Norway Valley Café missed as students swarm Buntrock

It’s Tuesday, it’s 10:15 a.m. and you need food. You just finished your 9:05 class and are thinking about your growing hunger pangs and burgeoning need for caffeine. Three lines of 10+ people apiece wait at the Cage, the bag lunch line stretches to the men’s bathroom and both lines to get into the Caf are long enough to stretch down the staircase. You decide the Caf is probably your best bet, and wait in line while trying to not get pushed or trip on the piles of backpacks which further constrict that narrow stretch. You finally reach the front and are happy when Elaine tells you to have a nice day in the sweetest Minnesotan accent, but you cannot let your guard down here. You are faced with a flurrying labyrinth full of formidable foes: headphone-wearing students racing past looking at their phones while nibbling fruit and long and intertwining lines acting as walls. “CORNER!!” someone yells behind you.

“Another way to address the problem of limited and crowded options for food and drink would be to (re)build something similar to the Norway Valley Café on the east side of campus.” – Pete Smith ’19

By 10:25 a.m. there are no trays, no forks and you’re worried that if you don’t get food, wolf it down and get through the tray-return line before 10:35 you may be late to your 10:45 class in Old Main. It is chaotic, stressful and needs to change.

As a first-year, I found myself missing meals due to Caf Anxiety, but even as a senior, that feeling has not completely subsided. In my first year, instead of gaining the “freshman 15” I lost 10 pounds, and I at least partially attribute this to my fear of the Caf. Beyond the stress of getting food and learning the dynamics of how people interact while acquiring it, you’re faced with a struggle to find a seat while being observed by everyone.

In a Manitou Messenger opinion from Oct. 11, Alexa Johanningmeier ’21 described the stress of student life at St. Olaf when she said that “having a meal in our dining hall might just give us all grey hair.” Johanningmeier made the case that we should have an additional on-campus dining hall. Johanningmeier acknowledged, however, the unlikelihood that the administration would build another cafeteria due to the fact that St. Olaf prides itself on the “close-knit atmosphere that our single communal dining hall has facilitated.”

Although I agree that students should have options that make them feel comfortable eating, I don’t think that we will be getting another dining hall anytime soon.

In another opinion in the Oct. 25 edition of the Manitou Messenger, Jacob Maranda ’22 described the potential for a much-needed additional eating option outside of Buntrock, specifically describing a potential Cage-like café in the currently unused Steensland Hall. But this wouldn’t be the first café on the east side of campus.

The Norway Valley Café lives on only in the memories of profs, in the original floor plans online and in the depths of the Bon Appetite Facebook page.

Pre-prepared foods and various beverages used to be sold on the second floor of Regents Hall, beginning after the building’s dedication in 2008 and lasting until around 2012. Now, all that remains in that space are three vending machines which pretend to fill this gap.

St. Olaf prides itself on having one, central student union that students depend on for pretty much everything other than their classes and dorms – this is a potential reason for the elimination of the Norway Valley Café. While operational costs are a valid concern, sacrificing comfort and convenience for the sake of meeting vision is not acceptable.

According to the St. Olaf website, Buntrock Commons was created primarily to meet the “need for places for students to gather, eat, relax and study,” but now this need is again proving itself to be more than what the building alone can provide.

In response to the all-too familiar stress, anxiety and inconvenience of eating at St. Olaf, its hours of operation should be increased, new setting options that provide more privacy should be considered and options that would speed up the process of getting food should be investigated.

Another way to address the problem of limited and crowded options for food and drink would be to (re)build something similar to the Norway Valley Café on the east side of campus.

I ask that these changes be considered because student life at St. Olaf is already stressful enough – eating should not be another source of stress and anxiety.

Pete Smith ’19 ( is from Stillwater, Minn. He majors in Biology and Spanish.