Creativity on Caffeine

When Stanford Dining announced the imminent demolishment of the student Coffee House in 2007, they did not foresee the display of student protests that were to come. Thanks to the indefatigable efforts of student demonstrations, the CoHo reopened on June 23, 2008, after Treehouse owner Ray Klein (now also the owner of the CoHo) had taken the initiative to reignite the student hotspot. Klein’s enterprise, along with the new management’s impresario-esque flair, ushered in a flurry of creative collaboration and exchange between the CoHo, patrons, and performing artists.

Digital portrait of Rachel Maddow, the most recent addition to CoHo’s caricatures


As Stanford students know, the CoHo today is immediately recognizable; its pictorial panoply of luminaries and famous alumni cover its walls in the form of colorful caricatures. The idea of adorning the walls with caricatures originated from Klein’s desire to replicate the aesthetic of Sardi’s, a famous restaurant in New York. As Klein explained in an article from The Stanford Daily (April 8, 2009), “I had a restaurant in Santa Barbara where I did the same thing as Sardi’s.” In Klein’s view, “it’s just a nice way to peak people’s interest and let them gaze at the art on the walls, which also feature people associated with the University.” Klein and his associates commissioned Zach Trenholm, caricaturist for the San Francisco Chronicle, to begin the project. The faces of William Hewlett, Dave Packard, Chelsea Clinton, Sigourney Weaver, Rachel Maddow, and others animate the café’s walls.


Poster for CoHo’s Open Mic session


Though an ASSU-run coffee shop (established in 1966), followed by a Coffee House Inc. (established in 1980) preexisted the CoHo, they did not match the fervor generated by the CoHo today. As CoHo Manager Erick Guzman elaborates, “Over the past four years of our operation, we have run the COHO with a focus on elevating our involvement with Stanford arts programs and music groups, such as SICA, SOCA, Stanford Jazz, Stanford Concert Network, etc. We have also started new events for our venue that include the now popular COHO Open Mic which is composed solely of Stanford students/alumni performers, and our upcoming COHO Battle of the Bands…On the menu side, we’ve focused on providing the Stanford Community with a Sustainable Coffee Program – all of our coffee, espresso and teas are organic. We also use many organic ingredients with a focus on a sustainable menu. We have also created Gluten-Free and Vegan options.” By providing a comfortable space in which to explore and enjoy both artistic and culinary delights, the CoHo welcomes experimental exchanges outside the confines of university departments.