NEW HAVEN, Conn.—As part of a university initiative to expand the north part of campus, Yale Dining opened a new coffee shop, the KBT Café, in that section of campus this fall. To set the café apart, Thomas Tucker, director of retail development and operations, says the department wanted to create a gourmet coffee program, including roasting on site.
“The university has made a huge commitment to attracting the best and the brightest in terms of the sciences [the north part of campus houses many science buildings],” Tucker says. “We want to try and respond to that by adding hospitality venues in that area of campus. We also wanted to respond to the demands for spaces for socialization, which help to inspire and cross-pollinate different disciplines.”
The café features drip coffee—that is roasted on site—espresso beverages, baked goods, sandwiches, salads and soups. The space is a mix of table and soft seating with lots of windows and natural light. Tucker says the project itself is built around great-tasting coffee. For about six months, Tucker and his team researched various options and created direct-trade relationships with sustainable coffee providers.
“We became convinced during that process that we wanted to secure our coffee through a direct trade partnership and get green beans,” Tucker says. “We also looked into the possibility of roasting our own coffee at the location. There were a lot of issues to resolve in terms of ventilation and HVAC if we were going to do that. We’re on the bottom floor of the building and there were some concerns. We found a piece of equipment, which is a two-keg roaster from Israel. It uses smoke-elimination technology, and by using that we were able to avoid issues with the ventilation, etc.”
The roaster, which is made by Coffee-Tech, has been a big hit with the department, Tucker says.
“It’s just awesome,” Tucker says. “To my knowledge, we are one of the first users in the U.S. to use this smoke-elimination system. Basically what happens is that the smoke from the roaster gets put into the smoke eliminator. First the smoke goes into a series of dry filters. Then it gets centrifuged to dissipate any residual smoke. We took a shot with it. I took a long time to pull the trigger on it because we wanted to make sure it worked properly. It couldn’t have worked out any better. The roasting process has been great. The coffee comes out super fresh.”
Green beans are delivered on a weekly basis. On a daily basis, the café features four proprietary coffees, including the signature coffee Daterra, which is from Brazil. The café also serves a Colombian dark roast, an espresso blend and a Swiss water-processed decaf. Each month there also is a rotating featured coffee.
“Overall, we did about a year’s worth of research before we moved a brick up,” Tucker says. “The experience of drinking coffee [at this location] has become a stage for all things coffee, like coffee events and classes. People who are interested in coffee come together at this location. Since we opened in September, we’ve had a number of different presentations about coffee in the space. We even did a home-brewing class and had a barista contest.”
Menu: Tucker says the department knew that most of the business at KBT would be morning and afternoon based. One of the biggest challenges with a café of this type is increasing the check average.
“We wanted to be able to support a strong coffee program with a large menu that is more meal oriented. We were trying to be thoughtful of what is the right blend between the coffee/bakery and [lunch] menu? We looked at a lot of concepts that did it well, like Panera and other regional concepts. We developed a special menu of sandwiches and salads that are only served in the café. The café has its own signature brand of menu items. We normally do two soups a day that are very high quality. Bakery is also vital to the coffee concept. Those two things work together in the morning and afternoons.”
Tucker says the department also knew the location would need hot options to supplement the sandwiches and salads, even though the café has a very small footprint. The department installed high-speed convection ovens so the café could offer paninis. Tucker says there are also plans to introduce hot entrées items such as lasagna and macaroni and cheese.
“One of the things people always say when they see this concept is, ‘man, there is so much program here for the amount of space,’” Tucker says. “If you go in there just about every piece of space is super efficient in terms of what we are serving. The space itself is bright and vibrant. It’s got great music. I think we have a nice combination of table seating and soft seating, both in the café and in the adjacent lobby. It’s warm. People feel like it’s a place where they can stay for a while. It’s really become what we wanted it to. Plus, from an economic standpoint, the place has done wonderful. On an average basis we do about 300 to 400 transactions a day.”