Whispers Cafe overhaul expanded beyond initial blueprint

| News Manager

The Whispers Cafe renovations that began as a simple countertop replacement expanded into a much larger project than Dining Services initially expected.

The initial plan to simply replace the countertop was projected to cost between $50,000 to $60,000, but the final plan, which included tearing down a wall, new floors, new menu boards and new equipment, nearly double or tripled the cost according to Paul Schimmele, Dining Services manager of the Danforth Campus.

The old round countertop, which employees had pointed out didn’t maximize usable storage space, was replaced with a new countertop that better accommodated the square cabinets. Patti Louvier, director of Satellite Operations for Dining Services, believes this has helped enhance the customer and employee service experience.

“The old Whispers had merchandise on top of counters… students couldn’t see the staff,” Louvier said. “Now there’s eye-to-eye student contact, which improves customer service.”

To better meet the sales volume, a discussion to improve Whispers began in order hopefully to reduce the number of truck deliveries.

In that respect, the change appears to have met its targets as the number of truck deliveries has been reduced 50 percent from four times to twice a day on the busiest four days of each week. The new delivery plan helps reduce the truck obstructions on campus for students and cyclists, involving only one morning delivery and one mid-day.

Additionally, more visible changes to students include a new, more colorful and spacious menu board and the inclusion of a frozen yogurt machine.

“My biggest complaint as a design factor is that the frozen yogurt isn’t incorporated into the menu board,” sophomore Brian Maxwell said.

In terms of the frozen yogurt, Louvier reports that it occasionally cannot keep up with demand, but this was expected and is typically resolved with a 15-minute wait.

“It’s a little strange to eat ice cream in a library. I don’t picture myself eating it while studying, but it’s nice that it’s around all our classes,” freshman Carly Herbert said.

One more small change is still to come—a fruit stand to separate the two identical lines that flow independently. Louvier believes the stand will add color by presenting four different fruits while still providing function by separating the lines.

Louvier reports that Whispers Cafe continues to be the busiest Kaldi’s location.

“When Whispers opened in 2004, it became an overwhelming success. Kaldi’s came in and had a new partnership with us at the time. They made the recommendation on the espresso machine,” Schimmele said. “Later when one espresso machine soon broke, Kaldi’s told us that one machine had already lived about three to four lives in its brief life.”

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.