Since September last year, Paces Café has been in a state of transformation, edging towards becoming an improved and more welcoming version of the café that has been around as long as anyone cares to remember.
The process began with a repainting of the walls in bright shades of orange and blue to give the space a more vibrant feel, and it continued with a cleaning schedule to improve the grimy, sticky floor that has long characterized Paces. When the café opens its doors to students on September 30, students will see that this process of reinvention has progressed to bigger and bolder changes like expanding the menu to include new dishes, implementing a take-out and delivery system, and using Paces’ walls as a space to display student art and its floor as a stage for musically inclined students.
Last year, Student Activities Coordinator Paury Flowers tried to divide the single post of café Director amongst four people. The rationale behind this move was that it was a job that required four people’s effort and time. While the change was not entirely unsuccessful, it left enough to be desired to encourage an administrative change to return to how things were run.
“Last year was a mild disaster because there was confusion over who was in charge of what and there was a lack of hierarchy since we were all equally responsible. There was no accountability and many things got put off for too long,” said Mallory Pitser ’14, this year’s head director of Paces. One example of this is the mural that was supposed to be completed last semester but was postponed to this semester.
Pitser considers her role to be one of “passing down the logistical knowledge of running this café.” In addition to Pitser, assistant director Treasure Tinsley ’15 is another driving force behind the café’s changes. The café’s management team also includes Tayler Tucker ‘13, who serves in the newly created post of events coordinator.
“We want to diversify the groups of students who come in here,” Pitser said. “It should be an open space for everybody to enjoy and we’re trying to work on that by trying to advertise more, which has always been one of our weak points.” Advertising, reaching out to other student groups and putting plans for the new Paces into motion are what Pitser considers the event coordinator’s responsibilities.
At the front of the room, the brightly painted walls will be accompanied by an expansive yet affordable menu that ventures far beyond everyone’s favorite quesadillas and nachos. The aim behind the new menu, says Pitser, is “to make sure that what you get at Paces, you can’t get anywhere else.” The additions to the menu will include spicy sweet potato fries and a sandwich, named the Swiss Belle, consisting of portobello mushrooms and swiss cheese. There will also be ice cream sandwiches made from freshly baked cookies and an array of freshly baked bread as Pitser and Tinsley eagerly bring in Chris Magnano ’14 to be a baker at the café.
A common complaint about Paces is its size. “Paces is very small and should be made bigger so that it can accommodate themed parties, because as it is when there are themed parties too many people come and it is too crowded,” Lauren Kim ’13 said.
Pitser has been aware of this problem and is ready to try out a solution this semester. “We’ve decided that we’re adding delivery and takeout to Paces. A lot of times there isn’t enough seating inside or people from ML and PPR find it inaccessible late at night,” she said. As of this semester, Paces will be hiring one or two students for delivery who will work from 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. on days that Paces is open.
For those who would still like to eat their meals inside Paces, there will be noticeable changes in the atmosphere and the billing system used by the café.
Students will now be expected to order and pay up front at the counter when they enter. This change is expected to quicken the infamously slow Paces service as waiters will now be able to relay orders to the kitchen quicker than in the past. Pitser added that paying up front is also expected to raise Paces’ revenue since the lack of receipts and a vague billing system has cost it a lot of money in the past since people would forget to pay or their orders would be hard to track down later.
Pitser considers Paces to be a collaborative space, different from any other space on campus in that it is run by students for students. “Our overarching focus is to showcase student talent and creativity whether it be in cooking or painting or music,” she said.
Starting this semester, Paces will give students a chance to display their work on the café’s walls for the duration of a week. “This will help non-art students have a venue for their work. They’re welcome to bring in just two pieces they’re proud of or an entire collection that they want displayed,” Pitser said. The opening week’s exhibit will feature Sarah Kim ’13.
Last year’s system of open mic nights will also see changes this semester. Pitser said, “Open mic nights will now be on Saturday and Sunday nights and we’ll shift to a different type of musical act during café hours.” The café directors are envisioning a system where an individual or group will be able to perform at Paces from anywhere between 30 minutes to two hours.
Among the people that have expressed interest in performing is an improv pianist, a student with a traditional set list and a student who wants to organise jam sessions for his jazz band inside Paces every week. “We’re aiming for a flexible system,” Pitser said. “This model works for the café because it doesn’t have to continually book for every week and it also allows students to get to know one band much better than they would have in an open mic situation.”
This list of changes concludes with the idea of “take-overs.” Pitser enthusiastically spoke about reading an article in a 10-year-old issue of The Daily Gazette about how Earthlust took over the functioning of Paces for an event and last semester’s successful Cuban and Middle Eastern Nights which included music, decor and a special menu. Paces is currently in the process of reaching out to various groups. So far, students going to Paces can expect to enjoy a debate between the Republicans and Democrats, performances by various acapella groups, a joint show by Boy Meets Tractor and Vertigo-go and even a skill-sharing session with the Knitwits and other student groups.
When asked why Paces has chosen to implement all these changes at once rather than a gradual process of phasing them in, Pitser seemed determined to see the changes through in one go and avoid the delays and hassles that she experienced last year as one of the four directors.
As Paces gets ready to hire for the semester, finish its mural and prepare for all the changes that it is aiming for, one can only hope that most if not all of them prove to be successful.
Lauren Kim is a copy editor for The Phoenix. She had no role in the production of this article.