UH alum creates campus business
The Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management will introduce the newest edition to the campus coffee shop scene with today’s grand opening of Cougar Grounds – the first entirely student-run coffee shop in the nation.
‘It is an outstanding educational opportunity,’ Dean of the Hilton College John T. Bowen said in a Hilton College press release. ‘Students will take on everything, from ordering supplies to managing inventory, cost control, payroll, tax deductions, maintenance and, of course, outstanding customer service.’
The business will give students such as hotel restaurant management freshman Daniel Jarvis an opportunity to employ the entrepreneurial concepts they learn in the classroom, Bowen said.
Jarvis worked for Starbucks for six months prior to Cougar Grounds hiring him as a supervisor.
‘Starbucks has become about the business and not about the community,’ Jarvis said.
There are many reasons for students in surrounding buildings such as M. D. Anderson Library, E. Cullen, the University Center, and Wellness Center to make Cougar Grounds their main coffee fix. However, for those closer to the science center, Cougar Grounds is worth the long trek, Jarvis said.
‘We provide better coffee, good service, and a great atmosphere at Cougar Grounds and that is why people will want to walk all the way from the science buildings,’ Jarvis said.
Dirk Smith, an alumnus of the Hilton College, conceptualized the coffee shop. Smith made coffee his business after graduating with a master’s degree in hotel and restaurant management from Hilton College in 1992. He is the operator of Houston’s Dietrich Coffee chain.
‘We want to provide a warm, inviting place to have a great cup of coffee,’ Smith said.
Along with service and setting, the most important element of any good business is to have a good product, Smith said. UH alumnus and 11-year java industry veteran Steve Lawless agrees.
‘It’s all about the bean,’ Lawless said. ‘There are so many coffee shops out there that you really have to distinguish yourself with killer product. So step one is finding the absolute highest quality, best-tasting coffee you can.’
To find the quality they sought, Smith and Lawless sampled some of the world’s finest coffees. Their search led them back to a Houston-area company that, as Lawless recalled, ‘knocked their socks off.’
‘I had heard great things, but when we tasted the coffee we were floored,’ Lawless said.
All the coffee at Cougar Grounds is Fair Trade Certified and most of it is organic.
For the grand opening, coupons will be given for free drinks as well as free tastings from 1-2 p.m. Throughout the week several different flavors will be available on different days: Caramel Latte for Monday; White Mocha on Tuesday; Mayan Mocha on Wednesday; Vanilla Iced Coffee on Thursday; and hot Vanilla Coffee on Friday. Cougar Grounds is open Monday through Friday 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.