Willamette University Coffee Shop Celebrates 20 Years

The Bistro Reunion [invitation]Wanting a fun place to hang out on campus, in 1986 two Willamette University students approached then-President Jerry Hudson about opening a coffee shop. Twenty years later, the Bistro is thriving as the ultimate place for students, faculty, staff and even community members to sip a latte, talk with friends, listen to music or meet for a class.

The Bistro, located on the first floor of Putnam University Center, will celebrate its 20th anniversary Sept. 29 and 30 with a series of reunion activities. Alumni who have worked there over the years will return to share their memories. Some will even hop behind the counter from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 29 to relive their days of serving up joe. Folk band Garett Brennan and the EbGbs will perform a free concert that evening from 7:30 to 11 p.m. Brennan is a Willamette alumnus whose college band was a fixture at the Bistro in the early 2000s.

Other alumni visitors will include John Donovan and Eric Friedenwald-Fishman, the students who started the shop. As freshmen at Willamette, they decided students needed a late-night place to meet for coffee. They spent much of their sophomore year presenting various coffee shop plans to the college president. After getting approval, they spent a work-filled summer getting the place ready to open.

Donovan and Friedenwald-Fishman, both Portland residents, went on to start Metropolitan Group, one of the country's leading social issue marketing firms.

"Whenever I walk into the Bistro, there are people studying together, tables of students and faculty interacting or people playing music," Friedenwald-Fishman said. "It seems like it still draws a diverse group of students from all parts of campus who might not have otherwise interacted."

Since its opening, the Bistro has become a meeting place for the campus community. Many faculty members stop by in the morning for a scone or coffee, and some hold classes there and have specific chairs they call their own. Students often hang out there, and regular concerts and open-mic nights also bring in community members looking for live music.

Students who work at the Bistro prepare all the food themselves -- including cookies, scones, burritos and sandwiches, often based on family recipes passed down from former employees. They also run the entire business themselves, giving them experience in entrepreneurship, said Bob Hawkinson, dean of campus life and the Bistro's first faculty advisor.

"The Bistro is a central meeting place, and it's a place to relax," Hawkinson said. "It meets a need of students, faculty and staff for a nice, friendly, cohesive coffeehouse atmosphere."

For more information about the reunion, go to