Coffee House Reform – Student opinion on proposal for change

In 1993, CPO launched the Coffee House with hopes of creating a learning tool for Economics & Management students. Unfortunately, that idea has not come to being; instead, a massively subsidized student organization evolved.

The initial idea and goals behind the Coffee House would have provided my fellow students with a great opportunity to put the theory they learn in the classroom to work—it was meant for students to get business experience by living in the house. With the launch of the Albion Advantage, we have a unique opportunity to reinvent the Coffee House and provide a new campus hang out, but also an “E&M lab.” The new coffee house plan would play in with two major aspects of the Albion Advantage: career readiness and alumni relations.

In early April, I presented a comprehensive reform for the Coffee House to members of our administration. Ang Pryor and my plan includes aesthetic renovations to the first floor, making the building non-residential, turning former residential spaces into 24/7 study zones that are welcoming to groups, expanding the menu to include smoothies and pastries and becoming a completely self-sustaining and profitable business endeavor.

If approved, the Coffee House would be overseen by a board of directors consisting of directors of the Gerstacker and Ford institutes, faculty, alumni and students. This board will be tasked with mentoring the students on different aspects of operating a business and for hiring the seven students that would manage the facility.

Facility management would qualify as a semester internship for students, helping to fulfill major and minor requirements and also serving as a career-readiness opportunity. Over ten students are working on building the appropriate business model and business plan. Our proposal would fundamentally change the way we do business at the Coffee House—quite literally.

Opponents of the proposal argue that the college cannot sustain a project like this. The proposal is funded via a student senate pet project and a small business loan, not increasing college expenses but, decreasing them by ending the subsidy. Others argue on behalf of the current organization and tradition; however I have asked for the currents members’ thoughts and ideas and have received nothing thus far.

This is about the entire campus and what is best for all of us.

As is the case in any time change is proposed, there is resistance. We can continue the business as usual model or we can support a comprehensive reform, one that will benefit all the students on campus.

Let me ask you to ponder, how many of you have walked around campus thinking, “Man, I really want a (put your favorite Starbucks beverage here) right now.” How many of you drive to Jackson just for a cup of coffee or an espresso?

This is a great opportunity to make Albion a leader in career readiness. This is not about me or my proposal; this is about the Albion College community. Every student, faculty member and alumni on this campus would benefit from this proposal, be it the internship opportunity, the late night food or a 24/7 study space.

I urge all members of the college community to join the fight, to get this comprehensive reform implemented. Students will be around campus asking for signatures on a petition showing student support for this proposal. This is a pivotal moment-let’s stand up.


  1. Cody, this is an excellent idea – and one I heartily support. I lived in the Coffee House last year (as the Ordering Manager) and while I would never trade my experiences in that house for anything, I will concede that the Coffee House has long suffered from a lack of publicity and organization for some time now. Making the CoHo a public, nonresidential space would improve its visibility and improve its business – the core problem with the Coho is that it is a confusing space; people who live there think of it more as a “house” and the people who visit think of it as a “business” – leaving it stuck in some weird in-between phase. If this plan does indeed go through (and I hope it does) I would really like the Coho to remain a venue – a place for music and creativity. There’d be no real need for loud rock shows, but folk musicians should always remain welcome – the Coffee House has an excellent reputation amongst independent musicians as a friendly, warm environment… I’m confident this plan could happily accommodate that fact. Excellent article!

  2. Thank you Katherine, in my proposal it would remain an entertainment hub, i think that is a very important aspect to include 😀

  3. This sounds like a great idea. I think a board of directors and more oversite is importantr. From the sounds of it, the place hasn’t been running well. Students at Albion need the Coffee House and with it run well it should not be a burden to the college. Perhaps some honeststudent workers can make a difference too.

    Sincerely, Joy Hadley (Mother of an Albion College student)

  4. As a former Coffee House manager, I have to disagree with this plan. This plan limits the diversity of the Coffee House participants by limiting the house to Gerstacker or Ford students. Also, by taking away the residential aspect, it makes it harder for managers to do their job. Another thing I find particularly offensive is the fact that the Coffee House would be better off run by business majors. First of all, the largest problem with making money at the Coffee House (from the standpoint of the finance manager, which I was 2 years ago) is that the student body largely does not support us. Like you said, so many students go to Jackson for coffee at places like Starbucks instead of supporting a small (non-profit) on campus coffee house. Even when we advertised events or drinks with new flyers or menus, people rarely came in. Some people still don’t know we exist. Business majors may improve the finances, but they will not be able to make it self-sustaining (including keeping it as a venue for bands) without larger support from campus.

  5. The proposal actually insists repeatedly that this is for all students not just gerstacker or ford. On your remarks that it’s just not what the student body wants I have a few rebuttals. First the current state of the facility is unwelcoming to a majority of our campus, while I understand some people are into that design and what not, others are not, to make a business succeed you need to make it mainstream and welcoming to everyone. Second, the current business is cash only, which is completely unsustainable in the current economy, my proposal adds credit card machines to better welcome customers. And last on the notion of it remaining residential, I have a few comments, having this be someones home makes it extremely uncomfortable for students to visit, the people living there use the ground floor more as a home than a business. And last when people live together they have tension, they get made, they fight and it is not good for business. This is about reforming the coffee house to make it something good for the entire campus.

  6. As a community member, I had never heard of this. I currently go to Java ‘n’ Jazz for all my coffee needs. Does Coffee House ever advertise in the community? Do you know if they would be willing to work with our local coffee shops (Java ‘n’ Jazz and Real Coffee [in Books and More]) to gain business, possibly sharing resources?

    Having never heard of this place, I obviously cannot give much advice on the plan, but we do have two other coffee places here in Albion and perhaps input could be sought from their owners / managers to make Coffee House a viable business.

  7. As a former Coffeehouse Manager (Booking, 2003-04), I have to emphatically disagree with this plan, as I feel that, at it’s core, it misunderstands what, for many students and alums, the Coffeehouse represents on Albion’s campus. It’s the place where if you don’t fit in elsewhere, you might have a chance to fit in there–at least, that’s how I felt when I was a student at Albion, and it’s how many of the other managers I came in contact with felt, too. Albion needs at least one established “alternative space”–one place that’s a bit against the grain, a bit dirty, a bit funky, a bit punky. It needs that haven for the kids who aren’t quite meshing elsewhere. And it needs to offer the incentive of a living space for these kids, too. And for pete’s sake, can’t something be spared by this ridiculous “Albion Advantage” and “for the greater good of the campus” bs rhetoric?

    Reading this actually enrages me so much that I can’t even form an articulate response at this time.

    I’ve seen so many heartbreaking things happen to my Albion, Dear Albion since graduating several years ago. This would be the last straw. If there is one place, one thing that kept me from transferring, it was the opportunity to live in the Coffeehouse. It’d be more than a shame–it’d be downright awful to mess with a good thing. Sorry to get all “Empire Records” here, but really. Dude. Don’t be the one who ruins the school further. Seriously. Damn the man. Save the Coffeehouse.

  8. Look, dude, as a former manager (2003-04), your proposal has me so upset right now that I can barely type. What the Coffeehouse was for me was a place that was different from the rest of campus. An alternative space. A place where I had a community that suited me in a way most other communities on campus failed to do so. In fact, if I’d not been selected to live in the Coffeehouse, I’d have transferred. Unless, somehow, the Coffeehouse has dramatically changed in the past 5 years, your sense of what’s for “the greater good” of the campus might further alienate a minority group of students on campus, rendering them without the community and safe space they so desperately need. It’s not about just selling coffee, bro. And jeez, can’t one thing be spared this “Albion Advantage” and “greater good” rhetoric? Can’t there be one fun, funky, weird place to go on campus for a show, some (non-starbucks) coffee, and independent spirit? Go watch some Empire Records, y’all, and damn the man, save the Coffeehouse.

  9. FWIW — A mathematician is simply a machine that converts coffee into theorems. I would strongly endorse any plan to make the coffee house a main attraction on campus for both students and faculty.

    Darren. E. Mason
    Assoc. Professor

  10. Cody,

    I am a former manager of the Coffeehouse and an ’07 alumnus of the college.

    I disagree with the bulk of your proposal, but agree in parts with points you’ve made. The Gerstacker Institute and the general pre-professional culture of the school dominates the majority of campus culture and subsequently, the majority of student spaces and housing. The Coffeehouse, on the other hand, has historically had an esoteric character (if hadn’t that already had such a character at its genesis), and for myself and many others, this character has been the largest redeeming factor of our shared Albion College experience. It enabled us to live and work with several brilliant, talented and later professionally-successful people (in my year and that before me, these ranged from physicists and philosophers to mathematicians, artists and polyglots). The experience was both professionally elucidating and a profoundly intellectually-gratifying experience. An exciting one, too: As booking manager, I was largely responsible for the weekend evening shows (often featuring musicians and talent from Chicago and Detroit or student-participating open mic nights), and they uniformly brought in high foot traffic and revenue, only ever encouraging greater business and student attention.

    The place’s more open atmosphere, too, only ever allowed for economic innovation instead of hindering it. I remember in my year that we decided to paint a single wall with chalkboard paint. It inspired many professors to begin holding the occasional class in our house, each new class introducing students to our business and creating many new returning and loyal customers for the year to come.

    I agree with your assessment that the house can perhaps be unprofitable, but if this is the case it is largely because of the budgetary structure to which it is bound: there is little structural incentive to maximize revenue. Despite this, my own house was constantly innovating with new products, experimental hours and events. Of course, the actions of the house depends greatly on the slate of managers running it that year (e.g., on their efforts to advertise, run the business and promote). But the fiduciary interests and motivations of the Coffeehouse’s budget (the seed money of which is inherited from the year before and given as a disbursement from the senate) is an argument to be made at the Student Senate level, and would entail comparing its cut of the student activities budget to that of other clubs. A mandate could easily be made to Coffeehouse managers that it be budget-neutral or better, or that it pay back the money lent to it at the start of every year. These changes could be more easily codified by a revision to its organizational agreement and charter within the student senate. But arguments for the closure of the current Coffeehouse institution that are based on budgetary concerns seem particularly strange given the high investment and administrative oversight likely required by your own proposal.

    But this ignores the larger issue: Whether or not the Coffeehouse is minimalistic in its promotions and socially insular to the extreme, or whether it is instead incredibly advertising-verbose and enthusiastically inclusive to all that drop by; these things are both a function of the of managers who are chosen to run the business for each and every year. The culture of the house subsequently varies each year. Adherence to the original vision of the house (however much that is worth), as is your argument, can be maintained by your very simply applying for a managerial position within the co-op next year (along with a slate of like-minded friends) and convincing the current managers that you’d be the best man for the job. You could then run the business in whatever fashion you’d like, have complete autonomy. In your proposed model as illustrated above, the students running the business would be doing so voluntarily, and I cannot see how this is any different from the current arrangement, with the exception of this arrangement no longer being accessible to any other subset of the student body, unlike the current situation in which anyone may apply for a position as manager and have a hand in running and maintaining a business.

    The ability to effect reform to the house (or running it as the efficient economic pet project of which you dream) is possible within the current channels, and by remaining in that mold, it is possible for all students to seize the house and shape it as they wish within their managerial year. Your model would rob the entire student body (aside from the economics students) this opportunity. As we can see from the world’s most successful liberal-arts school drop-out and former calligrapher, Steve Jobs, creativity is not a vice when it comes to business.

    Stripping away the Coffeehouse’s residential character would rob the campus of a vital and vibrant housing option, and would only serve to render the culture of Albion College more gray and pre-professional, actively and aggressively negating the necessary antecedent of our motto, “Liberal Arts at Work.” The latter is the expected outcome of the college, yes, but it is the bull sessions and rock concerts and poetry readings and meetings of the Libertarian Club in a room next to the room holding a meeting of the Secular Humanists (and the sometimes-explosive but entertaining debates that ensue when they later run into one another) that give a college its soul. Allowing the Coffeehouse to remain in its current form (but perhaps with some reform within the existing channels) is what will continue to nourish this school’s soul. I encourage you to apply for a managerial position and experience this for yourself.


    Erich Owens

  11. Thanks, Karen, for your comments!

    Also as a former Coffee House manager (2006-2007), let me stress two very important points:

    First, the Coffee House is much more than a “business venture”: it’s a valuable social and cultural institution. On a campus where entertainment and social life are dominated by frat parties and lackluster Kellogg Center events, Coffeehouse-sponsored shows and open-mic nights are a breath of fresh air, and the House provides the campus with a desperately needed space for casual, open meetings for student-sponsored clubs and associations (and even the occasional impromptu justice-oriented political organizing!). Without the residential aspect of the House, such programming would not be what it is, and yet another vital part of the fabric of the Albion College social community would be lost.

    Relatedly, the Coffee House is a haven for student autonomy. At a school where off-campus housing is all but forbidden and campus-run space is antiseptic, crowded, loud, closed late at night, and unfriendly to many, the Coffee House provides a COMMUNITY that is run for students, by students, largely without the interference of academic departments or student affairs. And while that experiment has its ups and downs, everyone who has worked there will (I suspect) agree that it has fostered a lively extended family of student supporters and alumni all its own who are fiercely committed to protecting this cultural resource.

    A suggestion: if Gerstacker and Ford students and alumni are so antsy to start a student-run “E&M lab”, let them lobby to raise funds for a new building themselves, rather than cannibalizing this refuge for student creative space and energy. Surely with their lively, engaged and employed-close-to-home alumni base this task is not impossible.

  12. First let me ask the last few of you when the last time you actually visited the Coffee House was?

    While it has been moderately successful in the past in recent times it is slowly going down.

    Now let me clarify in brief bullet points some main points you all have made:

    – THIS IS NOT A GERSTACKER ONLY PROJECT… if you read my previous posts you would have seen that, I have asked people as a part of my proposal that are affiliated with the institute to help the slate of people that would go in under my proposal. This is because well having someone educated on economics and management around to assist the students on operations may be beneficial. Considering that in recent times no records on purchases or sales have been kept and that we have completely ignored filling tax returns as had been done in the past. Now before you claim that you need to make over $25,000 a year to file that is false you must still fill our the form and check the box stating you are under 25k.
    Furthermore I would like you all to know that I am not a gerstacker student, I am not an Economics and Management student, instead I am a political science student, so sorry to debunk your myth that this is Gerstacker only.

    – Next every poster that is against this keeps speaking of the entertainment aspect well, in my proposal and as I have stated in above comments we have continued to include the entertainment aspect with little to no change, we still would like to keep open mic nights, we would like to attract those folk bands, we would also like to include the campus further by getting the drama groups to do little shows, or music students to do a performance, but also adding things like classic movie nights where we can screen something like the original house on haunted hill with Vincent Price and so on. Entertainment was one of the most important aspects to me in forming this plan.

    – On the notion of incentives and keeping the students bound to their position, this would be offered as an internship credit/directed study where students would be receiving college credit for this position. Thus they are more accountable and more apt to do their job correctly and do what is in the best interest of the business not themselves.

    Also on this notion I would like to point out the single most reason I did this, The outrageous costs of going off campus to do an internship and you know get actual real world experience is a huge barrier for many students. I have heard the stories of students who are required to do an internship to graduate from this program or that, but end up staying an extra year in Albion, going further into debt to meet those requirements. While I am not understating the important role this may have played for you how about we make it something that works for all students not just one group, isn’t that what being on a residential community campus is about? How about we give our students better opportunities to succeed in life after Albion.

    – This isn’t about the “man” and I’m sorry I thought we are to care about the greater good of the campus. While I see that you haven’t seen this place in 5 years, please make a trip out, see what it is. See how they are in the red, see how the college has to offset their operating expenses. See what the entire student body wants, not 5 students, I’m not trying to alienate your entire history, actually I am trying to strike a compromise with the students there now, were certain areas would be renovated and others remain the same. But no matter what this place is on an unsustainable path. It needs to either be a business or a house it cannot be both.

    Furthermore, I would like to again point out that you all haven’t been here in a while, and while you are the main opponents of it, you can read above where a manager from last year supports this because she sees what it has become. I’m sorry that 5 years ago it may have been better, but today it’s on an unsustainable path.

    And while you may think that it’s ok “dude” to run an unprofitable subsidized entity, I’m a capitalist, I’m not about people offsetting my failures, I’d rather succeed and I think we should teach our students to succeed.

    I apologize if this came off as rude, but I’m extremely defensive of this project. Especially when it is slandered. Because this isn’t about gerstacker or ford, or E&M it’s about our students.

  13. Hey guys,

    Having The Pleiad for a discussion forum is great! Just remember that when you post a comment, someone on The Pleiad staff has to approve it (we don’t censor, but it keeps spam comments off of our news). But, when you post multiple comments in a short amount of time — often saying close to the same thing! — we get confused.

    Moral of the story: keep the comments coming, but make sure that you know what you want to say when you say it!


  14. I am a senior now and even in the four years that I have been here the coffeehouse has changed a lot. When I was a freshmen my first year seminar had class there and learned about it and learned about all of the groups that used the coffeehouse as a place to meet and hang out. The freshmen this year have never heard of the coffeehouse and the groups that used to use it as a meeting space do not anymore. I understand that tradition is a big thing for the coffeehouse but from the way I see it now there is no strong tradition being upheld anymore. There is a couch that people write on (but other people are afraid to sit on) and a wall with chalk board paint that has had the same saying all semester. The traditions that used to take place in this house simple do not take place anymore. There is at the most 10 people that “hang out” at the house other than nights when KLAW meets there, and it is easy to find a new place to hang out, or still hang out there even though it will be a little bit different. I know that people like to cling to tradition but the reality of it is that most tradition is already lost, just stop in and you will see that.

    As far as the business aspect… As I know everyone knows, Albion is in a tough economic time right now. The current coffeehouse model is driving it down more. There is not funds to subsidize it as much as it is being subsidized right now. There is a potential to bring back the busy place that all former managers remember and love. We can make this change so that people feel comfortable in the house again and actually want to come in for open mic nights ect. Again for a reality check, people do not right now. Everyone that I have talked to do not feel comfortable being in “someone else’s house” that they don’t know, to sit down, do homework and listen to music. It is not a welcoming atmosphere anymore to just relax there. It is 5 peoples house. And for the sake of “tradition” we are not going to open up the house to all of campus because 5 people want to live upstairs instead of applying for an apartment. It is not about the greater good, it is about making the coffeehouse a place where more than ten people feel comfortable hanging out. Why not extend the ‘community’ since there already is not much anyways. If you do not live there, or know the people well that live there, then you are an outsider, there is not community just because you want a cup of coffee from them.

    People that are in support of this project are being criticized for being closed minded about making this a ‘business venture’. I would like to turn the tables around. Allow yourself to be open minded about the fact that even though it could become profitable, it would become so much more to this campus than that. The goal is for everyone to know and love the coffeehouse like they once did, and to actually utilize it instead of feeling out of place when they walk inside.

    I love hearing from former managers because I do understand everything that you are saying about the coffeehouse and what it used to be. But I will not be the only one to tell you that it is not that anymore and with the path that it is going down, it does not have the potential to be that again for a long time. I encourage you stop in, don’t tell them you an alumni right away, just stop in and see how the memories of YOUR coffeehouse compare to what the coffeehouse is today.

  15. Cody,

    Apologies for the mistaken Gerstacker association, I too often fail to draw a distinction between it and those students who have otherwise business-oriented career arcs (and thus similarly plans for internships and graduate school).

    It’s curious to me that one could consider a business ran by Albion students, overseen by Albion faculty, created with Albion seed money, and patronized only by those in the Albion community as anything capable of providing for a “real world experience” (assuming you’re speaking of anything outside of the rarefied Albion College environment as constituting the “real world”).

    The college could (and probably should) reform the Coffeehouse’s organizational structure. Funding and support for continued operation of the house should entail proper incentives and liabilities; this is how policy shapes capitalistic reward into greater public good. But let’s be realistic: if, under your plan, delinquent managers run the business into the ground (which, yes, would likely cost them a passing grade and maybe their original graduation date), would your Coffeehouse would not fail like a normal business? Would its debts and board of directors be dissolved, the building razed to the ground or sold to a dry-cleaners? Or would the college re-inject money into the enterprise, start some reform, and try again? If the answer is the realistic latter, then your plan is no more capitalistic than the current subsidized-risk model of American investment banks or of Detroit. But nor should your plan be (though those firms mentioned before, existing in the “real world,” probably should be): an ideal “E&M lab” should support failure, as an environment for firsthand learning, it actually invites it– but it should also strive hard to avoid it.

    What I’m most curious about is why you would be so insistent on removing the residential option. I simply do not see how business experience within the house, or responsible fiduciary management of the college funds used in running the business is at odds with the existence of residential managers. Nor do I see how their removal actually would add much to campus life. Nothing is stopping anyone now from the institutionalization of additional non-residential managers and workers and business partners. I see no reason why residential managers (chosen on either a semester- or annual-basis) could not be required to work for internship credit while living there, nor be mandated to remain open at certain hours or be more greatly amenable to student-group reservations/hosting class lectures/providing study spaces.

    It’s also clear to me that the additional 350 square feet that would be recovered from the removal of the upstairs student bedrooms upstairs would not be nearly as much of a boon for the campus community as you seem to think– it’s a space roughly a quarter of the size of the central lounge in Wesley Hall, yet with a much more segmented and awkward geometry. The placement of five new Ikea tables within that Wesley lounge would create a greater amount of usable study space than could possibly be newly established within the aging Coffeehouse– doing so would also deter the displacement of one of the few alternative living options within the college itself. I’d gladly make such a donation to Albion College now for the purchase, placement and maintenance of such furniture for Wesley now, if it would settle this matter. Heck– I’ll also spring for a few folding chairs.

    Terminating the residential nature of the Coffeehouse in the name of greater student participation is akin to arguing that the E-House would be better utilized if its residential option was removed; that doing so would allow a greater number of environmentally-minded students to meet and study within its now-vacant bedrooms, or allow them accomplish more productive pet projects, the hypothetical actualization of which are now hindered by those people currently living within its walls. If anything, the E-house flourishes by having its members live within the house while also taking an associated class on the experience. This is the integrated residential model to which your reform efforts should aspire. It’s difficult to argue that this is a poorer internship experience than the non-residential experience, which seems to instead require simply showing up to a few barista shifts and a weekly meeting– an experience one would get from a summer at Starbucks or their local hometown hangout. Post-college life preparation, indeed.

    So let me be clear: I support reform to the Coffeehouse budget process, and I support institutionalizing personal incentives and liability in the structure of the business as motivation for running it successfully. I agree that internship-seeking and entrepreneurial-minded students should have more of a role in this effort. I also support mandating its greater participation in the campus community. But destroying the residential character of the house is aggressively unnecessary for any of these goals, and indeed counterproductive in many respects.

    – Erich

  16. Fantastic endeavor, for the overall advantage of the college. Working with my family on opening a coffee house in southwest Michigan right now, I’ve had to research the financial, economical, and resource aspects of the industry, and believe these experiences would tally as an excellent tool for students. America consumes, on average, 400 million cups of coffee every day, and college students are no exception to the norm. Currently, the coffee house is grasping onto failing methods and practices. With a revamped business plan, open-minded and intelligent facilitators, and the will to make it better, it has every potential to reclaim and surpass previous business marks and social acceptance. Cody, great article, great anticipations, make sure the business plan is solid and direct.

  17. Dear Pleiad Staffer,

    Apologies for the double post–I thought it was my ancient laptop having a “moment” and eating my post 🙂 I didnt’ realize there was an ‘approval’ process.

    Now, Dear Cody,

    First and foremost, I suppose I should apologize for the less-than-formal tone of my first email–clearly, the Empire Records “damn the man, save the empire!” quotes have dated me a bit, and the humor intended didn’t translate. I think we have different ideas about what “the greater good” for Albion’s campus means. And, mind you, I actually HAVE been on the campus in the past five years and followed the changes VERY closely, though my relationship with the Coffeehouse has become far less intimate since I graduated–namely, I no longer have close friendships with the managers, I no longer volunteer there, and I no longer feel that I have any authority to speak on their behalf–though, in my heart, I feel that they may agree with my sentiments.

    In my opinion, what Albion needs to assure incoming students in this time is that there will indeed be a community (and by community, I mean a LIVING community) for each and every type of student interested in Albion. This, to me, is what should be done for the greater good. The Coffeehouse is a really unique living community on campus, and has been a major selling point for a particular demographic– a demographic that was, when I was at Albion, a minority, and may still be (in fact, I think it’s highly likely that it still is). Perhaps this is a demographic that you are not a part of, which may lend to any sense of discomfort you feel within that community. It may not entirely be related to the “residential” aspect, as you say. The Coffeehouse is an independently minded, (usually) liberal, slightly alternative space on a very…not alternative campus. I feel, for the greater good of the campus and it’s community, that space needs to be preserved. For the greater good, minority opinions, spaces, and communities need as much support and protection as the majority.

    Could the Coffeehouse be run more efficiently? This is probably true. How it is managed from year to year is contingent on it’s managers, it’s volunteers, and the general attitude towards it on campus. Personally, in my year, we did serve pastries, smoothies, and, since I’d worked for Starbucks prior to living there, we were able to pretty much offer anything Starbucks had, for less. But despite our efforts, we faced other issues and setbacks, and some people just didn’t want an alternative, cheaper Starbucks. It’s like asking someone who really wants Nike’s to settle for a nice pair of sneakers from Payless.

    May I ask how many years you’ve been familiar with the Coffeehouse, for you to speak so assuredly about it’s demise? The Coffeehouse, for the community that supports it, and that it in turn supports and creates a unique social atmosphere for, has faced ups and downs throughout it’s history. Two years before I moved into the Coffeehouse, it was on the brink of collapsing due to fiscal mismanagement. A core group of us worked very hard to revitalize it and rescue it. We took out a small business loan and paid it off, with profit, within the year. We dealt with the fact that our FAEMA commercial espresso machine, at 17 years old (they normally last 5 years), was on it’s last legs, but we couldn’t request money from the college to replace it, as they didn’t deem it “essential” to our business model. We raised the funds for a new one through alumni drives, donations, and other events. We also dealt with the loss of key business partners on campus when the college signed a deal with Starbucks. We were no longer allowed to provide coffee to the Coffee Cart in the Kellogg Center, or at campus sponsored events outside of the house, and faced pressure from dining services to become a Starbucks only house, despite the fact that we had a rich and extremely positive relationship with Paramount coffee, based out of Jackson. We fought hard to make the coffeehouse successful, and didn’t always see a lot of support from the campus itself. But that was the beauty of the house–it was a labor of love, and worth fighting for. It was more than earning internship credit. It was more than a project for a class or major. It was OURS, we had been given the freedom to do what we felt needed to be done, and the responsibility gained from that independence was bigger than anything I could of gained elsewhere on campus. By taking away the residential aspect, by restructuring it in the ways you suggested, these elements could be easily lost. The passion, the sense of responsibility, and the freedom associated with the space and community could be diminished if it turned into something so regulated and done for any reason other than love for what it stands for (aka, credit). The other beautiful aspect of the Coffeehouse is it’s transient nature, also related to it’s independent nature. It’s handed down to a new generation each year. It’s up to that generation to sink or swim. It’s always being reinvented to suit what the campus needs (and this is possible through it’s current charter), and create a space to those who need it. If it’s in a rough spot, a new team can come in and reinvent it as needed, without the dramatic reform you’ve suggested.

    And look, I never said anything about your plan limiting it’s access to particular groups. I know your plan doesn’t suggest that. But, if you’re as into econ and marketing as it seems, you should understand the marketing implications of this change. It will attract a particular type of student, looking to fulfill a particular goal, this goal is, in it’s entirety, different from the current goals of the house.

    I can’t help but wonder why you feel it’s the Coffeehouse that needs this change? Why not consider how the expansion of cooperative communities on campus could benefit the greater good of campus? Why not open a new co-op that could serve the business and econ students, or other students seeking internship opportunities, specifically (as Rachel has suggested). Look into how the E-House community was established. When there is a need–as you say–a new, unique space could be created, allowing a greater diversity of opportunities for students, and attracting a wider variety of student participation. That, to me, is what the “greater good” means.

    I also don’t understand your insistence that it cannot successfully be both a business and residential. It most certainly can. Unless…and perhaps this is true, what’s really changed in these five years is the type of student attracted to Albion, and they’re no longer motivated, responsible, and passionate enough to handle the responsibility of running the coffeehouse in it’s current form. I mean, if what you’re really witnessing is a weakness in your fellow students, then maybe your plan should be implemented. If there really are only “5” students, as you say, capable of pulling it off, maybe it needs to be changed. Or, if the diversity of the student body has been lost already, for that matter, when it comes to those kooky coffeehouse types, then perhaps it no longer has a place on Albion’s campus. I’m going to hope, however, that this isn’t true.


    Natalie Corbin
    Albion College ’06
    Coffeehouse Booking Manager

  18. I agree wholeheartedly that Albion College needs to trim some dead wood from student groups and reaffirm its fundamental commitment to free market values. Student organizations that cannot or will not maintain financial self-sufficiency serve as dangerous examples, just as honors for mediocre students would: both destroy the incentive to strive for excellence. Indeed, a simple comparison of living conditions in America and in the heavily-regulated, welfare-ridden nations of northern Europe illustrates this point beyond rebuttal.

    There is no reason for the Coffee House, an organization with extremely limited appeal, to be treated any differently from other groups on campus, all of which must generate enough income to survive. Only the Coffee House is allowed to supplement its profits with unearned handouts from the college, and I find it perplexing that the leaders of other student groups have not already objected to this unfair arrangement.

    Finally, I must take strong issue with the characterizations of Economics and Management students in some of these comments. The obvious implication is that these students, unlike the humanities majors who have historically dominated the Coffee House, deserve neither a place on campus where they can feel comfortable and welcome nor an opportunity to apply their studies to real-world problems. The lack of sympathy for students unable to afford an expensive internship really reveals the out-of-touch elitism of the Coffee House culture.

  19. One worries that Michael’s well-intentioned irony will be mistaken for muddy-headed sincerity.

    Well. Maybe I shouldn’t try to qualify his intentions. But well said.

  20. Ok. So, I’m sorry to hear that the Coffeehouse has apparently fallen on such hard times these days, and has become an environment that many find alienating. This happened also in 2001-02, which I hinted to before, when it basically became home to a very small group who kept no financial records (and then, the following year, the new managers had to deal with an IRS audit–seriously)and made no one feel welcome outside of their insular group…also, they weren’t those even those awful humanities types (ugh, those elitist jerks). But there was a group with a vision of a better, happier coffeehouse who came along the following year, and they made it happen. Perhaps this, too, is your goal. Go make it happen. I’m merely trying to argue that, with the charter that was in place when I lived there, much of what you’re trying to accomplish is doable without such sweeping reform, and I firmly believe that the residential aspect of the house is beneficial and should be preserved. The other thing to remember is that the managers have dibs for ONE YEAR. One year, and then the next group comes in and can do what they feel need to be done. If it’s going to hell in a hand basket, stake your claim for the next year, and make the difference that you’d like to see. It’s the volunteers who select the next years manager (or, that was what was in the charter when I lived there) so if you volunteer, the vote and power to change things is yours. I say this not out of some blind defensiveness or nostalgia, but because I know it can be done and be a good thing. I’ve witnessed it.

  21. I volunteered at the Coffee House my Freshman year, and I really liked the Coffee House then. When I applied to live there the next year, it was not voted on by the volunteers, but just the managers. I have also noticed a lack of keeping with the posted open hours. I have had classes where the professor will want to meet there, contacted the Coffee House, but no one answers when the class arrives.

    I would also like to point out that no one has implied that humanity majors are “elitist jerks.” You inferred that from a statement about how the Coffee House has been largely dominated by humanities majors. Which is true, isn’t it? I can understand how you must be frustrated, but don’t read the comments from the people who disagree with you as angry or sarcastic. Read each comment as if the person has clearly rationalized what they want to say and respond in kind.

  22. Nobody wants to go to a coffeehouse that people live in! That is why there is no business other than their friends. In past years the managers must have known a lot more people to get them to come because everyone that I have talked to is grossed out by the fact that the people that make your coffee are running around without shoes on, in pajamas, and making my coffee while they are eating cereal. It is not realistic to think that this can be run well as a business and a residential area because there are no boundaries. There is no dress code for people to enter their own kitchen but their should be a dress code for people that are about to make me coffee and make me believe that it is sanitary. Plus who wants to go into someone’s home to study. I have my own room. If I wanted to feel uncomfortable to study I would go sit in a frat house to study. I need a place with an actual atmosphere to study that I don’t feel like I am intruding on someone else’s personal space.

    There are many more reasons why the residential aspect of this coffeehouse does not work but I think you get the jist. I say let Cody try this idea for a year. If it fails then it can go back to how it is today.

  23. The brilliance of the proposed changes, contra Business vs. Residential, is that they cannot be undone after a year – they include remodeling of formerly residential areas to make way for study spaces and creating a new governing body for the house. This will allow decisions to be made by neutral and knowledgeable managers whose only interest is in the future profitability of the house, rather than non-expert students who may be swayed by their emotions instead of reason and objective economic facts. It is indisputable that no rational decision-making process could ever lead to the management arrangements like those of the current Coffee House.

    Business as usual has led the Coffee House to become a failing money sink and hangout of the fringe, rather than the profitable and mainstream enterprise it deserves to be. An irrevocable break with the past is its only hope.

  24. It is amazing how lore gets started. As one of five founders, and the only Economics student in the Coffee House, I can assure you that it was never intended to be some grand economics experiment. It was also never about coffee. Like many good projects, it had multiple positive outcomes. Yes, we and now some 15 generations of Coffee House leaders since have learned a great deal. These lessons have been invaluable to me in my career. The quality of the comments in this discussion thread give me confidence that others have also benefited from this experience. However, at the time it was formed primarily to help improve a social need – the lack of an open and inclusive environment in an era before the campus center, where the only gathering space was the fraternities. The five of us thought there was room for more options, and were passionate about making a difference. It is with significant amazement (and pride, I admit) that we founders have watched it survive for more than a decade. Few small businesses and even fewer restaurants survive this long.

    In 1993, we borrowed less than ten thousand dollars from the administration to refit the house with a professional kitchen and rent an espresso machine. We took no pay, and gave up our private social space in the annex while paying full room and board. We had a team of more than a dozen volunteer workers. By the end of one semester, we had paid back our loan a year early. By the end of the second semester, we had bought the espresso machine and were funding more than 50% of our entertainment budget. Throughout, we competed for scarce Student Senate activity funds among a pool of worthy causes. There was no financial problem, no drain on Albion. This project was about students doing for themselves.

    If the context of Albion’s social environment has changed, or if the need for the Coffee House has shifted towards supporting a broader pre-professional experience, then I applaud the revitalization plan. I will, however, lay out one cautionary tale. As we contemplated the Coffee House, we were keenly aware of a failed attempt that predated ours, called “The Alternative”. It was a vision not unlike that outlined by Cody in his proposal. The Alternative was a collaborative venture between the Professional Management administration and students with the intention of being a faculty/administration advised learning opportunity. It failed in less than one year. Steeped in debt with overly optimistic projections to cover large fixed costs, it ultimately couldn’t attract enough ongoing interest and commitment from students to keep it going. It also shifted responsibility to the administration and faculty, and that took a lot of pressure to succeed off the students who were involved.

    Use your judgment and do what you think is right in the context of current needs. THAT is the learning opportunity of the Coffee House and Albion College. However, in the liberal arts tradition, I would also encourage you to consider the lessons of history as you contemplate the future.

    John Barden
    Albion College ’94
    Founding Member, Albion College Coffee House

  25. Hey everyone, I’m glad to see some discussion happening on this topic.
    I was a manager at the Coffee House from 2008-2009. Before becoming a manager, I was also a volunteer for a year and a half and stayed actively involved ever since. The last time I went to the Coffee House was this very semester, just so we’re clear.
    As someone has already posted, the success of the Coffee House changes depending on the managers for that year. During my year, we ended with a profit, despite having some heavy debt when we moved in.
    Although the current state of the house is alarming — if I were a student that knew no one in the house, I would likely be uncomfortable entering, and would not know when it was open or closed — that does not mean that next year’s house won’t kick it in to gear and make it more profitable. In fact, the pattern has often been that managers following an unsuccessful period will turn the place around during their time as managers.
    In addition, I am sure that current and previous Coffee House managers would agree that getting a credit card machine, having academic advisement, and being able to call their hours-worked an “internship” would be greatly beneficial to the business. However, I personally have requested all of those things and been denied by the college on several occasions. I have even submitted my own proposal to train managers and volunteers as actual baristas, and not found any interest.
    The inherent value of the Coffee House is in its cultural and social character. Eliminating the current system would not only alienate the students who find the Coffee House to be their own place of social belonging, but also harm the “greater good” of the college as a whole by eliminating one of its only sources of diverse social interaction. In light of recent changes at Albion, now is the time to embrace all of the enriching pieces of a Liberal Arts Education — where artists and scientists come together and learn from one another. Since its inception, that space has been the Coffee House — where a philosophy student and a Geology student meet and learn to understand how the other thinks. The only way these people meet is through a common love for the underground, for the more than average, for the social scene that begs to be different, for the space where there isn’t a neon sign declaring the open hours, but rather an open-door policy for those that feel comfortable, and a propped door for those that don’t.
    Allowing this space to be consumed by students who wish to blend in with Corporate America, Inc. will only disillusion the students that are already falling through the cracks. Internships ARE expensive, and I understand that making those experiences available is important — but I beg you and the college to find another way. The students who live at the Coffee House are those that don’t get ANY advantages from the college — they are the ones constantly worrying that their program will be cut — who aren’t considered marketable students because they won’t get high paying jobs after college.
    Apply to be a manager next year, make the Coffee House a working establishment again by scraping together events with no budget, doing dishes for hours on end, contacting professors to have their classes there, sitting behind the counter for 8 hours straight, organizing events with no support from the college, and keep volunteers through an entire academic year. Once you have done it our way, then tell us how you can do it better.

    Good luck finding an internship, but finding one in Albion won’t make you more marketable in the “real world”.

  26. Albion College 1992-1996
    Coffee House Manager 1993-1994

    As plastic as the Idea of the Coffee House is and was, we were very
    rigid and focused on those aspects of business that made it a
    fantastic learning experience and success. Workforce, Cost Control, Financing and
    Repayment, Promotion (and dare I say lobbying the Administration). We ate, breathed and
    slept (on occasion) Coffee House. We did it on a volunteer basis and
    even with our single minded drive at inception, It would have been
    daunting as a “for profit” entity. It is also an opportunity that I
    would have not likely had in a for profit, Pro man Econ Coffee House

    For profit or non-profit a business must be well run and based on a plan. That plan by those managers running any business should have long and short term goals for equipment, the physical plant of the building, and staffing.

    I fear that a for profit Coffee House entity would lead to a short lived, costly and doomed experience similar to “The Alternative” night club in the early 90’s. If the managers in any year at The Coffee House do not have the plan, ambition, and dedication to RUNNING A BUSINESS then The Coffee House may fail as well, even as a non profit.

    Of all the people to start their own business in years following TCH,
    I never dreamed it would be me. I never would have done it without
    The Coffee House. I now have 5 employees and am entering my fifth year in practice. The Coffee
    House fostered in me the entrepreneurial spirit. A benefit I carry
    with me on a daily basis.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.