It was just another day when First Years were rushing to make it to the Morning Assembly on time, birds were chirping and 8;30 a.m. classes were going on when the students (one by one) got to know that their very own ‘Cafe’ has got a new look altogether. Painted chairs, new sitting arrangements and not to mention a very fancy (and pricey!) menu. The Cafe staff was in black uniforms and bits of music could have been heard amongst the chit-chatting of students. These recent changes in the Cafe by the administration in Stephen’s are the talking point of the whole college. Some found the Cafe to be a bit more vibrant while some found the aesthetics to be just not on point. In this article, we look at how these changes are viewed through different lens by different people in Stephen’s. We also talked to the new manager Mr. Mohit Gandhi, regarding his vision for the Cafe. Cafe means the most to its students and hence we also conducted a poll to gauge the overall sentiment of Stephanians regarding these changes.
The Cafe has been an integral part of Stephen’s since decades. The Professors of the College who spent their student years here often get nostalgic about the Cafe in their times. Those were the times when the Cafe used to have a limited menu of mince cutlet, Maggie and some general beverages. Over the years, Cafe saw new introductions in its menu, much to the delight of the students. The Cafe, before the changes was very much affordable and had common dishes to offer. The Cafe earlier was just like a common meeting and eating place. Now the Cafe has gone fancier and pricier for the pockets of the students. The general notices on the walls are now surrounded by French statements, reminding students to eat well and healthy. Needless to say, the earlier Cafe had less colours and was more traditional. The new Cafe is representative of energy, vigour and a will to evolve from the old.
The Cafe has a set image for generations of Stephanians. Be it the archetypal chairs or the exclusive chicken patty and mince cutlet, an alumni’s visit to college is incomplete without sitting in the Cafe. In order to understand the impact of these sudden changes on our super-seniors we reached out to Manvika Kumari of the Batch of 2018. In her words, “We come to college and the rush of nostalgia kicks in whenever we visit the Cafe that has been a constant through years of St. Stephen’s College. However, coming back now and looking at all these changes, it is shocking! All these new coloured chairs are very surprising and not a lot of people are happy about this change since the Cafe now loses out on its old charm and memories. Although, I am extremely happy with the new menu. There are a lot of options now and it’s especially more accommodating for vegetarians like me. Nonetheless, it is still good to come back and no change can take back our memories from the Cafe!”
Any change is not welcome to someone who has spent countless hours in this Cafe and made the chairs, the walls and everything else part of it home. Still there is respite as the general sentiment is jubilant with the new menu that offers way more variety as compared to the last one. However, this marks a new generation of Stephanians who shall remember this place not by it’s khaki chairs and chicken patty but by the colours, options and sunshine of the new Cafe.
The Cafe staff was perhaps the most affected by the multidimensional changes to the Cafe. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that we take their views and opinions into consideration. We approached Mr. Iftkhar Ahmed who is one of the main servers’ and is a part of the cooking staff. While he feels that the staff didn’t face any major problems in coping with the changes in the Cafe, there were certain initial hiccups that they had to overcome. With several new dishes being introduced to the menu, preparing them was a real task since they had to familiarize themselves with the new recipe. However, he took it in a good spirited manner since he considers it to be his work and feels that overtime, the staff will get a hang of it. He also feels that the footfall in the Cafe increased but mostly due to a change in the timings and not necessarily the menu.
When asked about the change in the staff’s uniform, Mr. Ahmed felt that while the new uniform is comfortable during the winter time, it might be difficult to wear it during summer time especially because it’s black in colour. As for the changes in the aesthetics of the Cafe, Mr. Ahmed was determined in his opinion when he stated, “The Cafe looked good earlier and looks good now too. There’s no change in that.” When asked whether the college administration asked for the opinions of the Cafe staff before making these changes, he simply said that the staff was informed about the changes after the mid-semester break and that they were never asked for suggestions.
In an informal conversation with JPji regarding the changes in the Cafe, a new issue surfaced. This was regarding the timings of the Cafe. Since the Cafe now closes at 10, the staff faces an issue since it gets very late and due to winters, cycling back home also becomes a herculean task.
We approached Raman Mohora, President, of the Students’ Union Society for his comments. He is of the opinion that changes are necessary to keep pace with the changing times. He sees hope for the college washrooms and other facilities in light of the changes in the Cafe. He told us that the SUS also submitted an extensive Cafe report to the Administration out of which they implemented some suggestions. He is of the opinion that uniforms of the Cafe staff are fine as long as they do not cause any discomfort for them. When asked about the ability of Cafe staff to execute the new menu, he said, “I have full faith in the ability of staff. We need to be patient.” He spoke about the suggestions that SUS has for the Cafe management. SUS suggests a disposal table where students can deposit their plates after eating. He told us that Cafe Manager has assured of getting one soon. SUS also thinks that prices can get reduced.
Teres Sajeev Vatolly, Deputy General Secretary, Students’ Union Society finds the change to be good. When asked about the uniforms introduced for the Café staff, she said, “Regarding the uniform, the opinion of the karamcharis matter the most. For summers, we will ensure that the Cafe manager takes steps to ensure their comfort.” All in all, Teres does not think that ‘going back to before is a good option’, reiterating at the same time that a lot of things need to be improved in the present Cafe.
We also spoke to Taha Firdous Shah, Treasurer, and Student Union Society. She applauded the administration for readily approving changes for the College. She finds the change to be good, especially the quality and ingredients. On prices, she said “We are working on getting the prices reduced but overall yes, they seem good.”
We approached our faculty members as well, many of those who share a special relationship with the College Cafe. “The Cafe has been the same for over the years so it takes a while to get used to the changes. But changes should take place, so it is okay. The prices of certain items have been considerably increased which should not happen because it has to be affordable in the Cafe. Also, the new menu should not affect the previous menu because some of the alumni, who passed out 25-30 years back come to the college to have the previous items.”
Moreover in a recent post on the Facebook group titled Stephanians, that functions as an unofficial group for alumni and current students alike, the menu of the new Cafe was revealed that has faced a lot of backlash from the Alumni of the college. There is extreme discontent over the omission of ‘Mince Cutlet’ and ‘Scrambled Egg’ from the menu and members claim that the new mince cutlet is worse than the old version that purportedly had significantly more meat content. The discontent is magnified as the narrative of the Cafe losing its traditional identity is gaining more momentum since this post was published. Many alumni have expressed their displeasure including the likes of Barkha Dutt who comments on the post, “This (the new menu) seems like an imposter.” Yet, there can be found one or two comments of appreciation regarding the change in the interiors of the Cafe but the new menu evidently does not sit well with the old guards of St. Stephen’s College.
The new Cafe Manager says, “In terms of health, I am definitely working towards elevating the standards of the Cafe” When asked about his vision of the Cafe, he replied with a spark that this ultimate aim is to take the Cafe to the level that the college should be known by the Cafe too. St. Stephen’s college is widely known, but the Cafe is not as widely known. He wants the Cafe to be one of the reasons why the college becomes famous.
We carried out a survey to introspect into the general beliefs of Stephanians about these changes. Out of the 224 responses received, we have found that only 78.6% of our sample visits the Cafe daily. The rest of the sample has visited the Cafe weekly or monthly. Out of those who have visited the Cafe, 98.7 % of our sample is aware of the recent administration change in our Cafe. At least 42.4 % of respondents are satisfied with the aesthetic renovation that was done to our Cafe. The renovation in our Cafe includes the addition of tables and chairs not only in the Cafe but outside around the Cafe tree. From our survey, we have found out that at least 85.3% of our sample is happy with the new seating arrangements in our Cafe. The irony here is that three-fourth of the sample refuses to pay the increased expenditure incurred by our Cafe.
The Cafe renovation is not only limited to seating arrangements, we have got new additions to our Cafe menu. There have been mixed responses regarding the new additions of our Cafe. Some feel that the quality has improved or not. But the astonishing fact here is, 61.2% of the sample feels that these new additions are not healthier alternatives to what was being served earlier in the Cafe. Some people find it infeasible to have a meal in the Cafe due to the increased cost of food items. This has been observed as one of the primary reasons why our respondents search for an alternative to our Cafe. It has been observed that these alternatives are DSE Canteen and Hindu Canteen owing to their low cost and a large variety of food items available. Also on popular demand, our respondents want “Lemon Juice” to be included in the menu.
Overall, the Cafe has done a great job in the renovation according to the reports from our sample.
Thus, we would like to give the new Cafe a 6.2 out of 10 on average.