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Wednesday, March 22, 2023 — Houston, TX

Rice student businesses reopen in light of new COVID-19 policies

Josh Davis / Thresher

By Keegan Leibrock     2/1/22 10:36pm

Student-run businesses Rice Coffeehouse, The Hoot, Rice Bikes and East-West Tea are reopening for the semester, in light of new and evolving COVID protocols.

Jinhee Shin, general manager of Rice Coffeehouse, said that business had been especially high since reopening on Wednesday, Jan. 26.

“It’s normally pretty busy [at Coffeehouse during] reopening week, and so trying to get a better gauge on our demand has been fairly challenging,” Shin, a junior from Martel College, said. “We also have new hires that are soon going to be added on to our permanent schedule so hopefully having more hands on deck will be helpful in controlling the higher traffic.”

As of Monday Jan. 31, Rice administration has removed restrictions on indoor dining, including for student-run businesses such as Coffeehouse and Willy’s Pub. In an email sent on Monday, Vice President for Administration Kevin Kirby announced that indoor dining could return immediately in all venues without restriction.

Shin said that she is glad the Rice COVID policies have changed to allow for indoor seating at Chaus and other student-run businesses.

“With the shortened time that Coffeehouse is open due to the [Rice Memorial Center] construction, I am glad that Coffeehouse can be a centralized space where students can come and relax now that indoor seating and dining is available,” Shin said. “... many [Coffeehouse employees] and Rice students live off-campus, so I look forward to Coffeehouse being a safe place where people can go if they don’t know where to go on campus.“

East-West Tea is planned to open for the semester this Thursday, according to Jesus Cisneros Estrada, the general manager for East-West. The teahouse will run regular hours from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“The planning process for reopening has been going smoothly,” Estrada, a senior from Sid Richardson College, said. “We do our staff changeover in the Spring semester so it’s been a lot of getting the current manager team on board with everything and then also making sure hiring staff goes well.”

Later this semester, Coffeehouse, the Hoot, East-West and Willy’s Pub are all expected to relocate for the construction of a new Rice student center. Theo Vadot, the general manager of The Hoot, said his employees are preparing for the move while appreciating their current location in the RMC.

“This semester is definitely going to be a different one for The Hoot and other businesses in the RMC in that it’s going to be a transitory-like semester as the current RMC will eventually be closed down,” Vadot, a junior from Jones College, said. “We’re kind of just taking it step by step and enjoying the last time we’ll be in our current space.”

Vadot said that he expects business for The Hoot to be higher than last semester.

“I think we’re definitely going to have more consistent traffic now that pretty much all classes are in person,” Vadot said. “That will help us to get more consistent numbers. I think we’ve seen with COVID-19 that The Hoot’s business has fluctuated night to night … this semester we will likely see a much more consistent traffic flow.”

Diego Casanova, the general manager of Rice Bikes, said that business has been steady since reopening earlier this semester.

“The amount of people that have come through has been really fantastic,” Casanova, a junior from Martel, said. “We’ve been pretty busy with just doing appointments only but hopefully later in the semester we can see more walk-ins so we can help anyone who’s passing by.”

Casanova said that the demand for appointments has been so high that Rice Bikes has had to stop accepting appointments to catch up and avoid back-ups.

“With the return to in-person [this semester] we definitely saw a lot of demand for appointment slots and they filled up like a week in advance, 10 slots every day,” Casanova said. “Right now, [Rice Bikes] is going to roll back on scheduling appointments so that we can make sure that everyone gets their bike back in a faster amount of time.”

Shin said that she is hopeful Coffeehouse and other student-run businesses in the RMC can maintain safe operations through the remainder of their time in the RMC.

“Coffeehouse has adapted its policies in response to university’s guidelines and the state of the pandemic for the past two years,” Shin said. “Operating around COVID is always a challenge, but I am hopeful that we’ll continue to remain operational in a safe manner in the RMC until we relocate to our temporary space.”

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