Hard Times Cafe breaks for intermission


Owners say the popular West Bank haunt should be open by fall semester.

for the first time in months, Hard Times Cafe closed its doors for more than two hours.

But restaurant regulars and coffee-seeking students crawling back to campus have no reason to worry, because the cafe is scheduled to reopen in time for the fall semester.

Hard Times Cafe, the collectively owned West Bank coffee shop known as much for its vegetarian and vegan-friendly menu as it is for operating nearly 24 hours a day, shut down July 29 to replace its ventilation system.

Graham Baldwin, one of Hard Times’ employee-owners, said the temporary closing has provided extra time to clean up the restaurant, as well as make small repairs.

“It’s a blessing-in-disguise sort of deal,” Baldwin said. “It’s an opportunity to make everything nice.”

In February, city inspectors visited Hard Times, which was established in 1992, and ordered owners to replace its old ventilation system in order to meet city standards, Baldwin said.

Jason Buckendorf, a Hard Times barista, said the city wanted repairs made immediately, but the staff wanted to wait until August when business slowed down.

Baldwin said the ventilation system, which will cost approximately $85,000, is the bulk of the project. The restaurant’s layout will remain the same, and there won’t be any major new additions, he said.

Installing a new dishwasher, buffing the floor, reupholstering booths and patching up holes in the walls are other minor repairs, staff said.

The menu will remain practically the same, Buckendorf said, noting cafe workers try to buy local products when they can.

It’s a balancing act between obtaining local goods and presenting affordable menu prices, he said.

Buckendorf and Baldwin noted prices might change slightly due to rising operating costs unrelated to the facility upgrades.

Hard Times will be the way it was, but better, Baldwin said.
Matt Mead
Hard Times Cafe is closed for renovations until September according to a sign posted on the door. The cafe is a collectively run all-vegetarian cafe, and many of the items are vegan.

Cat Pond, a business and marketing education senior, said the reasonably priced menu, music selection and customers were all part of Hard Times’ charm.

“It’s the only place I can get studying done,” Pond said.

Pond said she appreciates Hard Times’ relaxed, worn-in atmosphere.

“I wouldn’t mind (some) cleaning up, but hopefully they’re not cleaning up too much,” she said.

Alex Bentley, an art history and Greek senior, said she appreciates the cafe’s low prices on items like soy milk. Although she wished Hard Times wasn’t closed for repair, she understood the reasoning behind it.

“I would rather have (the cafe) be cleaner,” she said.

Although the break has given them time to clean up shop, employees acknowledged it’s hard not bringing in money for so long.

But the round-the-clock cycle and collective ownership means Hard Times is more of a lifestyle for employees, Buckendorf said.

The grind work pays off for the employee-owners, who are also friends, he said.

Baldwin agreed, saying his job at Hard Times is unlike any job he’s previously had.

“It’s the first job I’ve never stolen from or walked out of,” Baldwin said.

Though the Hard Times staff had yet to set an official reopening date, they are aiming to finish repairs by Sept. 1, Baldwin said.

The Hard Times staff said they’ve heard from customers who miss their favorite hangout, some of whom have volunteered to help with the cleaning and repair process, employees said. Many of Hard Times’ regular customers have been going to the Seward Community Cafe as well as the Wienery.

“They want to quit going to Perkins,” Baldwin said of Hard Times’ customers.

Brian Monroe, a barista who’s worked at Hard Times for nearly 13 years, said he misses the day-to-day activity and hopes customers will return once it reopens its doors to business.

“Give us one more chance,” he joked.