May 7, 2021 | NEWS | By Ian Larned | Photo by Cameron Howell & Illustration by Xixi Qin
Everything was ready. The tables were set, employees trained, drink and food supplies purchased — all signs were a go for the opening. Minutes later an email brought it all to an indefinite halt. The Colorado College community will have to wait at least until next year for a campus bar.
Started by a group of students in 2012, the famed “9th Block” student-run bar was anticipated to reopen this year, after months of preparation. Will Foster ’21, Kevin Caruana ’21, and Josh Fry ’22 put countless hours into the process of creating the bar again.
The idea began when Foster was put in touch with La’au’s owner Joe Coleman. Coleman expressed interest in implementing a student-run bar for the CC community.
“These guys came to me with great ideas. When I opened La’au’s, I did it for the CC community. I am always open to helping students with passion for things like this,” Coleman said.
Foster immediately brought Fry into the conversation.
“Honestly, when we started, we probably did everything out of order. We focused on the menu and prices for a week or two. Then we said, ‘we need to actually figure out our systems, our COVID protocols, and what are other restaurants doing,’” Foster said.
A week later Caruana joined the team.
“Kevin joining was huge. He helped us realize that there was a lot more stuff we needed to focus on,” Fry said.
Originally, the group prepared to open 9th Block without consulting the school, because the restaurant is not on campus property. However, they eventually decided that it would be better and safer to create the bar with the help of the school.
The group worked with the school for about six weeks before their scheduled opening date.
Caruana thought the discussions were going well.
“They seemed very receptive. They seemed like they wanted it to happen. Obviously, they had initial worries about our COVID protocols, our relationship with Joe, as well as our employment,” Caruana said. “Another concern of the school was that they were worried about a bar that just served alcohol.”
In response, the students worked with the school to provide food as an option, devised a menu, hired cooks, and were ready to serve a range of appetizers.
“Working with these people such as Rochelle Dickey, Barbara Wilson, and Amy Hill was great,” Caruana said. “I honestly think they all were really excited about it and wanted this bar to happen. But they wanted it to be approved by the Scientific Advisory Group (SAG). They were the ones that ultimately had to approve of our COVID protocols.”
On short notice and at the beginning of fourth week, the students rushed to prepare their COVID protocols for the SAG to review. Foster and Caruana had to get extensions for their final project in order to submit their COVID guidelines by the end of Block 6, they said.
With the bar scheduled to open on April 30, first Friday of Block 7, the students had almost everything they needed. The employees had been trained, the drink supplies were purchased, indoor and outdoor areas organized, but the school raised a concern two days before the scheduled opening date.
“They decided we needed COVID monitors two days away from the opening,” Foster said. “The COVID monitors needed one to two hour training sessions from Amy Hill, who wasn’t available that week, so we had to postpone the opening a week in order to meet the school’s new requirements. All this was going on while we were waiting for SAG approval, but the whole time the administration seemed to be telling us SAG would most likely approve.”
With the new opening date set for a week later, the group thought they would be able to receive feedback from the SAG on their COVID protocols, and work with the school to ensure a safe opening the following week.
“We were expecting a response from SAG because they meet weekly, and they said they were meeting to discuss our COVID protocols the original day we were planning on opening,” Fry said. “They did not go over our protocols that day. We did not get a response until the next week on Wednesday.”
The students were devastated by the response.
“On that day they told us no. They gave us an explanation that cases in El Paso County are going up, they talked about variants,” Fry said. “We were expecting feedback on how to improve our COVID protocols, and it felt like they were just like, ‘No.’ No suggestions, nothing.”
The student entrepreneurs said that they respect the administration’s decision and its determination to keep the campus safe. However, none of them supported the manner in which the school went about this process.
“If your argument is ‘We don’t want to open a bar because of COVID,’ that’s fair and totally understandable,” Foster said. “Thing is, that point hasn’t changed from six weeks ago when we told the admin about this. They could have just told us no initially and it would have saved a lot of time and money.”
“The really frustrating part was that SAG approval was pivotal to our opening, but we were only told about the group two weeks before our opening date. And the administration had known about our start date for five weeks,” Foster said. Furthermore, the group never had direct contact with anyone from SAG, they said.
The SAG declined to provide The Catalyst with a comment for this story, saying that they are not decision makers but rather an advisory body to college leadership.
Coleman shared a similar reaction to the boys upon hearing the news. “I was totally bummed. They put in a ton of work. Hours and hours of meetings with me, the school, talking with people on my team, how we would want to handle COVID, training, just a ton of time.”
Coleman believes that the students did everything they could to make 9th Block safe. “These guys were so good at limiting the risk. They were so thoughtful. There was gonna be some risk, there’s risk in everything. But they had worked really hard to get that down to under 5%, in my world.”
Acting Dean of Students and Acting Vice President for Student Life, Rochelle Dickey, was in direct contact with the group throughout the process.
“The students who participated in this did a fantastic job,” Dickey said. “This is no fault of their actions. We are in the middle of a pandemic, and the Scientific Advisory Board just said it wasn’t the right time.”
Dickey said the bar was only shut down because of the current COVID conditions in El Paso County. She believes the bar is a great idea, and envisions it opening next year.
Since the school emailed the 9th Block group about the cancelation a few weeks ago, there has been little development.
“Besides their email about the closure, no one called us, no one reached out, which is kind of brutal because they know how much work we put in. If you are going to cancel it, cancel it from the start,” Foster said.
“In my business, some people say that a quick no is better than a slow maybe or a really long no or yes,” Coleman added.
Each member of the group said they also spent at least a few hundred dollars on items for the bar.
“Honestly, money isn’t my main issue. Our biggest thing was the amount of time we spent on this. We all put in well over 100 hours into the bar,” Caruana said.
Coleman believes in the value of reviving the CC bar.
“How would this have added to the CC community? How would the students learn about business? What would the other students that were customers learn about supporting student operations or student-run initiatives?” he asked.
Even with La’au’s expected to reopen in late May, according to Coleman, it is possible that 9th Block will have to find a new location next year before the CC community is able to experience it again.