Plans for campus cafe grind to a halt

Elizabeth Campbell

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Despite an ongoing electronic petition to build a new late-night cafe near South Campus dorms, a university official said Tuesday the project is not financially prudent at this time.

Vice President of Student Affairs William Banis said administators examined the possibility of such a cafe last spring when the Undergraduate Budget Priority Committee submitted the project as its top concern. Budget constraints influenced his decision to put the idea on hold.

“As I examine the budgets, I don’t think we can take it on,” Banis said. “We have to focus on the basics.”

A decrease in residence hall occupancy this year has reduced university revenue, he said. Also, although the administration budgeted the cost of utilities “very aggressively,” these expenses far surpassed expectations.

“The utility overruns last year cost more than what it would have cost us to construct and open a cafe,” Banis said.

The petition, which by Tuesday had more than 500 signatures, calls for a South Campus version of Lisa’s Cafe, said Associated Student Government Student Services Vice President Whitney Gretz.

“If we can prove that students want the cafe and that it’s important to students, I think we can definitely see this cafe happen,” said Gretz, a Weinberg junior.

The administration initially seemed very receptive to the idea of a cafe, Gretz said. But ASG student services committee members said they were disappointed to see that the plans had stalled when they returned in the fall.

Banis said a cafe could be funded by an “extraordinary” increase in room and board costs, but NU would not take that step.

“It’s my decision until we can stabilize some of these runaway expenses and get a handle on this not to go ahead and spend money that we don’t have,” Banis said.

Gretz said she thinks there are concerns that such a cafe will hurt business for existing university food venues. But she said students often go into Evanston venues, such as Kafein and Starbucks Coffee, that are open later than dining halls and closer than Norris.

“Students have already proven that there’s a need for late night snacks and coffee that’s not being met,” Gretz said.

The ASG Student Services committee started circulating the petition about two weeks ago via student group and dorm listservs. Students can add their signature to the petition by sending their name in the subject heading to southcampuscafe@yahoo.com.

Gretz said that an on-campus venue near the South Campus dorms would be safer and more convenient for students.

“Especially this fall when there’s been more safety concerns, you don’t want to be walking very far late at night and walking off-campus especially,” Gretz said.

Lisa’s Cafe is located in Slivka Hall. It is open until 2 a.m. Sunday through Thursday.

Crowe Cafe on South Campus usually closes at 5 p.m. Plaza Cafe at University Library and the Norris Student Center eateries shut down by 11 p.m.

Student Services committee member Ambika Aggarwal lived in Sargent Hall last year and frequented Lisa’s Cafe. Now living in Allison Hall, the Weinberg sophomore said South Campus should have a similar dining option.

“Dining halls aren’t open late enough,” Aggarwal said. “Any cafe would provide students with a place to go late at night.”

Reach Elizabeth Campbell at

e-campbell-1@northwestern.edu.

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