Getting “quadded” is something Harvard students tend to dread. You’re forced to walk an extra 10 or so minutes to class, which you can imagine doesn’t sit well with students who at all resemble those whiny Winklevii. Yet, what others have decided to complain about, junior Jesse Kaplan chose to see as an opportunity, and if I were at Harvard, I’d resign myself to the Quad, because I’d at least have easier access to the Cabot Café.
A semi-finalist for this year’s Harvard i3 Competition, the Cabot Café is an entirely student-run venture. Selling coffee, teas and baked goods, Kaplan started designing the shop when he noticed what was missing in the Quad: No comfortable study space, gallery for student artists or place for undergraduates to perform.
After speaking with the Cabot House Master, Harvard Business School professor Rakesh Khurana, Kaplan brought in his friends, made a tentative budget and borrowed a few thousand dollars from the House. What he saw, however, was instant success. They tested out the idea for four days, serving a limited menu each night to see what might be more or less popular. And, with $70,000 worth of renovations from Harvard later, the Café was able to open full-time this past fall.
Featuring comfortable arm chairs, more outlets and lower prices, Kaplan says they’ve received “tons of positive feedback.” After putting in over 10 hours a day, attending safety courses and obtaining the necessary permits, the positive feedback is much deserved, and he hopes to receive more of it from the i3 Competition this Thursday.
Offering up $50K in cash grants, Kaplan claims the Competition could help the Café buy a coffee shop staple: a commercial blender, which costs over $2,000. Even more general items to improve customer experience, such as table lamps, are also needed, according to Kaplan. While opening a coffee shop is hard, opening one as an undergraduate with a more meager budget is even harder.
Open Sunday through Thursday from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., the students are loving what’s on the menu. From the Café’s “Pick-Me-Ups,” like the “Nutella-Me-Up,” their signature hot chocolate combined with hazelnut and covered in whipped cream, to their “Keep-Me-Ups,” like the “Milky Way,” a chocolate caramel latte that tastes just like the candy bar, everyone’s got their favorites.
After hearing Kaplan describe their gooey chocolate chip cookies, I’m already sold. Can I have one with an order of the Tai Chi Chai Tea, please?
Photos Courtesy of the Cabot Café