Under New Management

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Photo by Ali Enright
Photo by Ali Enright

The Stevenson Coffee House first opened its doors over 40 years ago as an independent, student-run space, but at the end of this year it will permanently close.

“When I started as a freshman, there were 5,000 students in 1978. Classes didn’t go from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. There used to be a break in the afternoon when there weren’t any classes,” remembers John Hadley, Stevenson alumnus and manager of Stevenson Coffee House and Cowell Coffee Shop for the past 30 years. “As the college and the university have grown, so has the cafe. And I’ve just kind of stuck it out year by year.”

To address financial concerns, the historically independent cafes’ facilities will be absorbed by UC Santa Cruz Dining.

“In the past 20 years, there were seven years when the coffee shop ended with a positive balance,” said Carolyn Golz, Stevenson and Cowell College administrative officer, in an email. “The past five years have been consistently bad, with deficits between $12,000 and $22,000.”

Stevenson Coffee House employee Diana Jimenez rings up a customer on Tuesday afternoon. The employees have initiated a petition to keep the shop open and have received over 2,500 signatures. Photo by Ali Enright
Stevenson Coffee House employee Diana Jimenez rings up a customer on Tuesday afternoon. The employees have initiated a petition to keep the shop open and have received over 2,500 signatures. Photo by Ali Enright

The exact timeline and plans for the renovation are still unknown, said UCSC Dining Director William Prime, who oversees the dining halls and eateries like the Perk coffee carts and Owl’s Nest Restaurant. Stevenson Coffee House will close at the end of spring, and the Cowell Coffee Shop will remain open with new ownership in the fall.

UCSC Dining is looking into transforming the Stevenson Coffee House into a kosher and halal dining option. In an email to Cowell and Stevenson students, Golz said this type of food is “difficult to provide in our larger dining facilities because of the necessarily strict requirements for certification.” The Stevenson Coffee House is estimated to reopen next January.

Golz said student and faculty voice is incredibly valuable for the process of reshaping the space. She met with the Stevenson Student Council and the Cowell Senate to generate ideas and hear student input before deciding to close the shops, and has feedback sessions planned for April 5 at 1-2 p.m. and April 6 at 6-7 p.m. at the Stevenson Event Center.

“By transferring operations to dining, Stevenson College and Cowell College would no longer have to set aside money each year in anticipation of covering the deficits created by the two coffee shops,” Golz said. “This would free up funding for a variety of programming and facility improvements within the colleges.”

The decision, while met with strong pushback from the Stevenson community, hit manager John Hadley the hardest. Hadley said he wasn’t involved in any decision-making and doesn’t know what the university has for his future.

“At this point this is my job, I still have it,” Hadley said. “That’s all I can do … to just do my best as I have always done.”

Stevenson lecturer Caren Camblin and lecturer Bruce Thompson wrote a letter to Vice Chancellor Sue Matthews to reconsider closing the cafe. The letter supports the kosher/halal concept but is against the scenario where the university will either have the Stevenson Coffee House or those options. Thompson hopes the petition will open a dialogue and offer possible solutions.

“Certainly there are venues on the campus less entrenched that could be converted just as easily (more easily, actually, given that the Stevenson Coffee House would have to undergo massive renovation to be converted to a new restaurant),” the letter read.

The petition has nearly 50 signatures from faculty, alumni and graduate students.

“I understand why the administration, whoever made the decision, would like to centralize everything, but that also means homogenizing everything,” Thompson said. “I would like to see Stevenson Coffee House preserve its distinctiveness.”

Along with this petition, there’s an online campaign created by Stevenson Coffee House staff with over 2,500 signatures.

“For me, it was the place where I made the caffeine that pumped life into graduate theses, where I held office hours, where I’d meet friends, where I’d make friends,” said Matthew Guerrero, who worked at the Coffee House as an assistant manager from 2011-12 and helped circulate the petition online.

The Stevenson Coffee House is projected to close by the end of the 2015-16 school year. The shop, which is the oldest coffee shop on campus, has been open for over 40 years. Photo by Ali Enright
The Stevenson Coffee House is projected to close by the end of the 2015-16 school year. The shop, which is the oldest coffee shop on campus, has been open for over 40 years. Photo by Ali Enright

As previously independent-owned shops like the College Eight cafe become spots for UC dining, people are pushing harder to save the Stevenson Coffee House. The online petition points out that the cafe supports local businesses, offers affordable and fresh food and allows space for professors and TAs to hold office hours and meetings.

Thompson suggested solutions like slight price increases, gift card options, new items and a faculty surcharge to save their hub on campus. He pointed to enrollment increases and the on-campus housing crisis as reasons why established common areas like the Stevenson Coffee House are essential.

“We don’t think that the decision-makers were fully aware of that history and those strong memories and attachments and the most basic of all, the coffeehouse as the base of the college,” Thompson said. “So we are hoping that by bringing that to their attention they might either postpone or reconsider the decision.”

But Carolyn Golz confirmed that the decision to change the management of Stevenson Coffee House is final.

On May 1, it will be manager John Hadley’s 31st anniversary working at the coffee house where he met his wife. He’s seen the cafe expand as the university has grown and plans to keep business as usual until June.

“I’m not quitting,” Hadley said, “I would rather go out with a bang than a whimper.”