Spilling the beans on Cafe Undergrounds

Spilling the beans on Cafe Undergrounds

Brandeis is a campus that runs on coffee. From Einstein’s, to Dunkin’ Donuts, to Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee, many students depend on the rush of caffeine to get them through their intense days filled with heavy course loads and extracurricular responsibilities. One student hopes to break through the pre-existing cafes at Brandeis with his own unique franchise: Cafe Undergrounds.

The creator of Cafe Undergrounds is Ben LoCascio ’20, a junior majoring in European Cultural Studies and minoring in Italian Studies and Creativity, the Arts and Social Transformation (CAST).

So, what is Cafe Undergrounds? LoCascio calls it “Brandeis’ very own pop-up student run coffee cart,” found in Upper Usdan. “But not just any coffee … this coffee is miraculous.” Held every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and offering two products on the menu—lattes and nutella paninis—he is involved in almost every step of the process from bean to cup.

LoCascio says he provides “third-wave specialty coffee,” in which he grinds the beans, weighs out the dosage and uses grass-fed organic milk, along with placing “kindness and hope into every cup.” The pop-up cart consists of LoCascio with his espresso machine and panini press, making everything with care in front of his customers. His table is adorned with books and decorations, giving off a sense that it is a full cafe nestled into a table at Upper Usdan. “In the words of my faithful customer and friend Jonah Koslofsky ’20, ‘Heated Nutella really changes the game,’” said LoCascio.

The idea for Cafe Undergrounds began when LoCascio’s uncle gifted him an espresso machine. Testing the wisdom from the popular film, “Field of Dreams,” LoCascio quoted, “If you build it, they will come.” And they did! In 2016, he held the first pop-up event of Cafe Undergrounds, and students gathered to try his lattes.

Unfortunately, after hosting multiple weeks of Cafe Undergrounds in 2016, the espresso machine broke and the pop-up had to go on a hiatus. LoCascio, who said that faith is a major part of his life, felt the need to start Cafe Undergrounds back up again, and prayed for the return of the cafe with a new purpose. With the support and encouragement of a high school friend, LoCascio took the espresso machine in for repair.

What he originally thought was an old, run-down home espresso machine was actually a professional espresso-making machine worth around $3000! Thankfully, it was completely repaired, thus leading to this year’s re-opening of Cafe Undergrounds. “This year is the grand re-opening! Many friends and I worked on a new logo and promotional video, a social media Facebook page and an artsy Instagram,” wrote LoCascio to The Brandeis Hoot.

LoCascio wrote that his hope for Cafe Undergrounds this year is that it will “connect us all to God and prayer.” To do so, he has set up a new system for the price of his menu items. If a customer submits a prayer request to LoCascio through his prayer request box, they receive a one dollar discount for both menu items. The discount brings both lattes and paninis to $3.95 per item.

“The [prayer] request can be anonymous or people can write their names. The prayer request can be as general or specific as they like, although I am encouraging people to write measurable and specific requests so that they can really prove the power of prayer,” wrote LoCascio, who was inspired by events he witnessed over the past summer to pray more and spread that message.

In addition to lattes and Nutella paninis, LoCascio places a “You Are Beautiful” sticker on each cup of coffee before handing it to the customer. The small gray stickers are a popular worldwide phenomenon for their simple and positive message, and LoCascio hopes to spread those messages as well.

Cafe Undergrounds is more than just a side job for LoCascio, and he hopes that this year he can expand his work and be available on more days of the week. He also hopes for more students to be involved with the behind the scenes of the cafe. If you are interested in business, marketing or social media and would like to be a part of Cafe Undergrounds, you can message LoCascio through the Cafe Undergrounds Instagram @cafe_undergrounds, or his Facebook page “Cafe Undergrounds.”

Jonah Koslofsky is a staff member of The Hoot

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