Pritchett Café sees increase in business after changing hours

Café offers ‘chef boxes’ and cooking demonstrations to help students cook affordable and healthy meals

Pritchett Café, operated by the food service company Rebecca’s Café, opened on the second floor of Walker Memorial at the beginning of February. Due to an initial lack of business, it has since adjusted hours of operation, changed its décor, and implemented new programs to appeal to more students.

Pritchett Café is now open from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., Monday through Friday. This is a change from its original 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. hours. The adjustment was made April 2, less than two months after the café opened.

Low student traffic after 11:30 p.m. led to the change, according to Gustavo Burkett, Division of Student Life senior associate dean for diversity and community involvement, in an interview with The Tech.

The original intention of the café was to provide late-dining options on the east side of campus, Burkett said. This would make food more accessible to students, as there were previously no retail dining locations on the east side open past 6 p.m.

“There are limited food options for people who don’t live in dining dorms because of how inflexible dining plans are,” Jenny Jin ’18 said in an interview with The Tech. “I’ve been really trying to tell people about [Pritchett Café] and advocate for it because I think that it’s a healthy and convenient option that a lot of people don’t know about.”

If continued into the fall, the café may begin accepting dining dollars as part of the meal plan, Matthew Bauer, DSL director of communications, said in an interview with The Tech.

An email circulated that MIT may have refused to give the café a grand opening in an effort to get the café to close down and not take away business from other vendors. However, Burkett denies this and says that the vendors work together.

The opening of Pritchett Café was communicated through posters and email, according to Burkett. MIT Dining is working to improve awareness of the new café. Already, the DSL has updated the décor of the space, turning it into a “brighter, more inviting, friendly space,” Burkett said. The DSL also invited singer/songwriter Paola Cisneros to perform there, which attracted a crowd of students.

Raising awareness is one of the key challenges, Burkett said. “Once people go and see the space, they really like it and they start using it.”

“It’s been a lot of support from MIT. Since the spring break, there’s been a lot more customer flow due to the change in hours,” Jeff Newton, an employee of Rebecca’s Café, said in an interview with The Tech.

Newton said that he has seen traffic increase from around ten people a day at the café’s start to an average of forty now. “It’s not the same people every day. Word is getting out.”

Vice President and Dean for Student Life Suzy Nelson wrote in an emailed statement to The Tech, “I’m really excited that this new spot on the east side—which was a recommendation of the 2016 Dining Data Review Working Group and the 2017 Food and Dining Survey—is finding its niche with students and the MIT community.”

Pritchett Café is also undertaking some new initiatives. It recently began offering “chef boxes,” which are meal kits that provide ingredients and instructions for students to cook at home. “The chef’s boxes were developed in a partnership between DSL and Rebecca’s, and are intended to help students who cook for themselves make quick, nutritious meals affordably,” Mark Hayes, director of campus dining, wrote in an email to The Tech.  

The café also provides cooking demonstrations from chef Tony Cascino. “He is very college student-friendly. He understands the limitations and he works around them,” Burkett said.

According to Bauer, the café serves as an example of what MIT hopes to do more of in the future, with regards to healthy food options and educating students about cooking affordably.