For students studying in the Law School’s new Robert B. Aikens Commons, it’s hard to ignore the sweet smell of freshly brewed coffee and baked scones wafting through the air.
The aroma emanates from the new Kirkland & Ellis Café, which opened earlier this month at the grand opening of the new commons area located in Hutchins Hall. The café offers customers a variety of products from freshly baked pastries, to grilled sandwiches, to Starbucks coffee.
The café is owned and operated by Picasso Café, Inc. — a local, family-owned business that also operates the 20/20 Café at the University’s Kellogg Eye Center. The construction of the café was funded through a donation from two University alumni and partners at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, the Kirkland & Ellis Foundation and 1956 Law School alum William Jentes.
Caleb Pizana, general manager of the café, stressed that the Kirkland & Ellis Café offers many affordable options for students.
“Our sandwiches are anywhere from a dollar and a half to $2 less than what you would find at other cafés, so very reasonably priced,” Pizana said. “We hope to gain the trust of the students — that they can come here and not feel that we’re taking more money out of their pockets than what they’re already putting into the school.”
Pizana added that the Kirkland & Ellis Café uses local ingredients — including produce from Eastern Market in Detroit — and sells homemade goods.
“We have a bakery out of Detroit that we use that brings in fresh muffins and donuts and (other products),” Pizana said. “We also provide our own fresh baked goods: scones, cookies, rice krispie treats, brownies — that sort of thing we all take care of in house here.”
The café also imports Starbucks coffee. But Pizana said the café offers the full Starbucks menu at a slightly cheaper price than the franchise’s stores.
“We’d done our research, and Starbucks was what we felt was wanted by the people that both go to school here and study and then also the people around town,” Pizana said.
The opening of the Kirkland & Ellis Café on Sept. 7 comes around the same time as the closing of the Law Library’s snack bar, a small café previously located on the library’s lower level. Though Pizana recognizes that the snack bar was a popular choice for many students, he said he hopes the new café can fill the snack bar’s void.
“We’ve been well accepted due to the change with the snack bar downstairs,” Pizana said. “A few people had mixed feelings about it, but now that we’ve been up and running and we’ve strived for customer service and gained those customers on a one-on-one level … I think we’ve kind of won them over with our café and the products that we serve.”
Business at the café has been going well during its first three weeks, Pizana said. He added that the Sept. 7 grand opening ceremony of the Robert B. Aikens Commons increased the number of students and staff visiting the café.
The business is also in the process of setting up a system to accept Blue Bucks, but Pizana said he hopes the café’s customer demographic will expand beyond Law School students and staff.
“We are really hoping that the public finds out about us — people passing through from classes, people passing through to work,” Pizana said.
Pizana said he believes the personal nature of the café, along with the quality of food it serves, will draw customers.
“You can go into any café and get a sandwich, but the experience, I think, is what brings people back,” Pizana said. “We are very personable here. We make it an effort for everyone, not just our cooks but our cashiers, to know our customers on a personal basis.”
First year Law School student Elisabeth Madden said she has been to the café everyday since it opened and finds the location a convenient stop between classes.
“We have a lot of one-hour breaks in our classes, so it’s not really enough time to go home,” Madden said. “So it’s nice to have a place to be able to sit down and have a snack or coffee.”
First year Law School student Laura Jacobson said she also frequents the new café and enjoys the salads, sandwiches and muffins. She added that the snack bar was “awful,” and she doesn’t miss it, even if products at the new café are slightly more expensive.
“I know everything at the snack bar was like a dollar or two, but it’s really not that expensive (at the Kirkland & Ellis Café),” Jacobson said.
Madden also said the new café is an improvement over the snack bar and offers a better space for students.
“It’s a nice place to kick back after class and relax and see friends, but it’s also quiet enough that it’s a good place to study and get ready for the class you have the next day,” Madden said.