The student-run café on the bottom floor of the Allbritton Center, Espwesso, served its first cups of coffee to studiers and socializers at its “soft-opening” on Sunday night. After a year of planning, café staff invited friends to experience Espwesso’s test run through a private Facebook event.

“The concept behind a soft opening is for us to see how it is with people in the space, but it exploded,” said Business Manager Sophie Levan ’12. “We had twenty people in the first twenty minutes. It wasn’t really a soft opening.”

The café will now be serving coffee every weeknight from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., although the café staff are in the process of planning a more formal grand opening after Fall Break to which Robert Allbritton ’92, the café’s patron, will be invited.

Dozens of students stopped by the soft opening to sneak a peek at the café and sip on drinks. Drip coffee from an airpot is provided free of charge, subsidized by espresso drinks that are available for purchase using points, Middletown Cash, or cash. The café offers all the basic espresso machine beverages at prices below what they would cost at the average coffee shop: an espresso runs $1.50, a latté $1.75, and a mocha $2.25.

“We’re pricing at cost,” Levan said. “We’re trying to make this affordable—there’s no goal of ever running a profit.”

Levan has been working closely with Café Manager Alex Bernson ’11 and Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) President Micah Feiring ’11, who pioneered the idea for the café, to balance the tab. Funds donated by Allbritton covered the costs of the capital items for the café, such as the equipment. Other startup costs were funded by the WSA, but Levan and Bernson emphasized that these funds were only used to get the café up and running—the wages of the four student baristas hired to work the counter and all future supply costs should be covered by espresso drink sales.

“The goal is to be completely self-sustainable,” Bernson said.

Now that Espwesso (the name of which, according to Bernson, originally came from an Anonymous Confession Board thread soliciting ideas and received a massive amount of write-in votes on last semester’s WSA Survey) is officially open, the organizers are hoping to involve more students in the project.

Espwesso Art Curator Zoe Greenham ’11 plans to run two art shows per semester, decorating the walls of the café in student art. Currently, drawings, prints, and photographs she collected from the art studios hang on two of the walls.

“The art that’s on the wall now was a little bit thrown together for the opening,” Greenham said. “But in terms of the plan ahead, we want one more show that’s much more planned and curated this semester and two more next semester. The next show we’re thinking is going to be predominantly print because the Printmaking class [ARST 437] doesn’t really have another time to show their work.”

Levan and Bernson would also like to see an event-running counterpart to Greenham

s position—a student in charge of organizing special events, such as open mic and board game nights, in the café.

“We’re hoping to have a huge amount of student involvement,” Levan said. “If you want to see something happen here, let’s make it happen.”

“Everything—everything—is student done,” Bernson added.

The café is not without its socially conscious side, either; the milk is purchased locally from Wildowsky Dairy in Lisbon, Conn., and both Levan and Bernson emphasized that the quality of the coffee beans ensures that they are grown ethically and sustainably.

“I very strongly believe in coffee’s ability to improve the world at the local and international level—and I think the best way to do that is by serving the best coffee possible,” Bernson said. “Fair trade certification actually means that farmers get 10 or 15 cents over the commodity price for coffee, so instead of getting $1.45 a pound, they get $1.60 a pound, which is nice, but for really quality, tasty coffee, farmers can get four dollars, ten dollars, twenty dollars a pound.”

By purchasing good beans—through Levan’s family, who work in the coffee industry—the managers hope to encourage students to appreciate quality coffee. In the meantime, however, they’re happy to sit back, take a deep breath, and admire the work they’ve put in.

“It’s unbelievable to see it in real life,” Levan said. “The amount of work from all the students who have been involved is huge, which is why it’s so exciting.”

“It doesn’t feel real,” Bernson added.

  • anonymous

    oh hey hey who’s that hot barista?