The Red Door

Student-run coffee shop offers organic brews and business lessons

Powerful aromas of cinnamon and toffee from freshly brewed coffee with names like “Love Buzz” and “Mind, Body, and Soul” fill the air. Soft lighting blends with warm, berry-colored walls, and the hardwood floor creaks as students walk by. A variety of student artwork creates a gallery-like atmosphere.

The Red Door, a student-created and run coffee shop, opened last year. It is located above the campus mailroom—just a short distance from the residence halls and Lipscomb Library—and has become a gathering spot for students and sometimes faculty and staff members. The coffee shop offers couches, chairs, and small tables where customers can relax, chat, study, or play a game of chess.

“Whenever I step into The Red Door, I automatically feel a sort of calm overtake me,” said Amber Keesee ’14, one of more than a dozen regular student volunteers who brew and serve drinks at the front counter, which was fabricated out of two used office desks positioned into an L-shape. “It’s a unique part of our campus.”

Students created The Red Door to be a place where they could go at night for coffee, tea, or cocoa—and for the fellowship and the chance to decompress.

“The Red Door has been representative of a lot of really great conversations and thoughts and reflections, and that’s a really important thing to take away from the space,” said Mareeha Niaz ’12, a global studies major.

The Red Door is reminiscent of the “penny universities” of the 1700s. These coffee shops in England were popular places where people from all walks of life gathered informally over coffee and tea to discuss and debate the important issues of the time, whether it was politics, the sciences, or current events.

“This is a lot homier than any other atmosphere on campus,” said Louise Searle ’12, an environmental studies major who helped start the coffee shop. “But it’s also a lesson for us in running a business. We do the books, we work behind the counter, and we make the orders.”

The Red Door—named in part because its entrance has the only red door on campus—is open during the evening hours. The venue also holds an open mic night on the last Friday of each month featuring skits, stand-up comedy, and music.

“It’s a very ‘chill’ environment,” said Mariah Reed ’14, who goes there some nights to study and some nights to take a break from studying.

The inspiration for The Red Door came last fall when Searle, Niaz, and Ludovic Lemaitre ’11 were studying at The White Hart Café in downtown Lynchburg.

They wondered if such a place could be created on campus, giving students a place to gather in a warmly lit, casual space. Lemaitre, “The Red Door has been representative of a lot of really great conversations and thoughts and reflections, and that’s a really important thing to take away from the space.”

Mareeha Niaz ’12 6 “This is a lot homier than any other atmosphere on campus. But it’s also a lesson for us in running a business. We do the books, we work behind the counter, and we make the orders.”

Louise Searle ’12 an environmental science major and a member of Randolph’s Environmental Club, thought that the space where the club met above the campus mailroom could be transformed into a similar, cozy environment. The den-like space had not been used much in recent years but had served in the past as temporary faculty housing and a student lounge.

Students rallied behind the idea and worked hard to clean the space. To meet municipal building and fire codes, the College’s Buildings and Grounds department pitched in to fix electrical wiring and to add a light and handrail to the winding staircase that leads to the second floor. A local fire marshal and health inspector also made useful suggestions.

Students met with Chris Burnley, Randolph’s vice president for finance and administration, to discuss bookkeeping procedures. And a wireless modem for laptop accessibility was installed by the College’s Information Technology department.

“We all learned a lot from it,” Niaz said of working with the departments on campus. “Things we didn’t think would be issues were definitely things to address.”

Students have also put into place the environmentally conscious business practices they have studied. Only organically grown and fairly traded coffee, tea, and chocolate are sold. Much of the waste created is either composted or recycled.

Drinks cost $1, but customers who bring their own cups get a 25-cent discount. Students credit faculty and staff for supporting the idea from the start by donating furniture, other supplies, and expertise.

Shahriar Abbassi, the night supervisor at the Lipscomb Library and a staff advisor to the Food and Justice Club, said faculty and staff try to remove obstacles to help students achieve their goals. “The students are craving hands-on experiences,” he said. “So I think it’s natural that they like to do these sorts of things.”

The Red Door is just one example of recent projects on campus by students interested in sustainability. Other efforts have included making environmentally friendly laundry detergent , organizing a bike share program, and creating an organic garden.

“We are trying to make ideas like the importance of knowing what you’re consuming and the importance of being global citizens more accessible,” Niaz said. Randolph’s student-run coffee shop, The Red Door, has become a popular gathering spot for students.