Paradox Found: Student-Run Cafe Prepares to Reopen its Doors

By Asta Rossi

Paradox’s doors have been closed and lights switched off so far this semester, leaving freshmen unaware of the ambience the coffee shop offers students, and upperclassmen wondering about the cafe’s fate going forward. Rumors have swirled about deficits and even a possible closure, so the Quest reached out to this year’s managers Miles Sanford, Skye Hammonds, and Soeun Kim, for details and clarification on the Paradox’s operational status and future plans. 

“We’re making moves,” said financial manager Miles Sanford, as he displayed a set of keys for both Paradox Cafe and Paradox Lost, revealing plans to not only reopen Paradox but also the cafe space in the biology building which the managers now refer to as New Shop. “At the end of the day, we’ve been doing the kinds of things to get open, and so we’re pretty certain we’re going to open this year.”

Miles Sanford holding an old copy of the Quest.
Courtesy of Asta Rossi.

“We were on track to open during the first week,” Sanford continued. “You know, catch the buzz, get everyone in the cafe excited, and let’s get things going, but a week before school opened they told us we were not approved to open after we had already done all the work to open. At that point, I think we had hired all the new baristas, and then I scheduled them, and then we were kind of like, shit, we’re not opening. So we were like, how are we going to get our baristas’ jobs? We reached out to people on campus, obviously, so that got solved, but it was kind of a fucked up thing. We were under the impression that we were going to open and then they [the administration] delayed us two weeks with a new goal post to reach.”

Over the past year, there has been some back and forth between the managers and the administration concerning the sustainability of the cafe’s business model and financial independence, contributing to a delayed opening. Supply manager Soeun Kim expressed some of her concerns with the current setback in Paradox’s opening: “There’s very little transparency in terms of when they’re expected to make these decisions, and how many more tasks that they’re going to ask us to do.” 

In general, the recurrence of Paradox’s debt has colored the cafe’s relationship with the administration. Kim clarifies that, “I hear both directly from some of the recent alumni, but also very old alumni who were at the beginning of Paradox’s history, of this kind of tension between some dependence financially, but also independence, in terms of how it’s run. It has been a constant theme.” Sanford held up an old article from the Quest with the headline, “Paradox Pays Off $18,000 Debt,” from the early 2000s.

“It’s very common that Paradox goes into debt,” Sanford continues, “Just because, as a student-run space slash business, it’s a weird gray area of what we are and what admin tells us we are. We’re never really too concerned about profit. We’re just making sure our baristas are OK, the space is open, and people are getting their drinks, because that’s kind of what a student-led cafe really is about. And because of that, a lot of times we’ll be going into debt when profits aren’t making what they need to to support everyone, but usually admin will help us and then we bounce back, and then it’s kind of cyclical.”

There seem to be competing conceptions of Paradox’s function between the managers and admin. Kim explains, “We don’t really conceive [of] this place just as a business, because it’s a service to the students that live here. Pretty much any other campus service has costs and the administration will spend money to maintain that program because it’s for students, right? But in terms of Paradox, now the conception seems to be that we are just a business so we should be able to sustain ourselves without the college really spending any money.”

Kim also made an interesting comparison between Canyon Cafe and Paradox. “When Canyon Cafe sells drinks, all that money goes to Bon Appetit, and none of it really adds anything to the campus life, she said, “Whereas the maintenance of this space, all the cost of this is wages for the students, and I guess maybe literal reproduction of the life of the students who need financial resources here. The resources are staying in the community versus the resources flowing out to some corporation.” 

Assistant Manager Skye Hammonds added to the comparison, saying, “There’s not that sense of community [at Canyon]. They tried to post a couple of events, and there just weren’t that many turnouts. I think they did a poetry reading and a karaoke night, and I’m so into that type of space in those types of environments, and those types of events that I signed up for every one, but there were always so few people that it was kind of uncomfortable. We foster a different environment, I think, and we attract a certain type of Reedie, a certain type of neighborhood person that the Canyon Cafe doesn’t.”

For now, though, the cafe remains closed. The managers are hard at work preparing for its opening by revising the business model and handling the debt. Hammonds explained how the administration has been, “kind of like playing us on strings you know, like there’s like a fun little game. Let’s see, like, what they can do.” She went on to say, “These two [Sanford and Kim] have spent a lot of time on this, and this is like a big project, and they’re not being compensated.”

The question remains, to what extent the administration should be involved in the supervision of Paradox managers? On the one hand, the coffee shop makes profit and does have some features of a normal business. On the other hand, these employees are students, possibly with Reed or Federal work study. Does the school have an obligation to pay these student employees? Does it have an obligation to help maintain a student space? While Paradox remains closed, it is not earning revenue and its employees cannot be paid.

“We’re in the mode of doing everything we can to open,” Sanford emphasized. “We’ll open, but we just haven’t gotten a date yet.” When Paradox and New Shop open, their hours will be 10 AM to 4 PM and 9 AM to 3 PM respectively. The managers are enthusiastic about their plans and possible events that the cafe will host, hoping to expand usage of the cafe’s space. All three managers emphasized the importance of Paradox as a vital space in the center of campus, run by students, for students. 

Make sure to check out their Instagram, fill out their student input form, and, most importantly, support them when they’re open!

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