The Underground, that space directly under the Blue Room whose name you might have forgotten, has a storied history. Evidence of its past as a key player in Brown social life is on display today. Take the bar on the room’s wall: do you think that was just for show? Nope. Back in the Wild West days of legal drinking for all those 18 years of age and older, there was a genuine bar down there. Indeed, the Underground might be worthy of its own Ra Ra Brunonia post. It has been the host of everything from Funk Nites to IFF screenplay reads, with a few desperate last-minute study breaks in between.
On Monday, however, the Underground will take on a new role. Just in time to revive Brunonia from a crippling post-Spring Weekend group hangover, a group of students will be launching a coffee shop that has been months in the making. Katie Murphy ’16, Yousef Hilmy ’16, and Viktor Gavrielov ’15 have been working with SAO, the Blue Room, and even President Paxson to radically reimagine the space.
The grand opening is on Monday at 9 a.m., and they’ll be serving until 2 p.m. Though Opening Day will only be 5 hours long, Hilmy promises they will eventually be open for “long hours.” If you can’t make it to the Underground before the early closing, don’t fret, because there will be an opening party from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. that night. You can find more information about the Underground Coffee Shop on their (freakishly popular) Facebook page here.
Upon arriving at Brown, Murphy and Hilmy, both transfers and caffeine aficionados, felt like something was lacking from their new home on College Hill. Neither was satisfied with the on-campus coffee scene: nothing provided the perfect balance of great coffee and a comfortable, fun space that they were looking for. In September, they went to President Paxson’s office hours — which are a thing, I guess — and presented their case to her. According to Hilmy, Paxson, who was in favor of diversifying Brown’s coffee scene, was “really responsive” from their first meeting.
The Coffee Shop’s founders worked with senior officials at Brown Dining Services and the Office of Residential Life, and agreed to move ahead as a non-profit, student-run organization. At that point, Hilmy and Murphy were looking for a third partner. To find the right person for the position, they sought help from noted entrepreneurship Professor Danny Warshay. He sent out a job application to his class, and the two selected Gavrielov to join them. Hilmy says Viktor’s “financial expertise, as well as the way that he responded to our queries” made him stand out.
One of the founders’ biggest challenges was to construct a space and business model that did not so directly compete with the Blue Room upstairs. Gavrielov says that Brown was “very supportive” throughout the entire development of the Coffee Shop. Hilmy repeatedly stressed that would complement, not supplant, the Blue Room. What would set this new venture apart would be its “locally roasted, small batch coffee.” The Coffee Shop will not be selling muffins (or sushi, or focaccia bread sandwiches, or bagels, or soup, or Vitamin Water), so Gavrielov imagines students will “buy pastries upstairs… and also get fantastic coffee just a floor below.”
Hilmy thinks of tomorrow’s opening as “a trial,” but “eventually [The Underground] is going to be a space with artwork on the wall and full furniture that still allows the space to be used in other capacities.” Comfy, inviting sofas will replace the red fold-out chairs, and specially-commissioned student art pieces will adorn the walls. They’re actually looking for a few more works, so get in touch if you have a good idea. Screenings and music will also be “an integral part” of the Underground in years to come. It will continue to be a space that all community members can use. As Hilmy puts it, it will be a space that “reflects the sensibilities of Brown students… that Brown students can continue to add to” over time.
Hilmy, Murphy, and Gavrielov are no longer alone in leading this venture either. They have a volunteer staff of ten students who will soon become salaried employees, and they have partnered with Brown Student Agencies and the brand new Brown-RISD Coffee Society to build the Underground Coffee Shop into the space they have long dreamed of.
Both Hilmy and Gavrielov said BSA was instrumental in helping the shop’s original three founders resolve the legal hurdles necessary to launch the shop. The Brown-RISD Coffee society hadn’t even met yet when the three found out about them. Murphy says “it was pretty serendipitous that we met them at exactly that time, after they had spent the past semester setting up a student organization, and we had been having talks with Dining Services and BSA… They’ve provided a lot of the talent and knowledge about coffee brewing methods and have advised on which roaster to pick and which equipment to get. ” With their entire team in place, the Underground Coffee Shop was finally ready to open.
The Underground Coffee Shop will be serving roasts from Dave’s Coffee, which has its own store — and First Baptist Church-clever chalkboard sign — on South Main. According to Gavrielov, the eponymous Dave “has decades of experience” with coffee, and the shop’s founders visited him multiple times before committing to using his roast for the Underground. Though they will only be serving regular coffee (and Farmacy teas) for now, the shop’s creators hope to add espresso and other drinks to the lineup in the near future.
It has been almost an entire school year in the making. Brunonia waits with eager anticipation to see what the Underground Coffee Shop will bring to the storied space in the Faunce basement.