The Roots of the Bean

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Author: Chris Suzdak

It all started with a problem: How can Oxy make its students, who must now reside on campus through their junior year, feel more comfortable in their living environment? In light of new housing policies, students were concerned with the lack of programming and student-designated locations on campus. Student member of the Budget and Finance Subcommittee of the Board of Trustees Greg Benz (junior) put words to these concerns in a report he wrote for the Board, specifically mentioning a lack of student space for “just hanging out.” “If the school was going to mandate a new housing policy, I wanted to make sure administrators were also planning to increase on-campus programming so that the student body wouldn’t suffer,” Benz said, describing why he decided to bring his concerns formally to the Board of Trustees.

So a year ago, Dean of Students Barbara Avery and others in her office started taking action. They began by talking directly with students, including representatives from the ASOC, Residence Hall Association, Student Senate and Residence Life staff. Feedback included requests for a bar, liquor store or coffee shop. The concept of a coffee shop stood out for Avery, who had witnessed the creation of a student-run coffee lounge called the Lion’s Den when she worked at Loyola Marymount University (LMU). The idea also excited several members of the Student Life Subcommittee of the Board of Trustees including Raquel Carrion (junior) and Christian Hernandez (sophomore). Along with Benz and Campus-wide Senator Renoa Batista (junior), they began looking into the details of starting a student-run venue.

By the end of last February, a coalition of students and administrators had completed a formal proposal for funding and support from the school, which was approved by the Board of Trustees without any major issues. The proposal, a broader package of projects aimed at enhancing student life, also included funding for Saturday-night Rangeview dinners, a small convenience store in Pauley Hall and Nintendo Wiis for certain residence hall common rooms. The funding would come mostly from Capital Improvements and the Dean of Students’ Office.

Using LMU’s Lion’s Den as inspiration, this motivated group of students went to work quickly so that the project could make some headway that spring and open by the following fall semester. E-mails were sent and postings were made regarding the hiring of baristas and managers. A timetable was established and permanent roles were assumed. “It all went by so fast,” Carrion said, recalling last spring’s flurry of activity.

By the time May rolled around, four students had joined together to form a productive unit, each specializing in a vital function of the project. Carrion handled hiring and scheduling. Hernandez assessed vending and product selection. Batista took on programming. Benz, an economics major, assumed the financial responsibilities for future operations. However, these four managers occupy their respective positions for only a year. The positions will be up for grabs next year, and will be chosen from what is expected to be a competitive pool of applicants. The managers believed a full year would be needed to fully experience and contribute to the project. “It’s a lot of work,” Batista said. “We want managers to be committed. They need to get acquainted with the space and workers so they can understand their role.”

Once the troops were mobilized, the next challenge arose: securing a location. Looking for a space that already existed and required minimal construction, the students and administrators were quick to choose the Green Family Dining Room, which was previously used for small catered events. Not only could they use the loading dock in the back of the Johnson Student Center for deliveries, the patio outside the Marketplace would be open for students to sit outside if the lounge became too full. Once the Green Family Dining Room location was chosen, the name Green Bean Cafe was born, honoring the donors. The Green family, who was present at the Grand Opening on Oct. 23, has been very supportive of the project and is pleased with the results so far.

Upon final approval by both the school and the Green family, an architectural firm named WEBB Design was chosen to help develop the new venue along with the managers’ input. The Green Bean’s only real setback came in construction delays due to a hold up in the approval process by the City Council, according to Batista. Instead of opening during Orientation, the Grand Opening occurred Homecoming Weekend. Once construction actually began, the café was completed in less than six weeks.

Hernandez and Batista stayed on campus through the summer to provide student oversight for the project and to continue making preparations for the fall. Many permits and licenses for construction were obtained and approved with the help of the school, particularly the Facilities Department. The two managers also began to garner interest for the café and received student feedback by hosting a free coffee-tasting event for Oxy students remaining on campus during the summer.

After working out all of the kinks in preparation for the opening, the student managers did a lot of thinking about what they hoped the Green Bean would represent on campus. They realized early on that they were being given a special opportunity to set the Green Bean apart from the Cooler and the Marketplace. They sought to promote policies that differed from these other on-campus food providers by making sustainability play an important role in the operation of the Green Bean. No water bottles would be sold. Instead, student workers use a filtered water tap to serve customers. Cold cups would be made from corn-based material, and remnant ground coffee beans would be donated to the campus gardening club F.E.A.S.T. for composting.

The final objective for the Green Bean, they said, was for it to serve as a true hub of campus life. “Our goal is to be as involved with the campus as much as we can. We want to serve as an outlet for organizations and clubs to take full use of the space for events. Artwork is something we are looking to involve the students with,” Carrion said. For example, the recently released “Wilkish” mixtape from DJ Sam Wilkes (sophomore) and guitarist Avery Henderson (sophomore) has been heard from the speakers in the café. In addition, there are plans to showcase student films on the café’s flat screen television. In addition to these showcases, the managers also hope that certain events could be held inside. However, since the inside space isn’t large, events will be limited to a certain capacity, according to Batista. She hopes that in the future, the Green Bean will host such events as Open Mic Night and fundraisers, using the patio space when necessary.

However, the café is also meant to be a study area. When it comes to midterms and finals week, the managers insist that they will keep the café calm. “We want students to feel comfortable studying here,” Batista said.

During the creation of the menu, the four student managers thought it would be fun to have specialty drinks named after some of the Oxy-related people. Former President Skotheim received a drink in his honor, as did the Green family with the “Green Dynamite.” President Veitch’s namesake is the “Son-of-a-Veitch,” a spicy drink akin to Mexican hot chocolate. President Veitch, who made an appearance at the grand opening, doesn’t want anyone to be served his spicy drink unless they call it by its official name. “He said, ‘If they don’t say it before, I’m sure they will be saying it afterwards,'” Carrion said, recalling President Veitch’s words regarding the spiciness of the drink.

Similarly, the Green Bean leaders wanted to offer different brands than those already available on campus, which has led to the sale of items such as pastries from Porto’s and Jarritos drinks. “We guessed based on ou
r own interests and now we are seeing the response,” Carrion said. “It’s all a part of the learning process.” The Green Bean staff has already come across items that haven’t sold well and will not be ordering them again. Next semester, the staff hopes to add more to the menu, mostly on recommendations from their peers.

Having gotten past the Grand Opening and any initial anxieties, the Green Bean staff has gotten into the swing of things. Early morning deliveries are received by Green Bean student workers at 6 a.m., and a manager must always be present at opening and closing. Managers hold weekly meetings with the staff to discuss how everything is going and any possible changes that need to be made in the café operations. Scheduling issues have already arisen, as not enough students are willing or able to work certain hours. For example, the Green Bean was initially planned to be open until midnight on Saturday nights, but is now closing at seven in the evening.

“Right now people need to understand that we are in our opening stages and we are trying everything we can just to run smoothly,” Carrion said.

While the Green Bean is just now finishing up the balance sheets for its first month of operations, a profit is not necessarily expected. There have been many initial expenses, such as the cost of staff training salaries and free samples, that won’t take place again. But the managers and staff maintain that the goal is not to make a profit. Rather, the founders and the administration, who provided the funding for the project, hope to reach a level of self-sufficiency so that the establishment can pay for itself. Any actual profits will go into reinvestments for the Green Bean, according to Benz.

While Dean Avery and the administration have every intention for the Green Bean to continue running independently, intervention may occur if necessary. For example, Avery said if the school feels that customer service has dipped below satisfactory levels, if workers fail to come to their shifts continually or if food handling rules are not being followed, the Green Bean would be shut down temporarily until the problem was addressed. So far though, everything has been running smoothly, aside from the occasional breakdown of a coffee machine or lack of pastries.

When Carrion looks back on her experience, she beams with pride. Even on days she isn’t working, she finds herself stopping by to see how everything is going. “I’m happy to say that when I graduate from Oxy, part of me will always be here,” Carrion said.

It seems that Oxy students and staff involved with the creation of the Green Bean have set a precedent for future students to innovate and improve their living community by using every resource available to them. “People underestimate the amount of support that would come from the administration [if students initiated more projects],” Carrion said. “I never thought this would actually happen.”

But it did happen, and though incoming students will still have to live on campus for three of their four years at school, at least they’ll have a cool, hip place to get their late night caffeine fix.

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