SOCH, Widener Cafés To Close

The University announced Monday that it will discontinue staffed food services at both the Widener Library Café and the Quad’s Penthouse Coffee Bar in the coming months, although both spaces will remain open for student and staff use.

The moves are among $77 million in cuts geared towards helping the Faculty of Arts and Sciences close a $220 million annual budget deficit.

Beth S. Brainard, a spokeswoman for Harvard College Library, said that while she could not discuss the specific “big-time dollar amounts” saved by the Widener Café’s closing, she said that “it is a substantial amount.” She noted that the Widener Café cutbacks are part of HCL’s larger budget reduction plan and that the decision to close the Café was made in conjunction with various administrators and Harvard University Dining Services.

The Widener Café has been staffed by HUDS for less than two years, though the University previously hired a private contractor to provide staffed food services, Brainard said.

The Penthouse Coffee Bar, a featured component of the Student Organization Center at Hilles, debuted in 2006 as part of the University’s efforts to enhance social space at Harvard. But the eatery has been historically underutilized despite College administrators’ hopes that the SOCH would serve as a hub for student groups and enhance the Quad’s appeal.

Crista Martin, a spokeswoman for HUDS, wrote in an e-mailed statement that both cafés have had limited patron support, and that determinations about the staff in these locations are pending completion of budget planning. HUDS currently operates both eateries.

Veronica M. Maldonado ’11, who works at the Coffee Bar, said that the eatery is entirely staffed by students and added that a student manager noted that jobs may be available at Lamont for those looking to work next year.

Samuel T. Jack ’11, editor-in-chief of the Harvard Independent, said that “perhaps the reason that the Penthouse Coffee Bar was under-utilized was that it was never fully functional.” He said that in his experience—the Independent holds production in the SOCH—availability of both food and coffee at the Penthouse has been underwhelming.

“Though they advertise pizza, chicken bites, and other snacks, it’s hit or miss as to whether they will have them—and whether they’ll be edible,” said Jack, who added that he is fine with the University’s decision to close the Coffee Bar.

The budget cut announcements, which were posted on a new FAS Web site aimed at providing up-to-date information on cost-cutting measures, said that the Coffee Bar’s espresso machine and vending machines “will remain available if demand is sufficient.” Widener Café will also continue to have microwave ovens and hot water machines, and plans are underway to expand vending machine selections, the Web site said.

Jane Kelley, an 18-year veteran of HUDS and the sole employee staffing the Widener Café, said that she decided to accept the University’s early retirement incentive package after administrators finalized plans to close the Café in late April. She added that she understands the University’s rationale for closing the café, which she called a “hidden gem,” but that she is saddened by the move and will miss the students and customers with whom she has built a close, first-name basis rapport.

“I understand you have to start small, but I wish there was a way they could have kept it open,” Kelley said. “A lot of undergrads really didn’t know we existed, but once they discovered this place, they loved it.”

—Staff writer Peter F. Zhu can be reached at pzhu@fas.harvard.edu.