Café with Japanese roots serves as corporate recruitment hub

  • Rusty Daniels, the store manager at Shiru Cafe, says the space is “entirely designed for students.” STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Christian Puma, talks about why he likes Shiru Cafe, a new coffee shop in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Students working at Shiru Cafe, a new Coffee shop in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jenny Atkins, teaching staff at Mount Holyoke College talks about her feelings about Shiru Cafe, a new Coffee shop in Amherst, and their policy of being only open to students and college employees. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Sarah McDonald, right, waits on Michelle Wellman at Shiru Cafe, a new coffee shop in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • left, Solomon Wang and Tien Shen, enter the required information at Shiru Cafe, a new Coffee shop in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Michelle Wellman, a Mount Holyoke student and Alex Lamson, a Umass student, give the required information at Shiru Cafe, a new Coffee shop in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Thomas Lam talks about his feelings about Shiru Cafe, a new Coffee shop in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ellen Lindsey talks about her feelings about Shiru Cafe, a new Coffee shop in Amherst, and their policy of being only open to students and college employees. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 12/19/2018 9:58:01 PM

AMHERST — At Shiru Cafe in Amherst, all coffee is on the house — if you’re a college student, that is.

With the business model behind Shiru, which opened on Dec. 3, students can receive a free beverage each hour within the shop, or can purchase drinks to go for $1, if they fill out a profile consisting of personal information such as their name, email, major and professional interests.

The coffee is funded through companies who pay a fee in exchange for recruitment and advertising opportunities within the shop, said Isabel Strobing, vice president of client strategy at Shiru’s headquarters in Providence, R.I.

Staff and faculty members can also purchase beverages for $1 as part of an effort to accommodate study events and office hours, Strobing said.

While patronage has steadily increased since the cafe’s Dec. 3 opening, the company’s unusual business model has raised a range of reactions from students and the surrounding community, particularly in regards to not serving the general public and collecting personal data from students.

Store manager Rusty Daniels said that the space was “entirely designed for students,” versus other coffee shops and cafes that are “designed for the general public.”

Students “get great beverages, they get a comfortable study space, they get to learn about different industries and careers” by coming to Shiru, Daniels said.

Gwyneth Lewis, a junior at Amherst College, said that she read both negative and positive reviews online before coming to the cafe, but that she enjoys Shiru and she has returned multiple times.

“It’s a really great place to study,” Lewis said. “It’s nice to get off the college campus but still be in a college community.”

Lewis said she didn’t mind giving out personal data in order to use the space, adding that the information collected was “nothing more than what’s on my LinkedIn.”

Christian Puma, a doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts also welcomed a space reserved for college communities.

“It’s really good because it’s hard for students to work or to concentrate in a normal cafeteria,” Puma said, adding that the setting also provides the “moral support” of other students. The personal profiles aren’t cause for concern either, Puma said, as they can provide networking opportunities.

Thomas Lam, a master’s student at UMass, was a patron not as enthusiastic in his support.

“I understand the business model… but I’m also worried that by just serving students and faculty and not other people in town that it’s going to change the dynamic,” Lam said.

“But saying all of that, I still want my free coffee,” he said. “So it is what it is.”

Lam said he understands why some people would be wary of filling out a profile in order to drink coffee, but said that he didn’t find any of the information to be particularly sensitive, noting, “all of the data that they collect is kind of like... public information you can find on Facebook.”

Jenny Atkins, a lab instructor at Mount Holyoke College, was critical of the shop’s data collection and exclusivity to university communities, and noted that the shop is a contrast to Rao’s Cafe, which previously occupied the Shiru site.

“I think it’s too bad, because it’s not just students that need a space,” Atkins said, adding that the personal profiles are “creepy.”

But Atkins, who can be served as a university employee, said she would possibly give the shop a try, although “the feeling of it seems to be kind of weird.”

Ellen Lindsey of Amherst said she finds Shiru to be “an interesting concept,” although she also questioned aspects of the business model.

“I think it’s an interesting concept,” she said. “I think that students know what kind of data they need to go there, and they give it often enough.”

“And they like free coffee,” she added. “They like not spending money on things.”

Daniels acknowledged that some people have concerns with members of the public being turned away from Shiru, but said he doesn’t think they’re “seeing it for what it is.”

“People are looking at (Shiru) as a cafe that only serves students, but that’s not what we are,” Daniels said. “The cafe’s more secondary. We’re more of a place for connections and studying, a place for students to come and really envision their careers and learn about the professional world … We’re not in the business of selling coffee. We give it away.”

Daniels added that there are “plenty of awesome place to go to in Amherst, including a Starbucks, for people that are normal types of patrons,” noting that staff redirects the general public to locations such as Amherst Coffee or Share Amherst.

Daniels said the personal information collected by Shiru is “basic” and “broad,” adding that the data is kept within the company.

“We’re not selling any information,” Daniels said. “It’s not for sale. It’s just for us to present to companies to make those connections.”

No businesses have signed up yet in Amherst, Strobing said, although Shiru is currently in talks with some companies. At the moment, the U.S. locations are funded through their parent company.

Shiru started up in Japan in 2013, where it currently operates 17 cafes. The company has since expanded to India, where it has four cafes open and another three under construction, and launched in the United States in Providence this February.

According to Daniels, Amherst was chosen as one of the first U.S. sites due to Amherst College’s ties to Doshisha University, a sister school in Kyoto, Japan, where Shiru’s CEO went to school.

“The commonwealth of Massachusetts in its entirety is an educational hub of not just America, but the world, like out here in western Mass with UMass and Amherst College,” Daniels said.

“Amherst College is the main reason we’re here,” he continued, “but also having Hampshire and Smith and all of these other great colleges out here was a huge reason why this was chosen.”

Amherst is the chain’s second location in the U.S., with locations near Yale, Princeton and Harvard also in the works.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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