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Get Buzzed or Broke Off of Coffee

by Zoe Sarvis, staff writer

Ten years ago, a student came forward and proposed the idea to have a café on campus. In the Wilson way, Sage Café was created. Sage provided students with coffee and bagels, and a gathering place for students to relax.

Two years ago, another student came forward wanting more options for their meal plan, and just like Sage, Wilson made it happen.

The only difference between these two coffee hubs is that one is student-created and student-run and the other was created and is run by Sodexo.

In the ten years that Sage Café has been open, they have not managed to make a profit, and with Owl’s Nest here now, the two are working together to keep each other alive.

“The food industry is a horrible, horrible business to be in if you want to make money,” said Zak Kane, the current student supervisor of Sage Café. “Inevitably you’re lucky if you break even, even luckier if you make a profit because there is such an overhead.”

Five years ago Sage underwent major renovations, turning the small coffee and bagel only shop into a café providing students with sandwiches, baked goods, and a variety of drinks. These renovations boosted the budget and helped Sage bring in more of a profit.

“What I can say without getting too deep into the numbers is that last year when it came to how much we spent on food versus how much we charged for food, the revenue we brought in on food sales turned a profit” said Director of Student Activities Dan Seeger, who also oversees Sage café.

According to Kane, being added to the meal plan by granting students Sage bucks, greatly helped out the café, but the reason the Sage bucks were added was so that during the transition period of the Owl’s Nest opening, Sage could remain standing.

“The only reason that Sage Café has any dollars is that the students were very concerned that if we built a coffee shop here that it would kind of crush Sage Café,” said Brian O’Loughlin, director of food services and Sodexo employee. “And that isn’t what we wanted to do. That’s student-run, school-run, so we built that into our meal plan to kind of help Sage out.”

The two cafés close and open at different times, which was specifically designed so that they would not compete with one another.

“The folks at Owl’s Nest and the folks at Sodexo have been tremendous partners for us, and it was really clear that when they came in we were working together to provide similar but ultimately different spaces for the students,” said Seeger.

The two spaces’ atmospheres greatly differ from one another, but the supervisors at Owl’s Nest try to give students a space that does not feel like a corporate-ran business.

“It was really weird for me to come to Wilson out of all places and to have a corporate job,” said Michael Giambalvo, an Owl’s Nest employee. “Mark [the Owl’s Nest supervisor] is great though, and it doesn’t really feel like I’m working for a corporate lord.”

For Julia Michael, a transfer who works at Sage Café, the idea of having two coffee shops with one being corporate-ran was almost unsettling.

“I think it would be way cooler if it were just a student thing like Sage,” Michael said. “I think that Sage has a lot more pride and adds value to the campus because it’s student-run.”

Though the café is not student-run, the Owl’s Nest does fulfill a need on campus for students, faculty, and staff, whether it be a caffeine fix or a quick midday snack.

The ambition and dedication that students bring to work at Sage will be the reason why it will stay around. Seeger is confident that as long as there is a student here who wants to move it forward it will continue to remain part of the Warren Wilson community.

“As long as that is there, I have no doubt that Sage will prevail.”


3 Responses to “Get Buzzed or Broke Off of Coffee”

  1. Sorry, but no – the cafe in the basement of Sage was created almost 20 years ago. The theatre crew demolished & re-designed that area of the basement (then a mud room, laundry room, & storage rooms.) We made it an alternative performance space with Eastern Standard directed by Peter Petralia as the debut show. It later hosted many bands, poetry readings, & the like. Pepi Acebo created & managed the cafe part providing an awesome study spot as well for that side of the campus.

    Posted by Krisha Miller | October 7, 2013, 3:33 pm
  2. Um… this article is wrong. The Sage Cafe started in 1993 (20 years ago) when I staged a play in the basement after cleaning it up and setting up a temporary stage. It was a huge hit and another student (Pepi) then decided to turn it into a cafe run by students on a more regular basis. You should really correct this as it does a diserve to the alumni who created the Sage Cafe (with no support from the university initially).

    Posted by Peter Petralia | October 7, 2013, 4:15 pm
  3. Sage Cafe is actually twenty years old.

    Twenty years ago, no student came forward to propose a café. We just did in, in the dark of night, with support of then student and dorm director Clark Chapin who wanted a less neglected space that would reduce regular damage fines for the dorm residents.

    Student Peter Petralia staged a play in the basement of Sage. We set up in the corner for the weekend of the play, or so it appeared. After the play ended, we just kept opening. Word spread as people discovered that we were still there, 7pm to 1pm Monday through Thursday, 7pm to 3am Friday through Sunday. Workers were all volunteers and only made tips plus earned a small credit for each three to four hour shift.

    For the record, first co-managers were Gabe Smith and myself, Spring of 1993. Gabe resigned before opening night I think. Our funding was $40 I was supposed to spend on shoes and a $30 loan from Meat (student from Brevard). I called it The Impromptu Café, but most people called it Sage Café. Fall 1993, it was Laurie Krisch and myself. Spring 1994, we had seven co-managers: Venus Chow, Jen Lansky, Bryan Beverly, Shawna, Vickie (Vowel) Castilano, Scott, and myself. Do I have that right?

    Fall 1994, Brian and Jen took it over as Jacob’s Impromptu Café, named after a toddler they met while waiting in line to get an assumed name certificate at the Buncombe County Courthouse.

    A few years later, my friend Dan Kappus wrote a Wellness Grant to get the place all nice and non-smoking

    Posted by Pepi Acebo | October 7, 2013, 5:00 pm

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