Column: Bring Back the Bulldog Café

Column: Bring Back the Bulldog Café

It’s March 2020. The coronavirus exists but has not quite overturned the world yet. You grab an iced matcha latte from Bulldog Java & Juice, unbeknownst to you, it would be your last.

Unfortunately, this nightmare became my reality upon returning to campus from a semester abroad. 

So long are the days of Zoom naivety, supply chain excess, and, apparently, being able to order a coffee from the bottom floor of the Armacost Library. These are the relics of our past. 

However, the end of Bulldog Java & Juice, colloquially known as the Bulldog café, is a COVID-era development I find myself unwilling to accept. Just two years ago, students were able to pick up their daily coffees seamlessly from the Armacost lounge or the computer lab. Even better was taking the trip down from the second or third floors to treat yourself to a latte after hours of studying.

Bulldog Java & Juice menu

Bulldog Java & Juice was more than just a point of convenience, though–it was a meeting place. Without it, the bottom floor of the library experiences far less traffic than it usually does. However, the café is just one of many casualties wrought by the pandemic.

The university has reduced operating capacities in a number of ways, from the available hot-food items in the Commons to off-campus shuttle drivers.

Redlands, understandably, is a slightly recognizable but not fully-formed version of what it once was prior to the coronavirus. Numerous factors such as a national labor shortage and the financial decimation that came with an entire year of online learning are attributable to this; the university has since slid into a $13 million deficit and eliminated 34 staff positions since the pandemic.

Yet, these factors only partially explain why The Den, what was originally introduced as a coffee shop and pub hybrid, has become the sole provider for espresso on campus.

Two years ago, before campus closed and the university transitioned to online learning, Harvest Table introduced The Den as a newly-renovated successor to the University Club. It had been under construction for almost a year prior and unveiled a new menu consisting of crispy chicken sandwiches, flatbread pizza, and wings.

Students were able to order for dine-in or to-go. TVs broadcasted sports games while music blasted from ceiling speakers. The Den was very much the slightly cooler, more casual alternative to the Commons. Importantly, it existed right alongside Bulldog Java & Juice, which was not yet threatened by the new establishment. 

Their menus were quite different, the former centered on drinks while the latter, which did serve coffee beverages during the day, primarily offered lunch and dinner foods. Besides, the Bulldog café was a staple, perhaps what some may say definitively “Redlands culture.”

Of course, much of this came to a screeching halt once the pandemic reached Southern California. Thus, The Den’s current iteration is one of happenstance–an embodiment of COVID-era misdirection and failed expectations.

What is heartbreaking, though, is that many undergraduates never got to experience the convenience of ordering a coffee from Bulldog Java & Juice. Because its shift to a market occurred at the beginning of the 2021-2022 academic year, the classes of 2024 and 2025 know of no such thing.

The Bulldog reached out to Dean of Student Affairs Donna Eddleman via email for comment about these changes. We received copied responses from Eddleman, Harvest Table Manager John Gula, and Vice President for Administration Michelle Rogers. As such, the responses will reflect their contributions as a collective.

When asked about why Bulldog Java & Juice was replaced by the Bulldog Market, they stated that students considered implementing an on-campus market as a priority during initial feedback for Harvest Table’s introduction in Fall 2019. Furthermore, they “identified the Bulldog as the best usable space, which does provide a very central location on campus.”

Photo contributed by Michael Driscoll

Eddleman and company also noted that customer feedback has been positive and that “depending on library hours in the future, market hours may be expanded, and we may see other full meal solutions available there as well.” 

Jackson Keene ‘22, Health, Medicine, and Society major, thinks differently. “I think the café used to be an awesome spot that brought people from all across campus together,” Keene said. “It was awesome as a study break, but it was a nice place to meet people too because it was right in the middle of the action.”

When the Bulldog asked Eddleman about her thoughts on this, Eddleman, Gula, and Rogers replied that “Admittedly, the location of the Bulldog Market is convenient, but not for everyone or everything, as not everyone gathers in the Naslund Lounge and not everyone drinks coffee.”

Sure, not everyone gathers in the Naslund Lounge and not everyone drinks coffee. But I presume even fewer people complete their grocery shopping in the Bulldog Market. This is not to say it doesn’t serve a purpose; navigating the city of Redlands without a car is quite difficult, if not impossible, for many. However, I can imagine there is an even smaller use case for people in need of detergent and Slim Jims than those in need of a latte and acai bowl. Important to also consider is that numerous products in the Bulldog Market overlap with those available for purchase in the Bookstore and Launch Kitchen Market.

Keene went on to state, “I feel like now if you want to meet someone for coffee, it’s a lot less organic because The Den is not as central.”

“It is also tough,” Keene lamented, “because if you are working in the library and want a coffee, you need to go over to The Den and either bring all your stuff or leave it behind. But in the old Bulldog café, you didn’t even have to leave the building.”

Some things are wonderful because of their simplicity. Bulldog Java & Juice was decisively one of those things. Perhaps the disappearance of the café is particularly painful because it is now a part of the laundry list of things that once were. 

Yes, mask-wearing and constant COVID-19 testing have distorted our understanding of normalcy, but we were nonetheless eased into said changes. Without proper notice of its soon-to-be vacancy, the Bulldog Market acts as an unsettling reminder of the absence of its predecessor. 

“I also used to love the Nutella and avocado toast,” Keene told the Bulldog. And I did, too.

Photo provided by the university image archive.