Campus cafes closed for business


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The vending machines located in the 600 S. Michigan Ave. and 1104 S. Wabash Ave. buildings are only short-term replacements for the now closed cafes, said SGA president Jerel Ballard.

By Campus Reporter

The spaces where two of Columbia’s three on-campus cafes once stood are now home to multiple vending machines after the cafes’ owner decided to close up shop at the end of the Spring 2015 Semester. 

The Harvester and Press cafes—which were located in the basement of the 600 S. Michigan Ave. Building and The Conaway Center in the 1104 S. Wabash Ave. Building, respectively—closed their doors for good after the company that had been running them decided not to renew its contract with the college, according to Jerel Ballard, president of the Student Government Association and a junior journalism major.

The three on-campus cafes were previously run by Bow Truss Coffee Roasters, which also operates cafes at six city locations. The company decided to sever ties with the college after concluding that investing in the cafes was no longer worthwhile, said Phil Tadros, founder and CEO of Bow Truss and a 1998 marketing alumnus.

“I love Columbia,” Tadros said. “I just wanted them to let us be innovative and help them. Schools like Columbia should be entrepreneurial and innovative and a little risky and edgy.”

The Bow Truss company wanted to open cafes in campus spaces that would attract more student traffic, but the college was not willing, according to Tadros.

Factors such as decreasing sales in the increasingly competitive South Loop restaurant market and Columbia’s decision to discontinue internal catering also influenced Bow Truss not to renew its contract with the college, said Kari Sommers, the associate dean of Student Life.

“[Columbia] has so much real estate,” Tadros said. “They should have taken my advice and let me open a beautiful cafe on the corner of one of those buildings.”

The third cafe, Studebaker Cafe, located on the first floor of the 623 S. Wabash Ave. Building, which was run by Bow Truss, is now run by a different vendor, according to Tadros. Tom Russell, director of Purchasing, did not respond for comment regarding who currently runs the cafe.

Students still have food and drink options in vending machines, now located where the cafes used to be, Sommers said.

Sheridan Koehler, a senior cinema art + science major who worked at the Harvester Cafe during the Fall 2014 Semester, said getting coffee from a vending machine and getting coffee from a barista in a cafe are not the same.

“It is sad because you go down to the basement, and there is no music playing. It is really quiet now,” Koehler said. “I didn’t know that it was going to close. Last Tuesday, I went down there, and I saw the vending machines.”

Sommers said the college did not want to upset students by closing the cafes and alternatives for next year are being investigated. 

Koehler said the cafes added to the student culture and community at Columbia, and he is going to miss them. He wants the college to open another cafe or coffee shop in the future, he said.

The vending machines are not a replacement for the closed cafes, Ballard said. He added that the college’s Strategic Plan includes the creation of a new on-campus student center, and a cafe could be a part of such a center the future.

“We do need a universal place where Columbia students can go and get food,” Ballard said. “That is one of the goals [of SGA]”