The Crumb Cafe has been a popular late-night food stop for students over the past few years but went dormant after COVID-19 shut down Swarthmore in the Spring of 2020. This Fall, Crumb opened its doors once again. Beginning with a soft opening on Oct. 6 with a limited menu and the hours of 9-11 p.m., Crumb’s reopening was a huge success.
The Phoenix spoke to the staff of Crumb Cafe about the reasoning behind the soft opening, and their thoughts on its success. Kali Blain ʼ22, one of Crumb’s Co-Head Directors, told The Phoenix that there were two primary reasons for the soft opening.
“Half of the current student population has never been on campus when Crumb was open, so you have the current freshmen and sophomores who have never experienced [it],” she said. “We wanted to give them a taste of what Crumb would be like and drum up more interest.”
“We also wanted to get some people to apply to work at Crumb … we don’t have as many returning staff as we normally would,” Blain continued.
Kiara Rosario ʼ22, the cafe’s Booth/Drink Director, told The Phoenix in an email that she was nervous about the soft opening.
“I honestly was a little nervous about the soft opening. We were working with a limited staff. Since there aren’t many late night meal options in the area, especially that will serve fresh, hot food after a certain time, I knew that it was really exciting for a lot of people that we were bringing back a late night meal option. I expected a long line and we definitely had that all throughout the night,” Rosario wrote.
Michele Schremp ʼ25, who went to the soft opening, described her experience to The Phoenix in an email. They struggled to understand its pull to Swarthmore students before she visited.
“It seemed cool, but I honestly couldn’t envision it, or why people seemed so nostalgic for it,” they said on their thoughts before seeing Crumb Cafe for herself.
After getting a chance to go, Schremp decided they liked the coffee shop-esque environment of Crumb Cafe.
“The food was good. Sharples felt like some kind of bustling coffee shop (which I had sorely missed), and I got to use a meal swipe instead of dining dollars … I loved the vibes of the space: the music, the art, the way people were sitting in front of their laptops and not working.”
Blain said that the soft opening went mostly according to plan, with the exception of an overwhelming number of milkshake orders.
“We were just too swamped because we didn’t expect so many people to come and … just order milkshakes. Usually, more people order food than they would milkshakes, but there wasn’t as much food ordering so the booth was really swamped, which is why we had [to close the kitchen early].”
During the soft opening, the line stretched out of the room and across Sharples.
Schremp explained that they considered leaving when she saw the line, but ultimately decided to wait it out.
“It was so crowded! We nearly left because the line was so long, but I think there was a certain level of ‘I came for a milkshake, I will most certainly be leaving with a milkshake’ among me and the people I was with,” she wrote.
According to students’ emails to The Phoenix, Crumb Cafe was known to underclassmen on campus, even prior to the soft opening.
Jenna Takach ʼ24 told The Phoenix that she’d heard about it from upperclassmen.
“I had heard of the Crumb Cafe prior to posters going up, since I have a couple of upperclassmen friends who talked about it. I heard about it mainly in the context of friend group traditions, and I learned that it was a pre-COVID ritual for Garnet Singers to flock to Crumb after our Wednesday night rehearsals,” she said.
Schremp also had prior knowledge through upperclassmen.
“I had heard of it through upperclassmen talking about it, how it had closed during COVID and hadn’t opened since. A lot of people were excited for it to open again — specifically for the boba,” they explained in an email.
After fall break and a week to train new employees, Crumb Cafe opened with regular hours (from 9 p.m – 12 a.m.) on Oct. 25, 2021.
In an email to The Phoenix, Rosario explained that she thought the opening went rather well.
“The general opening has gone pretty smoothly. I’m director of the booth and have enjoyed working with everyone and they all have been doing great! All of the employees at Crumb are the reason we can do this and they have been amazing.”
Takach decided to go to Crumb Cafe after rehearsal and shared her experience with The Phoenix.
“When I first saw it, my immediate reaction was to marvel at how cute it was. But it really was a lot like I expected! There were people talking and laughing, music playing, and it just had such a relaxed atmosphere in general. I decided to go because I needed to unwind after [The Kai’s the Limit] rehearsal (and I think that was a very good decision).”
Because Crumb Cafe had been closed since before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cafe has had to restructure its goals for the future. According to Blain, Crumb is hoping to potentially streamline their ordering process.
“Pretty much like the G.E.T. app, like how you can order ahead, sort of doing something like that to streamline the whole … process. So that was supposed to be implemented, or start being implemented after we came back from spring break of 2020 but we never came back … there might be other technological things but … I don’t want to set anything in stone,” she said.
Rosario focused more on steadiness when asked what Crumb’s goals are for the future.
“I think a big goal that we’re all working towards is maintaining consistency night to night on all of our drinks and foods and to reduce the wait time for customers,” she said.
Both Blain and Rosario agree that the best part of working at Crumb is the environment.
“I think it’s the environment … it’s a very welcoming experience … Working in the environment with people can be very stressful but it’s also very rewarding. If you make friends with the people who are there and also just meeting people eating food because you get to eat whatever you make … also just hearing people be excited and like this is sort of as a director like it’s very daunting but also very humbling when people say things like ‘oh my god is Crumb getting open,’” Blain said.
Rosario shared a similar sentiment.
“The best part of working at Crumb for me would be the environment. It’s generally very laid back and we try to make decisions as a team as much as possible and since we are student-run and staffed, everyone is super understanding. Honestly, the worst would just be the timing, though it’s not a huge issue for me. Shifts are from about 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., so after a long day it can be pretty tiring. When nights are busy, though, this time flies.”
According to both Blain and Rosario, there has been a small issue with staffing, and Crumb is still hiring in order to be open every day during the week.
“We have some trouble with staffing. Last Saturday [Oct. 30], we couldn’t open since we just didn’t have enough employees. If anyone is interested in working at Crumb, we are still hiring!”
A beloved part of Swarthmore, the Crumb Cafe has fed many students hours after most food options have closed. Despite staffing problems, Crumb has come back as strong as ever with a returning audience of nostalgic upperclassmen and new students ready and willing to partake in the tradition.