can do so much more — club meetings, events, and parties are all possible.”
On Dean’s Date, the Coffee Club and its army of baristas served drinks from 10 a.m. to midnight and hosted a special edition of Arch and Arrow Literary Magazine’s Open Mic Night, sponsored by Butler College.
This hub is precisely what Kaplan envisioned for the student-run café. “A coffee shop is such a special place — much more intimate than a stage,” he explains. “With a lot of Alcohol Initiative events [held in the shops], it’s a trade-off between getting people in the door and having students who want to be there.”
He hopes the Coffee Club can provide a space that is not focused on alcohol or food, but rather one that “is unique in that it provides a warm space to spread the love and passion for coffee, where people can be actively involved and comfortable.” He imagines such a place could occupy a special place in Princeton’s night-time offerings; “we would love to be open every Saturday until 2 a.m., staffed by students, for students to do fun stuff,” he says.
Daniel Shepard ’19, a first-time visitor, agreed. Sipping on a "delicious" latte, he said, "I love the fact that it's all free — it makes the space feel so much more inclusive."
The University administration has staunchly supported the venture, according to Kaplan. (He brings freshly-brewed samples to each meeting with the administration, a method which has been “hugely appreciated” by campus staff.) “Both ODUS and Princeton Student Agencies have been hugely helpful in supporting the project,” he explains.
Ian Deas, program coordinator at ODUS, says that the popularity of the pilot is unsurprising. “The passion and knowledge with which the organization approaches its work has been, and will be, a recipe for success,” he says, taking four cups of coffee back to his colleagues in Morrison Hall.
Behind the counter, newly-trained baristas are eager to learn more about the art of making good coffee. The positive reaction of his volunteers surprised Kaplan, who “was overwhelmed by how willing people were to stay after their shifts had finished and carry on helping out,” despite the pressure of Reading Period.
“I’ve always been interested in coffee but obviously couldn’t just buy a machine for fun,” says newly-trained barista, Judy Koo ’21. She joined the Coffee Club on a whim earlier in the year. The opportunity to volunteer as a barista instantly grabbed her attention.
“It’s a perfect study break during Reading Period, too,” she says. Despite only officially being scheduled to work three shifts, she has often worked extra shifts in busy periods. “Of course, it’s tricky in the sense that it’s a very new thing for me,” explains Koo, “but considering how little experience I have, I’m surprised that it’s been not that steep of a learning curve.”
With a loyal backing of staff and students alike, Kaplan has a rapid plan for expansion: the club will continue to hold pop-up events throughout the spring semester, such as on the next Skate Night, he explains.
The opening of a permanent, student-run coffee shop could be as soon as Frosh Week 2019, he explains with notable excitement. Kaplan, who envisions a payment model, hopes to hire students in salaried positions and to expand the menu to include other drinks, snacks, and baked goods.
The appetite for such an establishment is evident. One student remarked after purchasing her coffee, “Wait, how many of these coffees can you order in a day?”