Flashback Friday: I saved coffeehouse, what did you ever do?

I don't think they use these anymore.

For the past 20 years or so, Coffeehouse has served as a student-run caffeine source for Rice University, with pretty hipster girls and fey pansexual men dancing to flavor-syrup laden drink inventions and writing funny things on the backs of the frequent user cards.

"The Thresher rules my life but I wish I worked for Coffeehouse"

And so far, Coffeehouse has basically lived in a glorified closet. That closet is certainly better than the location of Coffeehouse’s predecessor, Bread and Pomegranates, which was housed in Hanszen’s highly floodable basement. And it is more accessible than Coffeehouse’s original location hidden in the Sammy’s dining room. But it is still a closet nonetheless. However, Coffeehouse is finally moving to a somewhat more respectable location: the Kelley Lounge.

“Students have been requesting to expand the space for some time, simply because they’ve outgrown the current space,” [Student Center Associate Director Pamelyn Shefman] said. “The coffeehouse’s current customer volume actually disrupts the traffic of the building, which is a great problem to have. But if we could put that line of customers in a place that doesn’t block the hallway, that would be great.”

This is a fantastic move. Over the past few  years, Coffeehouse has been threatened by Rice opening competing, corporate-run establishments. One of the first big rumors during Rice’s growth under the V2C was the addition a corporate Coffeehouse. There was instant reaction, which I wrote about at the time with, “Chain coffeehouse could decaffeinate Rice campus.”

Eddie Izzard once said he liked his coffee how he liked his women: in a plastic cup. But seriously, in the end, all coffee just tastes the same. Dietrichs, Starbucks, those indie coffeehouses where wannabe elitists seek refuge from their prefab suburban lofts — short of that last cup at the bottom of the servery carafe at 11 a.m., coffee is coffee.

But when you’ve had a hard day of the Rice routine and you need enough caffeine to let you see the sunrise from Fondren Library, who is serving the coffee can really make a difference. The businesslike attitude of a chain employee may be good for profits or efficiency, but nothing perks up a late night like a cup of coffee and a conversation with Rice’s own Coffeehouse staff.

The Coffeehouse General Manager, Ann Chou, liked it so much she wrote a letter to the editor.

That’s right — as Evan Mintz wrote, “Throw us a biscotti here” (“Chain coffeehouse could decaffeinate Rice campus,” Jan. 27). What if tomorrow there’s a Starbucks or another corporate coffeehouse across from Valhalla? I have an uneasy feeling that Starbucks, where employees are referred to as “partners,” makes the cut for President David Leebron’s cast of the best facilities.

Coffeehouse also taped up the column for all to see. I was special!

Anyways, despite protest, Dirk’s Coffee opened in 2008 in the Brochstein Pavilion:

“The university paid to put a coffee shop in there, but they already have one [Coffeehouse] that I consider to be pretty good,” [Martel College sophomore James] Bookhout said. “I have no idea what possessed anyone to believe that was a good idea.”

There was a good deal of student opposition at the time, including a Facebook group “I Refuse to Buy Coffee from the Brochstein Pavilion,” complete with a well-trolled wall.

"It's probably some stupid rumor that Evan Mintz made up for lulz"

Kyle had a nice entry on that blog thing of his, pointing out the problem with the Dirk’s Coffee:

This would perhaps be the coolest and most indie thing ever, if…

Starbucks was still indie, which it hasn’t been since last Tuesday.

Starbucks was still cool, which… eh. Whatever. I listen to Arcade Fire.

They actually sold the good products that you like about Starbucks, like the Green Tea Frappuccino. But they don’t, because they’re branded as Dietrich’s/Dirk’s.


I think the blog then descended into arguments that the Pavilion should actually be a Waffle House, which I think was turned into a Thresher column or something.

Anyways, my favorite attack on Dirk’s in defense of Coffeehouse was in the unreleased 2008 Trasher, which was a Swiftian Modest Proposal, except without the cutting satire, insight or humor, and instead with awful pictures of cyclopian fetuses and potential libel. (pdf: 2008 Trasher coffeehouse)

In a public relations move as part of a massive attempt to gain student support. Dirk’s Coffee has announced that will put aborted fetuses in all their drinks and foods.

“College students are a liberal bunch and support pro-choice and stuff, so we’re doing this to show that we’re on their side,” Dirk Smith, president of the Diedrich Coffee franchise said. “I really understand students.”

Anyways, despite the worries, Dirk’s eventually lost the battle with Coffeehouse. Dirk’s closed down in the summer of 2010 and was replaced by Salento. However, it was not a complete victory at the time. With news that Dirk’s was leaving, Coffeehouse set its sight on the Pavilion, hoping to move into the large, central location. However, Rice actively denied Coffeehouse a chance to bid, stating that they wanted a vender with a liquor license, but wasn’t comfortable with another student-held liquor license on campus:

“Primarily among [the reasons for the denial] is our need for an operator who can provide excellent food and beverage service and who also has a liquor license,” [Associate Vice President for Housing and Dining Mark ] Ditman said. “Because we have experienced many problems with student-operated liquor licenses and service at Valhalla and Willy’s Pub, we cannot support the addition of another student-operated liquor license or liquor-serving location.”

At the time, this seemed like a severe blow to Coffeehouse, and but another sign that the administration did not care about student-run initiatives.

However, this move to a larger space will help ensure that Coffeehouse can remain popular and profitable. It may not be the visible, central location of the Pavilion, but it will guarantee that Coffeehouse can have more products to sell, and make more money. As then-Manager Erin Rouse explained: “We get exactly as many bagels as fit in Coffeehouse, and we’re still sold out by noon most days.”

So while this move will remove Coffeehouse from that dear closet where they posted up my columns and drew frequent user cards about me, Coffeehouse isn’t about location, it is about the people who work there, and the friendships made over free coffee at midnight.

4 responses to “Flashback Friday: I saved coffeehouse, what did you ever do?

  1. Aww. Yay.

  2. It should have been a Waffle House.

  3. Pingback: Creepy alum in the Rice Trasher | Burn Down Blog

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