By Kate Barber
The coveted kiosk outside Green Library that used to house MoonBean’s Coffee was, until this year, a center of intellectual vitality on campus. The outdoor cafe was a guaranteed location for an awkward run-in with your IHUM T.F. and a hub of academic discussion outside the classroom.
For the past six months, however, the kiosk has been empty as preparations are made for MoonBean’s replacement — the second on-campus Coupa Café, which is projected to cost Stanford Library $177,000.
According to Kelly Rohlfs, a project manager for the Stanford Department of Project Management, if final construction permits from Santa Clara County come through this week, Coupa could be ready for occupancy by March 3.
The hope comes after months of broken promises. The kiosk was first set to open by the start of the 2009-2010 school year and has continually been pushed back due to permit delays.
With some permits in place, such as the electrical permit, construction workers are finally on-site for the renovation process. But plumbing and mechanical permits are still needed, and even if renovations are complete by March 3, it may be longer before the cafe is fully operational.
Still, Coupa Café owner Jean Paul Coupal ’07 — listed in the Stanford directory as affiliated with the vice provost and dean of research — hopes to begin service soon after the end of construction.
“We’ve already begun training staff two months ago,” Coupal said. “The idea is to be ready to operate basically at 100 percent.”
Months of Delays
Andrew Herkovic, director of communications and development for Stanford University Library and Academic Information Resources (SULAIR), said the Library, which own the kiosk, did not expect the renovation process to take as long as it has.
“We had no reason to believe it would be this ridiculous of a delay,” he said.
According to Rohlfs, however, the permitting process normally takes months, so this time frame is not unusual.
Another reason for the delay is that the original plans for the new cafe only included minor renovations. The need for extensive renovations was not discovered until late in the summer.
“Originally the plan was to do a light renovation and open in September,” Coupal said. “But I had never gone into the building until after the bidding process, and we’d never done a study of what was there until after MoonBean’s left.” Coupal said he had to wait to see the interior until after MoonBean’s had moved.
MoonBean’s operated under a provisional permit because the kiosk was not built in accordance with county health standards. Now that the kiosk will be changing tenants, the building is required to be updated to meet these county regulations.
“We were surprised by the conditions of the building,” Coupal said. “It had been there for 12 years with no updating.”
The kiosk will now be undergoing an extensive interior renovation to bring the kitchen up to health code regulations and allow for more on-site food preparation.
Included in this $177,000 remodel will be a new exhaust hood, sinks and flooring, as well as plumbing and electrical updates.
“Everything is being brought up to health code regulations,” Coupal said. “It will be non-viewable to the public, in the kitchen area.”
Coupal said that he also plans to make changes to the furniture in the outdoor seating area. Jennie Reynolds, the former owner of MoonBean’s, wrote in an e-mail to The Daily that she had been asking Stanford to change this same seating area for years.
MoonBean’s had been the tenant of the Library kiosk for 10 years. When its lease expired last spring, SULAIR solicited bids for the kiosk space.
According to Herkovic, the Library received four bids for the space, including one from MoonBean’s.
“We chose based on a combination of hours, services, quality, variety, business terms and stability,” Herkovic said. “Overall, Coupal clearly came out ahead.”
Reynolds said she was surprised by the outcome of the bidding process.
“I was fairly certain we would get the contract,” Reynolds said. “I knew the building needed improvements and that we may have to close for a short period to do that, but I didn’t think we would lose the spot. The Library had never expressed any dissatisfaction with us.”
Mark Frykman ’11, a former MoonBean’s employee, believed library staff had had qualms with certain aspects of the MoonBean’s culture. “We were trying to keep on the library’s good side,” he said.
Reynolds added that the Library had asked to increase her rent — an extra cost she could not afford without trade-offs for her employees.
“There was a point in the bidding process when Stanford asked for more money,” Reynolds said. “The difference in yearly payment would have been more than $40,000. Lots of my employees had been hoping for a raise, and health insurance was through the ceiling. I just couldn’t justify it, especially with the additional output of money to remodel. I don’t know if the decision would have been different if we had agreed to that.”
Herkovic said SULAIR chose Coupa because its proposal offered the best overall plan. “Coupa’s proposal showed an interest in more and better food service,” he said.
The new Coupa Café will be offering both coffee beverages and hot food.
Herkovic acknowledged concerns about increased congestion and waiting time associated with hot food preparation, although Coupal has plans to assure adequate speed of customer service.
“The idea is that the kitchen will be a powerhouse,” Coupal said. “And we’ll have at least two registers to start.
“I’m guessing the lines are going to be pretty long, though,” he added.
Despite promises of longer hours of operation and a more extensive menu, many students have expressed dissatisfaction with the way the transition was handled. In particular, some students wonder why SULAIR had not looked into the permit process before evicting MoonBean’s.
“The charitable way to understand this would be to say that the Library is not in the habit of building kitchens,” said Justin Brooke ’10, a student member of the Board of Trustees Committee on Land and Buildings, who said he was not speaking on behalf of the board or the committee and looked into the issue as a matter of personal interest.
“However, I think that when the stakes are as high as they are, the Library should have been more careful and cognizant about what was involved with the construction — they should have gone in with all the facts,” Brooke said.
“Because the Library didn’t know what it was doing, the Stanford community has lost a very important cafe for the summer, autumn and winter quarters,” he added. “The kiosk, whether it’s MoonBean’s or Coupa, is an integral part of the Stanford lifestyle for so many people. To have that disappear for such a long time is an enormous failure.”
To provide a substitute for the now-vacant cafe, Coupa Café has installed a permanent coffee and espresso vending machine in Meyer Library. The machine will remain in place after Coupa opens to allow for 24-hour coffee service in the library area.
Coupal hopes that this vending machine and his new café will serve the undergraduate community in particular. “I want to contribute to Stanford student life as we have in Y2E2,” he said. “If we can offer that on the opposite side of campus, it’s only a benefit for everyone.”
For Reynolds, who had closed her other Bay Area cafés to focus on the Stanford MoonBean’s, finding out that the well-loved coffee shop would not be given another lease was a shock.
“It’s one thing to lose your job, but entirely another to lose the company you ran since you were 23 years old,” she said. “It was life-changing, for sure.”
Despite the state of the economy, most former MoonBean’s employees have found new jobs. Frykman said he was fortunate in that he was not financially dependent on his job at MoonBean’s.
“I was doing it to make spending cash,” he said. “But for a lot of others, it was their only job, and they were doing it to pay their rent.”
Since losing her business, Reynolds has kept busy with fiction writing and a band she has just started. At this point, she does not plan on reopening a MoonBean’s café in the area.
“I do really miss Stanford, though,” she admitted. “I’m still making everybody’s drinks in my head.”