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The Underground reopens after March 2020 closure

Coffee shop founded to offer cheaper coffee on campus, currently only accepts cash

The Underground was originally created by two Brown students who wanted to offer a more affordable on campus coffee option.
The Underground was originally created by two Brown students who wanted to offer a more affordable on campus coffee option.

The Underground, a student-run coffee shop in the basement of the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center, reopened Oct. 12 for the first time since March 2020. The decision comes as the University continues its return to relative normalcy, following a pause on most in-person operations a year and a half ago.

Chloe Khosrowshahi ’22.5, one of the five managers of The Underground Coffee Company, said that the company had been planning to reopen since last spring and has worked closely with the University throughout the summer to plan a safe and effective return. The Underground began its return to operations by serving drip coffee out of a pop-up stand to the students and faculty on campus for the summer semester. 

“That was kind of our initial step toward reopening — showing the school that we could do something like that,” Khosrowshahi said. In September, the University informed the Underground that it would be able to resume operations in its primary location beginning in early October.

Originally founded in 2015, the company was conceived by two students who hoped to introduce a more affordable on-campus coffee option. It was known on campus prior to its 2020 closure for good coffee, friendly staff and pleasant study environment.

“The vibes here are really warm, really comfortable, compared to a lot of other places on campus which are a bit more sterile or academic,” Angela Wei ’24 said. Like many students who arrived on College Hill for the first time after the start of the pandemic, Wei wasn’t familiar with the Underground before its reopening. “It feels like this must have been a staple for Brown’s community,” she added.

The company faced a number of logistical challenges during reopening, including a broken coffee grinder and problems with the location’s electricity. But Khosrowshahi considers these to be a natural part of managing a student-run company and said that the University was accommodating throughout the setbacks. She added that she was especially thankful for Brown’s responsiveness in navigating the reopening process.

“We do a lot on our own, but the school has been pretty good about communications,” she said, noting that the University had helped them manage setup and finances. The coffee shop is currently only accepting cash as they update their payment systems, which some students cited as a deterrent to buying coffee. Khosrowshahi said she expects a card payment option to be available within the next few weeks.

While many younger students who spoke with The Herald were unfamiliar with the Underground before its closure, older students have greeted its reopening with enthusiasm. Cormac Collins ’23.5, who came to the space two or three times a week to study before it closed, expressed excitement about being able to return. “I enjoy it more than a lot of other study places on campus. It’s a nice vibe,” he said, though he noted that he hasn’t purchased any coffee yet since he doesn’t usually carry cash.

Most of the staff is new this year, Khosrowshahi said. Armeen Golshan ’23 joined as a barista shortly after the closure but didn’t start training until this fall. “We had a few trainings leading up to opening day, and I could tell pretty early on that this would be something I would like a lot,” Golshan said, adding that the managers made training a “seamless process.”

“Overall, it was an incredibly well-oiled machine in terms of opening day, and I think the team handled it really well,” Golshan said.

While a number of students associate the Underground with various events such as open mics, these are hosted by outside organizations that reserve the space and are unrelated to the reopening of the coffee shop. “A common misconception is that we’re responsible for the Underground space as a whole,” Khosrowshahi said. “We actually don’t have anything to do with those events.”

Khosrowshahi hopes that younger students will apply for barista positions and noted that more applications will be available in the next few months. “Come to the Underground for the food or drinks, but also come for the community,” she said. “We really strive to make it an open and welcoming place.”

“If you want great coffee in an amazing environment, definitely stop by and try it out,” Golshan added. “There’s no better place to be on campus.”

Correction: A previous version of this article indicated that there are three managers in the Underground. In fact, there are five. The Herald regrets the error.


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