Ex Libris, the student-run coffee shop in the Regenstein Library, was fined and forbidden from storing perishables in one of its refrigerators following a routine city health inspection last Thursday that uncovered a refrigerator running at temperatures well above health code standards.
The inspection, the first since last spring, was carried out by the Food Protection Division of the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH). These inspections, which are generally unannounced, take place as often as every six months and at least every two years.
Thursday’s inspection led to the discovery that one of the coffee shop’s refrigerators, which was used to store yogurt, Rajun Cajun restaurant fare, and bottled drinks, was running at a temperature of 56 degrees Fahrenheit, above the required temperature of 40 degrees or below for commercial refrigerators containing perishable goods.
Ex Libris may not store perishables in the refrigerator until it has been either fixed or replaced.
“[The refrigerator] was definitely a problem that we were aware of and dealing with,” said David Jarvis, the general manager of Ex Libris. Ex Libris, like the other two student-run coffee shops on campus, is run by three managers: general, ordering, and financial. Jarvis, a third-year, was appointed general earlier this quarter.
“We had had a serviceman come by,” said Jarvis, referring to a visit by a service company on November 6. “It was in the process of being fixed.”
Jarvis expects to fix the broken part or replace the apparatus entirely by next week. The CDPH has not yet announced how much the fine will be.
“[In the meantime] it’s going to be harder to find places to stock what we continue to sell,” said fourth-year employee Will Wester, who has worked at Ex Libris since last spring.
“It’s pretty minor,” Jarvis said, adding that there may not be yogurt until the situation has been resolved.
“There were some other really, really minor things” found in addition to the refrigerator, Jarvis said. The CDPH, he said, typically finds various small infractions during its inspections. The coffee shop is then fined for these infractions and ordered to fix them.
The incident has highlighted the potential complications arising from independent, student-run coffee shops on campus, and how the shops’ non-commercial, casual culture can conflict with Chicago’s stringent food- safety regulations.
But the safety codes enforced by the city are taken anything but lightly by the University and the workers at the student-run coffee shops. The University maintains its own safety compliance department that works with managers to make sure that the shops’ facilities are up to par.
“Our first goal is making sure people are safe when they eat here,” said third-year Adam Leong, the ordering manager of the Cobb coffee shop.
“I am in each one of the stores several times a week and the managers are in the stores several times a day,” ORCSA coffee shop coordinator Stacey Brown wrote in an e-mail. “We take these things very seriously and are concerned about the safety of our patrons. We are currently [taking] and have taken many proactive steps to prevent any infractions of federal, state and city laws.”
“We’re very, very small. We work a lot with the other student-run coffee shops,” Jarvis said. “There are sanitation protocols that you have to observe and we do our best to observe them.”
“ORCSA sees the student-run coffee shops as both business and as essential student services,” Brown wrote. “We hope to provide students with a great place to get a cheap meal, a great cup of coffee…and a good place to relax.”
“I mean, Starbucks is a really unpleasant place to be,” said Sid Branca-Cook, a third-year employee at Ex Libris.
“It walks the line between those two things,” said third-year Hallowed Grounds employee Neal Curley about whether the coffee shop is more business or more student hangout. “We definitely don’t operate at a profit.”
The sentiment at Cobb is similar. “Actually charging money is sort of a necessity,” Leong said.
Cobb is currently turning out respectable profits, but that is not always the case: “We employ over 60 student staff who work together to help us create an inviting and fun atmosphere,” Brown wrote. “We hope that our stores will break even each year.”