SRB leaders chart new courses for coming year
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Harrison Lin | MECH, Brown '18
What's your vision for Coffeehouse in the next year?
We have two main goals: moving towards greener and more sustainable business practices and tapping into the diverse set of skills that students have on campus. For example, going to the Archi school to help us redesign our cafe space and reaching out to Design for America to help Coffeehouse become more reconnected with Rice students.
What are the sustainability initiatives that you have already done or plan to do?
I switched the dispensers to 100 percent recycled napkins and a single dispenser system, which makes people take less.
Another step that’s bigger is changing the way we use our rags. In the past we've bought disposable terry rag towels and we used them once or for the day and then we throw them away, and that's just very wasteful. I did the math and we throw away about 4000 rags a year. In the next few weeks, we'll be switching to a linen service that will bring us fresh batches of rags at the beginning of the week. We use them, we put them in a basket, and they pick them up to launder and give us fresh ones and so there's zero waste. We're keeping 4,000 rags a year out of the dumpster, we're helping a linen service thrive, and so it’s a win-win situation. We get better rags, and it actually costs us less.
Three weeks after spring break we will be essentially discounting our own mugs. When you bring your own mug into Coffeehouse, [the cost] is 25 cents less, [and] we'll be making it more, like 50 cents. The hope is that we get more and more people bringing their own mug to coffeehouse and realizing ‘oh, this isn’t so bad, I could do this every day.’ [This would be] reducing our cup waste as well.
What from your experience as health and maintenance manager and also from working at Coffeehouse have prepared you for this new role?
Very quickly as health and maintenance manager you realize that stuff happens, and you can either freak out and be very anxious about things or you can just let things take care of themselves. So for example, the brewer might explode. You can either be really sad about it or you can calm yourself down and takes the steps necessary to get Coffeehouse back and running again.
Why did you decide to be General Manager and what will make you a good General Manager?
I have a vision. I’m very driven to make change. I’m not afraid to change things at all and I’m always thinking very critically about how things can be improved, always. Efficiency: how can we improve our workflow behind bar, how can we improve the customer experience, how can we reduce the line throughout the door. This mindset of constantly improving has helped Coffeehouse become a better place.
You love coffeehouse; why should everyone else at Rice?
I personally don't expect everyone at Rice to love Coffeehouse, but I do think that Coffeehouse is very much the heart and soul of this campus. It’s the central hub where people go when they have an hour of free time; it’s a place where you can kick back and relax or you can get down and dirty with studying. We act as a gathering place for lots of people and that’s great.
We are the cheapest coffee you can find in Houston and we're keeping prices low because we understand our market. We know that students don't have a lot of money to spend. And we're happy with keeping our margins low as a service to the community.
We do things well. We do things sustainably to the best of our ability and we are a very ethical business in the way we treat our employees. We have a very great employee culture, and the hope is that that positive employee culture is seen by customers. Sometimes you see KOC's dancing behind bar.
What do you do outside of working at Coffeehouse?
I was involved with Design for America last year. I'm an intern for Hillflint: I’ve been helping them design sweaters and selling them on campus. I'm the Culturals Coordinator at Brown with my roommate Drew Keller which is really fun. I'm also secretary for APASA (Asian Pacific Student Association). So I’m involved with other things on campus, but definitely not as much as Coffeehouse.
Madeleine Pelzel | ARCH, Lovett '18
Where will you take Rice Bikes in the next year?
We're really hoping to expand our location. We’re kind of outgrowing our space, which is really exciting. We’re really looking to grow into either more spaces within our area of the student center or see where else on campus or in the student center we can be. We love being in the student center with all the other SRBs. I also see our rental program growing to accommodate the large number of people renting bikes on campus. We’re also partnering with an organization in Houston called Free Wheels to provide bikes to Houston refugees. We're really looking to become a larger part of the Houston bike community through partnerships with Bike Houston and other advocacy groups.
What about you will make you succeed as general manager of Rice Bikes?
Something that I brought to the shop is an attitude of collaboration with other organizations on campus and within the shop. The management team is really on top of it this year, so the other managers are really taking care of a lot of the nitty gritty stuff and I'm getting to focus on these bigger projects, which is really exciting. We're partnering with Rice Apps and [Rice University Cycling and Triathlon] and [Rice Outdoor Programs] and RUPD obviously. We always work with them on safety and bike initiatives.
What made you decide to step up to this role as GM?
I’m a sophomore; I've been with the shop for a year and a half and I think what suits me for the role is my ability to see the big picture while also focusing on the details. [In my previous role as] marketing manager you're always thinking about the brand and the visibility and organizing rides and programming. Through that lens, I was able to step up into the role of GM and continue that outward focus and vision while maintaining a well operating shop.
What role do you see Rice Bikes playing as a part of the Rice Community?
We rent out nearly 50 bikes — those are people in the Rice community who wouldn't otherwise have a bike and we service them monthly. We are really working on growing that program. We also sell bikes, so we're increasing the number of bikes on campus in a few ways. We also provide extraordinarily low prices for repairs, an option that's affordable for students [and] run by students. We service and inspect nearly every Beer Bike bike that goes on to the track, which is a huge part of the Rice culture and something that couldn't really happen without Rice Bikes making sure all those bikes are safe. We also have Rice Rides once a month, taking people with their bikes to explore parts of Houston, bringing a little bit of the Houston culture into Rice.
What are some challenges that you will face?
As a shop, our growth and expansion is probably our biggest challenge: We had to cut back on our hours this semester because we can't take in the number of bikes. This need has really driven us to use our space more effectively: We've been experimenting a lot with different ways to hang and store bikes and we've really gotten every square inch out of that space. We’re not quite sure if we'll get more space, so that's probably the biggest shop wide challenge.
I think for me as GM the biggest challenge is to make sure that [with] all of our different programs we don’t lose sight or track of our core mission to provide low-cost, high-quality service to students. We're doing a ton besides that with [Rice] Rides and so many other extraneous details, [so] just keeping everyone focused on the main goal is something that I have to consciously remind everyone.
John Williams | MECH, Martel '17
What is your vision for where Willy's Pub will be in the next year?
In the next year I'm hoping Willy's will be right where it is right now: Happily chugging along in the basement of the RMC. I just want Pub to be the place students want to go on any given week night. I'm also hoping we can throw some great events and generate creative ideas to draw in people who may never have come to pub before.
Why did you decide to step up to this role at Willy's Pub?
I just really like the unique history of Pub, as well as everyone that works there now. I want to help keep Pub the Rice institution it has been for nearly 41 years. It's also rare to have the opportunity to be the general manager of a business as a junior in college and it was something I couldn't pass up.
What has your experience been working at Willy's Pub so far?
It's been great. I've been able to meet a ton of people from across campus I may not have otherwise met. I've made friends with bartenders I never thought I'd talk to. I've made more quesadillas and Pub Nugz than I ever thought possible. It's just been a really fun time.
What is the employee culture like at Willy's Pub?
We generally refer to ourselves as the Pub Fam and enjoy hanging at Pub, outside of Pub, and everywhere in between. It's a pretty tight knit group and the best part of working at Willy's.
Funny story from working at Pub?
One of the tamer ones, but during my first shift at pub I charged someone $1 for a free glass of water and they paid for it.
What are some challenges you will face as general manager of Willy's Pub?
The biggest challenge is probably time management. I have to deal with running a business at the same time as getting all my work done and trying to enjoy my time at Rice. So far it hasn't been too bad, but you never know what will come up next.
What is Willy's Pub's role at Rice?
Pub's a place people can come together to meet up outside of their respective colleges and have a good time. Since I've been here people have become more and more excited about us stocking new and interesting beers. We've been trying to bring in a more diverse draft and bottle lineup and that will definitely continue in the next year. Wednesday night Trivia has become increasingly popular as well. It's a great time and we have some really funny question makers lined up.
As general manager you will have to work with students, the administration, and many others; how do you plan on managing these relationships?
I think the biggest things in any relationship are being open and communicating well. This is how I'm approaching all of these relationships. I'm trying to get to know all of our bartenders personally and have already had meetings with some administration members just to make sure we're on the same page when it comes to Pub's operations.
Alura Vincent | MECH, Martel '17
What are your plans for the Hoot for the next year?
One of our plans is to increase the number of specialty nights. Now they're on a biweekly basis. [Also,] diversifying and adding products in general.
What made you decide to become GM of the hoot?
If you had asked me freshman year if I was going to be a manager of an SRB, I would have laughed because there's no way I thought I was going to be comfortable presenting in front of 25 people — but it’s such a friendly environment and I want to keep that going and keep people coming. I really appreciated meeting new friends from the Hoot. And I wanted to keep that going and give back to the Hoot.
What about you is going to make you succeed as a GM?
Taking a hands-on approach and really listening to employees. What I've been working on is trying to get employee and other manager feedback and make sure I'm aware of every project that's going on.
How would you describe the employee culture at the Hoot?
All of the [SRBs’] employees are super friendly, super collaborative, so the Hoot definitely fits in with that. We're all night owls because we all work late for sure. We're all like ‘we'll be up until 1am anyways, why not just work.’ I really like the creativity of our employees. We're trying to find ways to make the space feel more like a home. Because we just moved to the new location, people have really good ideas for like funny posts they can make every night when they open [like] post[ing] pictures of our food and pictures of our meetings.
How has the new RMC location changed the nature of the Hoot this past year?
One of the things that we were allowed to do now with this new space is change our hours. So we started opening at 8 instead of 9:30, which has brought in more grad students, MBA students and OC people. It has increased our customer basis a little bit which is really nice. We're learning more about ways to increase foot traffic around the business.
What do you think some challenges you will face in the next year will be?
I can't think of any major challenges: meeting the goals that we had set for ourselves, like increas[ing] marketing [and] the number of specialty nights. I think those are all definitely achievable goals. So we just need to make sure that we meet them.
Interviews edited for clarity.
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