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Audrey’s closes in advance of Jones School expansion

Katelyn Landry / Thresher

By Riya Misra     5/19/24 8:45pm

After four years of operation in McNair Hall, Audrey’s closed May 10 prior to the Jones Graduate School of Business expansion. The original Audrey’s space will be cleaved by a wall during construction, Niken Prabanto, co-owner of Greenway Coffee Company, which oversees Audrey’s, said. 

Prabanto said Rice and Audrey’s discussed temporary options, such as coffee carts or pop-up shops, to house Audrey’s while construction is in progress. So far, Christian Rafidi, chief business officer at the Jones School, said that no options have yet “proven viable given the space constraints … and the complexities of providing food and beverage services from a temporary location.”

“We love being [at Rice],” Prabanto said. “We want to continue to service the building and the students, so we're brainstorming what would be possible.”

The new building will include space for a coffee shop, as well as a “full-service food establishment,” Rafidi wrote in a statement to the Thresher. Prabanto said she’s unsure if Audrey’s will be invited back once construction ends.

Prabanto said Rice informed Audrey’s management of the expansion in January 2024. Construction was initially planned to begin in the spring, with Audrey’s aiming to close its physical location by March 20, former student barista Katherine Jeng said. Jeng continued working at Audrey’s through the end of the spring semester.

“We didn't think it'd be a good open environment for studying,” Jeng, a Hanszen College senior, said. “We were going to transition to takeout only during that time, from March until the end of the semester. Once the semester [ended], we were going to shut down completely.”

Once March rolled around, construction had been postponed — but in preparation for their inevitable closure, most of the shop’s full-time employees had already sought jobs elsewhere. Several had left or put in their two weeks’ notice by the time Rice informed them of the delays, just a week before spring break, former student barista Alyssa Boerst said. John Samson, former full-time Audrey’s barista, said he left at the end of March, and was one of the last full-time employees to do so.

“Communication … was not really clear, as far as what the plan was after [March 20 construction] did not happen,” Samson said. “When I left, there wasn’t really any date set in place.”

In a statement to the Thresher, Rafidi said the Jones School was originally working with a different developer on the construction plan, but — per Rice’s “customary review process” — requested a re-bid with additional firms, which construction company Skanska USA ultimately won. Changing developers, Rafidi said, changed the construction timeline. 

“We notified the vendor as soon as we received the change in schedule that Audrey’s would be impacted no earlier than mid-June and possibly later in the summer,” Rafidi wrote. “At that time, the vendor informed us that their full-time staff had found other positions, and they would need to reduce their hours and days of operation.

“Once the student workers started departing for the summer,” Rafidi continued, “the vendor notified us that they intend to close on May 10. Of course, we have and continue to explore options to keep Audrey’s open as long as possible, but we are currently facing staffing limitations in achieving this.”

Jeng said remaining Audrey’s employees have been left in limbo as they try to run Audrey’s on an unclear construction schedule. Originally open from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and until 5 p.m. on Saturday, both Jeng and Boerst said Audrey’s has had to dial back hours. By the end of the spring semester, Audrey’s was only open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, according to their Instagram.

“We were ultimately stuck still being required to maintain regular hours, but with considerably less staffing than normal,” Jeng said. “Now we're short on staff and short on the hours we have, so we're kind of cutting back on hours and just trying to keep us running from day to day.”

“It's just the three undergraduates, my manager and one full-timer,” Boerst said. “We've already ended up cutting our hours even more than we had originally intended … We've had to close completely [for] a couple of days because people were out and we couldn't fill folks’ spots.”

Eric Huh, a graduate student at the Jones School, said he appreciated Audrey’s proximity to his classes, and is saddened by its closing.

“[Audrey’s] is very much an integral part of my experience here at Rice,” Huh said.

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