A cafe coming to New Haven this fall seems to fulfill every college student’s dream: free coffee.
The catch is that students must turn over basic data about themselves to Shiru Cafe, a Japanese company opening the coffee shop on College Street. The company, which bills itself as “the place where students can learn about a professional world and envision their future career,” runs coffee shops in college towns in Japan, India and now the United States.
Keith Maher, the general manager of Shiru Cafe’s first American location in Providence, Rhode Island, said the company doesn’t sell students’ data, which includes their name, email, year in school, major and professional interests.
Rather, it compiles aggregate statistics about the students who use the cafe to show to potential corporate sponsors. Money from sponsors sustains the business, which charges nothing for drinks to participating students, except $1 for to-go orders.
“We’ve certainly had questions of what happens to their data,” said Maher, who is also helping open the New Haven cafe. “Mostly, students are very excited to hear about it.”
Corporate sponsors pay for their company’s name to be put on the cafe’s website, cups and in-cafe display screens. Companies also have the opportunity to recruit and do meet-and-greets with students in the cafe. Maher said this is one key purpose of the cafe — to connect top students with top companies.
“We really see that as a benefit where students have this space where they’re comfortable instead a more intimidating recruiting environment,” Maher said.
The New Haven cafe will use products from Downeast Coffee Roasters, based in Rhode Island, and White Heron, an organic tea and coffee company in New Hampshire.
To be eligible for free drinks, students sign up with their university email. Orders are done online, and students must show their student ID at the register when they pick up their drink.
In addition to coffee, tea and juice, the cafe will also offer pastries ranging from $2 to $4.
Shiru Cafe started in Japan in 2013 and later expanded into India. Operations in the United States began this spring when the first Shiru Cafe opened in Providence near Brown University.
Now, the company has plans for additional cafes in college towns in the Northeast, including New Haven, Cambridge, Amherst and Princeton.
Maher said so far, the Providence location has no sponsors. The 20 cafes in Japan and India have more than 100 sponsors between them, including major corporations such as Microsoft and Panasonic. If business takes off at American locations, Maher said the company could expand to other universities.
Shiru Cafe is open to local, regional, national or international sponsors.
“It helps create an even playing field,” Maher said. “All the companies, no matter their size and resources, have the opportunity to meet students here in the cafe.”
In Providence, the company did generate crticism from some students, who wrote to the Brown Daily Herald asking the community to boycott the business.
The students decried the company’s corporate ties and expressed their belief that pushing more recruitment in the finance, consulting and tech fields contributes to fewer students studying subjects like environmental sustainability and community development and organizing.
However, Maher said it was the community-orientation of Shiru Cafe that drove him, at least in part, to work for the business.
“It intrigued me and brought me to the company, being able to provide support to students,” Maher said. “I think that’s an important role to play, if we can help them be more successful.”
The New Haven cafe is currently interviewing applicants for cafe manager and assistant manager positions. Later this summer, Maher said applications for baristas will be available.
By Nyssa Kruse, The Hartford Courant
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