South Bay : Students Steamed About Espresso Bar

With the anxious fervor of coffee-lovers denied, more than 100 students at Cal State Dominguez Hills rallied Wednesday and Thursday to protest the banishment of their favorite small-time espresso bar from the Carson campus.

They still can buy a steaming cappuccino or an iced latte--but many won't. The problem, students say, is that the only brew at the school now comes courtesy of a corporate food vendor, not from a quaint little coffee stand called Espresso Yourself and its beloved owner, night-school teacher cum caffeine king Mike Ehreth.

"It was popular, and he was courteous," student body President Shawn Stevens said. "If we were short a few pennies, he was like, 'Ah, don't worry about it. Take your coffee.' "

After 3 1/2 years in business, Ehreth got the boot this summer when Food Services Management Inc. took control of the school's cafeterias. Although students had petitioned the university to bring in a new food vendor and were initially pleased with FSM, they had also specifically requested that Espresso Yourself, and Ehreth, stay.

When students learned FSM would be building its own espresso bar and kicking Ehreth out, the Student Senate passed a resolution in support of Ehreth's enterprise--to no avail.

Wanda Hill, executive director of the university foundation, could not be reached for comment Thursday. But in July she said the school was contractually obliged to allow FSM to build its own coffee stand.

The ruckus isn't simply over a corporate Goliath squashing another small business, said student Joanette Driver. The ruckus is over java that is more expensive and less tasty, and over a new stand that lacks the atmosphere of Espresso Yourself.

"They used to play rap music, jazz, soft rock--something for everyone," Driver said. "That culture is gone. Now all they have are TVs."

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