Last spring, at a meeting between Silliman Head of College Laurie Santos and the first-year class, Gabi Limón, ’20, professed her love for coffee, such as the ones from commercial coffee machines, to the crowded room. Minutes later, Santos noted that Sillimanders rarely use the college’s Fellows Lounge.

Putting two and two together, students at the meeting came up with the idea of converting the lounge into a student-run coffee shop. On Wednesday, the idea became a reality, as the cafe, The Acorn, served its first cup of coffee at an invitation-only opening ceremony. On Thursday, The Acorn opens for business to all students.

Located on the fourth floor of Byers Hall, above the Silliman dining hall and library, The Acorn is an entirely student-led initiative. Limón, Michael Borger ’20 and David Glaess ’19 have spearheaded the project since last spring and are now the shop’s managers.

“We see the Acorn as a way to bring the community together,” Glaess said. “You don’t need to buy something to be there. It’s more of a communal space with really great coffee.”

Students are not the only ones who turned the idea for the cafe into a reality. Over the past few months, Silliman Operations Manager Sergio González has been hard at work stocking the lounge with espresso machines and furnishing it with items donated by Silliman students.

According to Santos, the cafe’s name pays homage to the acorns in the Silliman College shield but also reflects the shop’s commitment to sustainability. Santos said The Acorn was deemed “LEED Platinum Certified” by the Yale Office of Sustainability — the highest possible rating — for its environmentally conscious planning and practices.

The Acorn will use coffee beans from Eleva, a nonprofit company that works directly with farmers in Nicaragua, Guatemala and Ethiopia to supply high-quality, single-origin beans. Emilio Baltodano, the founder of Eleva, said he was connected with The Acorn through his wife, whose friend knows Santos from college.

“We want to bring the best coffee in the world with the highest level of social benefits affordably to coffee drinkers, and that shares a lot with what The Acorn is about, too,” Baltodano said.

In addition to partnering with Eleva, a fully fair-trade provider, Santos said the shop will adopt other sustainable practices, like offering only organic milk products, using compostable to-go cups and composting its coffee grounds. After making 10 purchases, customers can join the “mug club” and receive their own mug for use in the shop, according to Santos. University President Peter Salovey and Yale College Dean Marvin Chun are honorary members of the mug club, she added.

The Acorn features furniture and art donated by graduating seniors and Silliman students. The only new items purchased for The Acorn were the espresso machines for the coffee counter, according to Glaess. The shop will also have a textbook library with donated books for students to reference while studying there.

For now, the shop offers only coffee, but Glaess said that the team looks forward to adding other beverages and food items and are open to feedback from customers.

“There’s a lot of flexibility to try new things,” he said. “We’ve heard a lot of interest [from] bakers inside and outside Silliman.”

The coffee at The Acorn is not only good, but also competitively priced, according to Limón, because the shop’s revenue is meant only to cover operational costs. The shop uses high-quality, environmentally friendly products and pays its baristas at Yale student minimum wage. Still, she said, the shop’s prices are cheaper than most competitors by almost a dollar.

Limón added that the team opened The Acorn with other local businesses in mind so it would not be a threat to nearby establishments like Blue State Coffee and Willoughby’s Coffee & Tea. The Acorn’s target audience is Silliman students who want a place to study and hang out, she said, and “not necessarily people running through and grabbing a cup of coffee.”

More than 30 students have signed up to work as baristas at The Acorn, and while positions are limited to Silliman students for now, Glaess emphasized that the cafe is open to all Yalies.

After working at coffee shops throughout her senior year of high school, Kat Corfman ’21 said she jumped at the opportunity to become an Acorn barista. Although the shop is located on the fourth floor, she said she does not think the walk will deter customers.

“As long as we keep promoting it, I think people will get into a routine of coming here before class,” Corfman said. “It’s offering a study space where you’re under no obligation to buy anything … and I personally like the coffee shop atmosphere more than a library.”

The Acorn will be open on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Alice Park |