About a half-dozen students from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Student Government Association rolled up their sleeves this weekend to apply fresh, white paint onto the cinder block walls of a new cafe coming to Arbutus.
The students, working on Saturday, were painting the interior of OCAMocha, a space leased from FSJ Inc. by UMBC for $1,800 per month that will become a full-service cafe and community meeting space.
“It does build this connection between campus and Arbutus,” said UMBC math education major Carly Socha.
While there is no official opening date for the cafe, campus officials are pledging to have it open by the the school’s Welcome Week in late August.
In the meantime, the building, located at 5410 East Drive, will be open and hosting some students working the Arbutus Arts Festival, on Sunday, May 20.
OCAMocha will be UMBC’s first permanent space in Arbutus. In addition to the cafe, the building will host the Office of Community Affairs (the “OCA” from the name), an organization whose mission will be to bring together community members to work on items of “mutual interest,” according to university officials.
“It’s really conceptualized as a center that is about not only the university but is driven by the [surrounding] communities,” said Lisa Akchin, associate vice president of engagement at UMBC. “I don’t think we would be successful if this were simply a university office.”
The plan has been in the works since May 2017, when OCAMocha was just a working name. The 4,250-square-foot shop, located in what was once a hookah lounge, will include a full-service cafe, meeting rooms and public Wi-Fi, said Joe Regier, executive director of transit at UMBC.
Regier said students involved with the project are still sampling coffees and deciding where to source roasts, though they want it to have a local or regional aspect.
OCAMocha will sell baked goods from The Village Junction Bakery-Cafe, located on Sulphur Spring Road, and samples or catering from other local restaurants. There will be indoor and outdoor seating, and nearby Chesapeake Bank is donating a portion of a parking lot it owns to be converted into even more outdoor seating, Regier said.
Although the exact details are still being worked out, Akchin said the intention isn’t to open a business that will compete with stores and restaurants already operating in Arbutus. Any profit generated will be turned back into the operation.
“We see this as an opportunity for local restaurants and food vendors to sample their food to our students,” Akchin said.
UMBC is already taking other steps to better integrate its students, faculty and staff into Arbutus.
The campus shuttle system will be expanding, creating a loop between Arbutus and the UMBC campus that takes just 15-20 minutes, Regier said. The campus is working to expand its bike-share program, and the cafe space likely will have bike racks outside, too.
The cafe part of the new space will hire staff, though campus officials said that won’t be limited to students; anyone can apply to work there.
Having an off-campus space for students could be a boon for the Arbutus business district, too — and that’s by design.
Krishna Gohel and Michael Berardi are two of the UMBC students behind the OCAMocha idea. They said the concept came from students in an entrepreneurship class at the university, with the professor acting more as a “facilitator” than an idea generator.
“We see OCAMocha as our minimum viable product,” said Gohel, who is graduating and will be attending law school at the University of Maryland in the fall. “We worked hard to put something together for the community.”
Bettina Tebo, president of the Greater Arbutus Business Association, said tying the campus and Arbutus communities will help with economic development in the area.
“I’m hoping that it will encourage the students to come down and spend some time and spend some money in Arbutus,” Tebo said.
She said Arbutus is ready to become more like a college town, or a place like Ellicott City or Hampden in Baltimore — areas that are walkable and where visitors can peruse shops and restaurants.
“I’m very happy; all the hookah lounges and all the vape shops are gone,” Tebo said. “I hope that it also helps to turn the tide a little bit, and helps us attract better businesses for East Drive that can be supported by both the university and the community.”