“There’s nothing to do around here on the weekends,” students will complain before they ditch their dorms and commute back to their homes after their Friday classes end. Despite the fact that Arbutus is quite literally a short walk away, students have not considered the community a favorite hangout spot. Arbutus’s aesthetic gears more towards blue collar working class with bars, liquor stores and consignment shops in contrast to the college town appeal of Towson.
Arbutus has several notable attractions such as the Arbutus Oak, the Guinness Open Gate Brewery, the Patapsco Valley State Park and the Hollywood Theatre. But convincing students to take the stroll to Arbutus has been in the works for over a decade. The relationship between Arbutus and UMBC has not always been amicable, with UMBC’s research park garnering significant controversy before its construction in 2013.
An article from the Catonsville Times ten years ago showed that students were interested in hookah bars, late-night coffee bars and organic markets, yet these do not currently exist in Arbutus. The students who are attempting to build the UMBC student-led cafe OCA (Office of Community Affairs) Mocha hope to change that.
The students who spearheaded the campaign have high hopes for the project. “We wanted to revitalize the interactions with UMBC and the communities around it,” explained one of the students involved in the project, media and communications studies major senior Michael Berardi. Biology and finanical economics major Deep Patel, another senior and student leader, said, “As we reached out to different community organizations, that’s when we started to get the idea of a coffee shop and a meeting space to get people really involved with each other.”
The project got started in an Entrepreneurship 340 class taught by Gib Mason, though Mason considers himself more of a facilitator. He commented that he “taught [the students] a creative problem-solving methodology, they applied it to a problem that was in front of them and went through all the steps to get to where they were at the end of that semester, which was OCA Mocha. Credit goes to them, without question.”
On Thursday, March 14, the cafe’s steering committee hosted a partnership gathering which celebrated its return to construction. The event featured several activities, including community feedback and a ceremonial signing.
OCA Mocha will be placed straight in the middle of Main Street Arbutus, surrounded by Objects Found, Sorrento’s and Taste Tea. The cafe’s road was a rocky one. After being formulated over the course of several semesters, the location that the student committee purchased was left vacant. According to Mason, this was because of funding: UMBC as a state-run college cannot fund a for-profit business, so the students had to get assistance from the Arbutus community in order to move their project forward. For now, OCA Mocha remains under construction.