Stories behind a decade of The Green Bean Coffee Lounge

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Cindy Dong (sophomore), and The Occidental’s staff writer Gabi Saliamonas (senior) and photographer Nancy Zhou (sophomore) had a great time at the Green Bean Coffee Lounge’s tenth birthday celebration at Occidental College, Oct. 23, 2019. Nancy Zhou/The Occidental

Greeted by shimmering streamers, a cow piñata and rainbow-colored balloons galore, students and faculty gathered Oct. 23 to celebrate the Green Bean Coffee Lounge’s 10th birthday. Occidental’s student-run coffee shop served free cake and cold brew, and attendees wore commemorative party hats. At 12:30 p.m., everyone stood alongside the five Green Bean managers to sing “Happy Birthday,” and Occidental’s photographer Marc Campos took photos to celebrate the occasion. Joyous smiles spread across the faces of students as they passed through the coffee lounge during the lunch hour.

For the past decade, the Green Bean has been an Occidental cornerstone; aside from serving delicious beverages and pastries, it also acts as a social hub and offers employees professional work experience.

According to Associate Vice President of Hospitality Services Amy Muñoz, who has worked at Occidental for 35 years and was present for the opening of the coffee shop in 2009, the Green Bean was the result of an initiative to create more spaces for students to congregate.

The Green Bean Coffee Lounge baristas on shift during the tenth birthday celebration at Occidental College, Oct. 23, 2019. Nancy Zhou/The Occidental

“The Green Bean came about very quickly,” Muñoz said. “Around April 2009, a proposal was brought to the president and the board of trustees to create a student-run coffee shop, and it opened in October of that year, which is unprecedented for Oxy.”

Muñoz said that four students were involved from start to finish in designing the Green Bean. What resulted was a hybrid operation: a student-run coffee shop with oversight from Campus Dining and the Dean of Students, according to Muñoz.

“It was a collaborative effort amongst those four students — who then became the first four managers — Campus Dining, Facilities Management and the Office of Student Life,” Muñoz said.

Muñoz said prior to the Green Bean, the space was occupied by the Green Family Dining Room, named after the Green Family, the original donors of that space. According to Muñoz, there was never any doubt about where the Green Bean would be located.

Christian Hernandez ’12, one of the four student founders, attended the 10th birthday party and reflected on his experience working at the Green Bean.

“We were involved with meeting the architects, meeting the interior designers, all of it,” Hernandez said. “I remember meeting Betty Porto [the owner of Porto’s Pastries] and asking her to sell her products at our place. We were just college kids and she was this businesswoman.”

According to Hernandez, working as a manager was his first real job, and he gained valuable life experience from it.

The Green Bean Coffee Lounge celebrated its tenth birthday with students, faculty and staff members at Occidental College, Oct. 23, 2019. Nancy Zhou/The Occidental

“It helped me come out of my shell at Oxy — to stand up for myself and be able to seek out more opportunities,” Hernandez said. “Now, as an adult, I’m not afraid of starting something for the first time.”

Current Employment and Quality Control Manager Yuri Lee (senior) said she began working as a barista her first year, but as time passed, she yearned for more responsibility. Lee said after working as a supervisor, she realized she wanted to be a part of the decision-making team. According to Lee, her role as a manager has important implications.

“It’s a lot of responsibility, and I have to be on top of it all the time,” Lee said. “Any action that I make will impact the entire Green Bean, which impacts the entire campus.”

Sales Analysis Manager Jacob Farner (senior), who is in charge of everything related to finances, spoke about his two years working as a manager.

“It gives cool experience to work while you’re still a student,” Farner said. “I haven’t heard of anything that’s as central to the campus and as student-run, so I think it’s a really special thing that Oxy has.”

According to Farner, managers are constantly seeking ways to improve. Last year, they introduced the online mobile ordering system, and they have found new products that are produced sustainably.

“We take into account when we order new products what kind of packaging it comes in, where it’s coming from, and we try to always meet certain sustainable guidelines,” Farner said.

Besides functioning as a caffeine-acquiring medium, the Green Bean hosts a variety of events, such as artist showcases, musical performances and community engagements through programs like Customer of the Week (COW), according to Farner.

Barista Rae Hirschfeld-Smith (sophomore) started working at the Green Bean this semester. Hirschfeld-Smith said that along with being a really fun place to work, the Green Bean provides an opportunity to socialize with customers and coworkers and tune out from schoolwork.

“It’s great to do something that is productive and satisfying that isn’t homework. It allows me to turn off my brain for a second,” Hirschfeld-Smith said. “It’s a really ideal campus job to have.”

Muñoz said one of her favorite aspects of the Green Bean is working with the managers.

“I am continuously pleased by the quality of students and the experience they get working at the Green Bean because they really do learn how to run a business,” Muñoz said. “They are totally invested. This is one of the best set of skills you could leave Oxy with.”

At the party, Russell Uyemura (junior) said he goes to the Green Bean at least once or twice a day. His friend, Mckenna Sims (junior), chimed in to express how she felt about the Green Bean.

“You wouldn’t have life without the Green Bean,” Sims said.

According to Hernandez, being involved with the Green Bean’s creation was his legacy to Occidental. Hernandez said he was incredibly excited to receive an invitation to the birthday festivities.

“I am more happy to hear how the Green Bean has changed other people’s lives and not just mine,” Hernandez said. “It’s exciting knowing how much it’s impacted them just like it’s impacted me.”