I enter the new Yale Science Building at midday with 10 minutes to spare — just enough time to grab lunch before my econ lecture begins. Tagging myself to the back of a long, winding line at the newly opened Steep Cafe, I watch as students tap their IDs at the register and rush to class or sit at furnished tables in the brightly lit, high-ceilinged room. I am in a space far and separate from all the residential college dining halls down the hill.
Steep Cafe, which just opened in November, is a spot providing both snacks and lunch foods between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Some may call it Durfees’ counterpart on the other side of campus; but the new, modern and airy cafe selling green juices and gluten-free paleo pastries is quite a contrast to the dimly lit, barebones grocery store on Elm Street. Yet you can find a lot of the same foods at both establishments: bags of chips, fruit, plant-based snack alternatives, yogurts and kombucha. One of the refrigerated shelves at Steep holds the classic plastic coated ham and cheese sandwiches, chicken wraps and salads that Durfee’s goers know all too well. At both places you can tap your ID to purchase up to nine dollars worth of food.
Walking into Steep, however, I have completely different expectations. On the wall behind the counter there are signs inscribed with lists of coffees, teas and specialty drinks like matcha and turmeric lattes. The first dish on the breakfast menu is “buckwheat groats” topped with “coconut milk and spices.” An array of fresh pastries take up half the counter space along with rye bread sandwiches waiting for the panini press, and two large bowls containing classic dining-hall style salads like arugula and mushroom or corn, sweet potato and quinoa. The cafe is divided into breakfast and lunch hours, switching from smoothies to savory soups.
Steep’s best feature is its collaborations with nearby companies, like its baked goods from Katalina’s Bakery, its juices from juice box and freshly ground coffee from Cafe Femenino. This finally gives me the chance to buy food from the ‘real’ world with a simple swipe of my ID instead of spending my money on Snackpass, which I have been doing too often.
The concept behind the cafe is refreshing; Yale Hospitality writes that “wholesome is in Steep’s DNA” with options for “clean eating or a mind body recharge.” Like the motto behind the Good Life Center, I appreciate this attempt to provide a healthy space for Yale students who are constantly under stress. Green juice, beetroot lattes and gluten free-vegan brownies could definitely be a way to increase the student body’s well being.
Yet besides Steep’s attempts to promote wellness, the line around midday, when students need lunch before class, is chaotic and never ending to say the least. It wraps around the counter and the stairwell, becoming longer as more students enter the building for their lectures. This completely refutes Yale Hospitality’s description of Steep as a place for “food conversations in a calm, comfortable space.” Steep can’t call itself both a small, wholesome cafe and a primary lunch spot for science hill students; in order to fulfill both roles, there needs to be a solution for the overcrowding during eating hours. With such a big lobby, perhaps there can be more space dedicated to serving people food, providing a more efficient system for grabbing lunch in between classes.
It is also quite hard to stay within the nine-dollar meal swipe budget at such a chic, deluxe cafe. When a small bottle of green juice is six dollars, I’m left with only three dollars to spare, limiting me to a small bag of chips or a piece of fruit. This is definitely not enough fuel to power me through a day of classes and studying, let alone be considered lunch. At the dining hall, I can have a full meal, as many drinks as I want and dessert. If I want a coffee and a pastry at Steep, chances are I am going to have to limit the rest of my lunch to a banana. With so many menu items to try, I feel strongly that Steep, an entirely different venue from Durfee’s, should widen the budget constraint on Yale students so that they can have a full lunch experience without paying extra money from their own pockets.
Steep is an important addition to the Yale campus. It has provided me with variety when I want something slightly different than a dining hall meal and convenience when I am far away from the center of campus. Its mission to sell healthy and nourishing foods is a step in the right direction; they just need to make sure that this idea can be achieved on a campus where students are rushing around in flocks to their lectures and busy schedules.
Julia Levi | firstname.lastname@example.org