Based on the misunderstood reputation and stigmas that have surrounded Rodrigue’s Coffee House from long before I had become a student at Fordham, I was naturally nervous to enter. And entering was just as intimidating as expected. I felt a bit unwelcome, and not to mention a few eyes glaring at me. But once I was able to sit down and speak with President Alex Minikes and Vice President Paul Ross, who are both strong leaders and regulars at the establishment, I started to become acclimated and more understanding of Rodrigue’s unique culture.
Rodrigue’s, also known as “Rod’s,” has a long standing history at the Rose Hill campus, dating back to Fordham’s beginnings. According to a Fordham historical timeline, Rodrigues was originally a family home built in 1840 by architect William Rodrigue. It was later called the Alumni House, and was abandoned for several years before re-opening as Rodrigue’s in 1991. In the late 2000’s, they closed down the building, re-painted and did other renovations to become the coffee shop that stands today.
A short time before entering this unique Fordham landmark, I spoke with GSB senior and President of Peer Educators, Dave Schwartz, who told me that Rodrigue’s is an “enigma” of sorts.
“People go in and they’re not sure what to expect. It’s almost as if you’re stepping into Narnia when you come through the doors. People don’t have a good grasp of what it serves, how it’s funded, what their goal or mission is, and they have perceptions that steer them away. You sort of get that [unwelcomed] feeling, and it’s unfortunate. But I think it is a great outlet and I would love to work with them on future alternative programming for students.”
“When I was a freshman and used to come in here, it was much more locked down and if you weren’t friends with the people inside, you would receive a weird stare. And over the past few years it has changed hands in leadership and has become a lot more open, I think. It’s hard to change the perceptions of Fordham students after a legacy like this, but we’re actively trying to make it more inclusive rather than exclusive,” says Alex.
Consequently, such improvements have also been reflected in their daily revenue. “We’ve noticed this year that, for whatever reason, our sales have been way beyond what they have ever been, plus there have been a lot more people who aren’t in the club who come to just hang out and buy something.”
When asked what they think has specifically led to the increased sales and turnouts, Paul responds, “I think that this year we have a more specific direction with what we’re trying to achieve. We’re trying to become a lot better as a coffee shop, and not just a place where we spend all our time.”
“We have gathered a whole bunch of new flavors and have been trying to boost up the coffee aspect of this place, plus we’ve also upgraded all of our sound equipment this year as well,” Alex adds.
Despite the assortment of roadblocks that Rodrigue’s has been faced with in the past, there has been a big change in the way that Fordham understands what Rodrigue’s is, according to the both men.
“This year, we have been coming out as our own by doing a lot more events and improving publicity, and people are starting to recognize that. In the past we have had a tense relationship with CAB—we were always kind of on the outskirts. But now we’re actually trying to work with them, and things have dramatically improved. I think they have a large power and the means to reach out to the campus that we don’t, and that has really been helping us.”
“As a club, we’ve also gotten so much bigger over the years—we used to have 20-25 members and now we’re at 75,” Alex adds.
As a coffee house and a community, Rodrigue’s has helped empower Fordham students in many ways. “We’re all in charge of running a business, basically. We keep everything under control,” says Alex.
Aside from just helping members within the club, Rodrigue’s provides entertaining alternative weekday and weekend programming for students. And to top it off, Rod’s can be characterized as a “home away from home” for many.
Paul and Alex were definitely able to attest to this idea.
“I clearly don’t get paid to work here, but I am still here all the time because I love it. And I want as many people to experience that as possible, so I think the ultimate goal is to always keep expanding outward and growing the audience for whatever we do,” says Paul.
“I think this place is part of an experience that you can never really get outside of college. And I think it’s worth getting, that you can come in here, see all of your friends and just hang out.”