Common Grounds an Undiscovered Spot For On Campus Coffee

Photo: Since hearing about the cafe, graduate student Paul Kerschen enjoys a cup of coffee at Common Grounds a couple times a week.
Michael Kang/Photo
Since hearing about the cafe, graduate student Paul Kerschen enjoys a cup of coffee at Common Grounds a couple times a week.

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Not long ago, the top floor of Dwinelle Hall was probably the last place on campus anyone would think to go for coffee. Now, five months after its opening, Common Grounds has steadily grown in popularity while still remaining relatively undiscovered in the campus community.

The idea of former Associate Dean of Arts and Humanities Victoria Kahn, Common Grounds opened on Oct. 16 last year in a space designed for a cafe after two floors were added to Dwinelle 10 years ago.

"I thought it would be a great place for faculty, students and staff to take a break, and it was always intended to be that kind of space," Kahn said.

Once approached by Kahn, Cal Dining instituted a survey that revealed students felt Dwinelle would be a desirable location for a coffee shop.

"We didn't think it was an ideal situation being on the third floor and out of the way, but it's definitely been successful considering how packed it is," said Cal Dining Director Sean LaPean.

Business at Common Grounds started off slow due to its obscure location and limited publicity.

"It was a slow and steady increase," said Brian Bigelow, assistant director of Cal Dining. "We did a small amount of marketing, but I attribute our increase in sales and increase in patronage largely to word of mouth."

Many students said they are still not aware that Common Grounds exists.

"I recall having seen one flier about it, but I thought it was a mistake – it seemed strange that a coffee shop or cafe would be up here," said senior Chris Taylor, who now visits Common Grounds often. "I like not having to go off campus to get what I think is a good cup of coffee."

Coffee vendors nearby say Common Grounds has taken away customers.

"If someone just wants coffee, they just grab a cup from Dwinelle and I don't have to come down here–I'm hearing this from my own customers," said Haitham Alloun, owner of The Coffee Spot. "Their prices are higher than ours, that is the only reason we might be able to survive."

But off-campus vendors say Common Grounds' presence has not taken away their business.

"It's not affecting us," said Martin Perez, manager of Cafe Milano. "We always make coffee the way (customers) like it, so they always come back to us."

The cafe only serves about 350 people per day compared to the 1,000 that The Den and the 6,000 that the Golden Bear Cafe serve daily, management said they are satisfied.

"It's doing as much business as we can do out of that little location," LaPean said. "I was actually hoping Dwinelle would relieve some stress on Golden Bear Cafe. What seems to have happened is that it has just created new business."

Due to its popularity, Kahn said she hopes more furniture and decorations will be added.

"It's still a work in progress, but judging from the number of people in the cafe, it seems like it's a big hit," she said.


Jessica Kwong covers local business. Contact her at [email protected]

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