Student-Run Coffee Shops Aim to Reopen by Sixth Week

Harper Café, Hallowed Grounds, Cobb Café, and Ex Libris are planning to begin serving customers by the end of the month, pending equipment inspections.

By Ruby Rorty, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Harper Café, Hallowed Grounds, Cobb Café, and Ex Libris plan to reopen during sixth week, according to Parker McWatters, UChicago’s program manager for student retail.

Plans are in place to have at least one of the four shops back in business by October 25 and the other three operating by November 1. Until student-run shops reopen, students can visit several other cafés on campus, including the Starbucks in Saieh Hall, Plein Air Café, and Pret a Manger in Hutchinson Commons.

McWatters said the program is prioritizing reopening Ex Libris first due to its status as the largest and most trafficked shop, but the order of the reopenings will ultimately depend on which shops’ equipment is deemed functional following an inspection.

After being shuttered for over a year and a half, the coffee shops need to inspect their facilities and equipment and hire and train new staff. Additionally, some suppliers of student coffee shops went out of business during the pandemic or stopped delivery, meaning that the shops have been searching for new vendors for ingredients and supplies.

The program is looking to hire 70 staff members across the four stores. Harper Café alone received 130 applications, according to Aleeza Hassan, third-year and general manager at Harper Cafe. Interviews are being conducted this week, and training will begin during fourth week. Hassan expects Harper’s training to take between one and a half and two weeks, putting the cafe on track to open on the program’s timelines.

Hassan said that this year’s training will be extended in order to teach new hires how to work in a coffee shop safely. “Our new training is going to take into account how to make amazing drinks, but also how to take care of COVID-19 safety.”

To minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19, employees will be required to check their symptoms at the start of every shift, wear a mask and gloves while working, and adhere to the latest CDC and FDA guidelines. “We want to make sure we are compliant, and more than compliant, safe. With the delta variant, some CDC guidelines are behind what they should be,” said McWatters.

In addition to COVID-19 safety protocol, students may see new events and menu items this quarter. Hassan said Harper is trying to host open mic nights with comedy RSO Life of the Mic and the spoken-word poetry RSO Catcher in the Rhyme. Harper may also offer new drinks, including a cardamom rose latte and traditional 12-spice chai.

Hassan acknowledged that the relationship between student-run coffee shops has been tense at times in the past, but she said general managers are hoping for more cross-shop collaboration this year. “Everyone is short on staff and we’ll all need extra help—all the cafes are amazing in their own way and are a part of the university community, and we have a year coming up of great teamwork and great coffee.”