Indie music reverberates throughout Helm-Cravens Library’s two-story lobby area and mingles with the mixed conversations of patrons, most of them students stopping for coffee between classes.
Memphis, Tenn., senior Kristen Bernhardt grins as she glances over her shoulder at the long line in front of the counter at Java City.
“It’s usually quiet,” Bernhardt said.
One reason for the congestion could be that there is currently only one coffee establishment that accepts meal plans on Western Kentucky University’s campus. When WKU started renovations on Downing University Center, a multi-purpose student center, at the end of the spring 2012 semester, the construction knocked out the Java City in that building. Any caffeine-craving students now have to focus their attention on the Helm-Cravens location if they want to use meal plans. Or they can go to Einstein Bros. Bagels in Mass Media and Technology Hall and pay by other means.
But the crowds could be moving back to DUC next fall. Posters in Topper Café, the temporary building that houses Fresh Food Company, indicate a Starbucks will replace Java City when construction on that portion of DUC is completed.
But according to section 6.1.4 in the WKU and Aramark Dining Services Agreement¾ available on the College Heights Herald’s website¾ WKU and Aramark can come to an agreement to replace the planned-for Starbucks with another Java City again if they choose.
The exact clause reads, “This is a continuation of the current program in Downing University Center. Starbucks may be replaced with Java City upon mutual Agreement between the UNIVERSITY (sic) and ARAMARK (sic).”
Bernhardt said she enjoys frequenting Java City for the usually relaxed atmosphere and available seating while she sips her coffee during her two-hour break from classes on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. But she said¾ her eyes wide with excitement¾ putting in a Starbucks would be a good move on the university’s part.
“It pretty much comes down to the coffee,” Bernhardt said. “Starbucks just hits it better.”
As far as the range of products the two establishments supply, Bernhardt said there isn’t much of a difference.
“Variety-wise, they pretty much have the same thing,” she said. “But Starbucks tastes better, I think.”
Bernhardt also said the availability of Starbucks gift cards on campus would be a perk for the “poor college kid.”
Although Bernhardt has visited the Helm-Cravens Java City location frequently this semester, she said she went more often when there was one in DUC because it was a better place to sit and enjoy her coffee. She said she’s disappointed she won’t get to see a Starbucks on campus.
“I’m so mad I’m graduating [before Starbucks opens],” she said.
Bernhardt said she thought Starbucks’ arrival on WKU’s campus was “pretty much determined,” considering she heard about Starbucks coming to WKU from a Java City employee.
“It’s not like keeping Java City will hurt anyone, but Starbucks will help,” Bernhardt said.
Even if WKU and Aramark decide against putting a Starbucks in DUC, Bernhardt said students will have to deal with being let down.
“It’s not really students’ decision,” she said. “From a business standpoint, WKU has to do what’s best for the school.”
If WKU and Aramark go through with opening a Starbucks, as the advertising seems to suggest, Bernhardt has one request.
“If they get Starbucks, I want them to keep the Java City employees,” she said.
According to Tim Colley, Resident District Manager for WKU Restaurant & Catering Group, the DUC Java City employees have gone to different locations on campus.
“We had opportunities for all our employees,” Colley said.
Graduate student Brittany Ryan, an office associate at the Alive Center who is pursuing a master’s in social responsibility and sustainable communities, said Starbucks is one of her favorite coffee joints.
“Even when I was in my undergrad, I preferred Starbucks,” she said. “I just like the coffee better.”
Ryan said she typically goes to Starbucks two times a week.
“More [times], if I’m stressed,” she said.
Ryan said convenience is important to her, and Starbucks provides that better than Java City on campus. Because of parking issues near Java City, Starbucks is a quicker visit for her. She also likes the technology Starbucks provides by allowing her to have her Starbucks card on her phone. The cashier only has to scan the barcode on her phone for her to pay. Getting her syrups and soy free is also a plus.
Ryan said Starbucks is also good at making the same drink every time and giving its customers what they expect. She felt pretty confident the internationally popular coffee dive will come to campus because she heard the news from her brother, who used to work at the WKU Store. But Ryan said even if Starbucks didn’t replace the DUC Java City, it wouldn’t matter.
“At the end of the day, coffee’s coffee,” she said. “Normally, it’s, ‘I need coffee right now.’ Students will get what’s there [on campus].”
If WKU ended up not opening a Starbucks, it would not exactly be far-fetched, given dining services’ track record with campus eateries. During the fall 2009 semester, the DUC food court housed a Pizza Hut and a sushi stand. By the fall 2010 semester, Papa John’s had replaced Pizza Hut and still shares space with RedZone. The sushi stand disappeared to make room for Greens To Go, a salad place, and another Izzi’s, a Mexican food joint, to match one in the Garrett Conference Center.
This semester, students have expressed frustration over RedZone, a popular sports bar-style restaurant, and the much-anticipated Panda Express not being open on time.
According to a June article in the Herald, Panda Express was set to open at the start of fall semester classes. When the start of the fall semester came and went, a September Herald article quoted Colley as saying Panda Express and RedZone would be open on Oct. 1.
Panda Express opened on Oct. 4 during fall break, and RedZone opened Oct. 15.
But, as Colley has also said in previous articles, construction makes things uncertain.
“Any time you have construction projects….there’s always a possibility with things not going according to schedule,” Colley said. “None of [the delays] were planned or hoped for, that just happens with construction.”
Colley said student surveys and WKU’s wanting to “upgrade” campus with new brands motivated the university’s decision to bring new dining locations to campus. He said dining services tries to adhere to students’ requests, and the services came through when there was a high demand for international cuisine.
“The number one option [from student surveys] was Asian, and now we have a Panda Express,” Colley said.
Colley said months of negotiations between WKU and Aramark precede food option decisions, but he said he thinks the food portfolio WKU has is “the finest in the state.”
“We’re trying to stay leading edge and current and fresh in providing those things,” he said.
Another big request from students was for a Starbucks on campus. Colley said the clause in the dining services agreement available on the Herald’s website must be the one from when WKU and Aramark were still in the negotiation phase.
“We’ve been dealing with Starbucks for, oh gosh, several years now,” he said.
Colley said WKU and Aramark try to expand the food portfolio with several different coffee options, and having Java City, Einstein Bros. Bagels and Starbucks was a good way to achieve variety in atmosphere and taste selection.
In order for Starbucks to come to campus, Colley said the DUC renovations were necessary to satisfy the establishment’s location preferences.
Although Colley said the project wasn’t 100 percent, he is very confident there will be a Starbucks on campus, and the university is moving forward with the plan.
“As of today, our plan is to put a Starbucks in the new Downing University Center,” Colley said.
By the time the DUC renovations are completed, the deafening chatter and claustrophobic lines in Java City may disperse to the coffee restaurant students have been waiting for: Starbucks.