On Call Café finds a home in Old Union

Dec. 7, 2023, 11:06 p.m.

On Call Café, the student-run pop up that appeared in early November, will operate from an Old Union location starting in spring quarter, leadership announced. The cafe will continue as a pop up through winter quarter.

During its opening nights, hosted at the Haas Center for Public Service on Nov. 6 and 7, On Call drew over 1,000 students, with lines extending well beyond the building entrance. The café offered free refreshments and drinks named after the Stanford neighborhoods — a Ginkgo pumpkin spice latte, Magnolia PB&J toast and Wisteria tea — and made by student volunteers in a re-decorated Haas Center.

Now, the pop-up success secured a transitory storefront in Old Union beginning in spring 2024. The café also plans to host pop-up weekends similar to the November opening in various spaces across campus next quarter.

“The real dream is to create a space that feels inviting for both old and new friends to get together and have conversations, making it true to what student culture is and what it can become,” said Leo van den Daele ’24, a co-founder of On Call.

As the initiative works toward a long-term home, van den Daele said he envisions a creative space, possibly including student art decorations, performances by students and an in-house store for student designers to sell their products.

On Call, he said, was inspired by Stanford’s “hello spirit” of greeting everyone you meet. Experiencing the isolation on campus during the COVID-19 pandemic, he wondered to himself, “What’s the thing that brings us together again?”

Together with Peyton Klein ’25 and Matteo Perper ’23, he started On Call Café as an answer. The team hosted a pilot pop up during the spring 2023 quarter, which around 100 students attended.

Klein, a co-founder and executive director, called the spring launch a “case study” for On Call to demonstrate student need for community-oriented areas on campus to the administration.

“What we’ve heard from students is that they don’t want just pop-up events,” she said. “They want a legacy institution and community space that we can all come to rely upon and build memories at.”

Klein added that On Call has plans to establish a “larger, more robust café space” in the future after operating in Old Union.

Along with students making and serving orders, On Call Café will operate with the backing of the University. In a bill passed unanimously on Nov. 29, the Undergraduate Senate approved funding and support to go toward On Call and its food service. The University will financially support the renovations needed to create a functional kitchen, dining and gathering space for On Call’s new home, according to van den Daele.

“As a Senate, we prioritize supporting students, and we appreciate and admire the work that On Call is doing right now in offering accessible and affordable dining options,” said Senator Dawn Royster ’26. “When we heard that it was going to be student run and that it was going to be something innovative compared to our current offerings, we were very quick to support them.”

According to van den Daele, the student initiative worked closely with the Office of the Provost to ensure the café could secure building space.

With an influx of attendees this past November, van den Daele said the team worked together to solve unexpected challenges, such as managing the limited electrical systems and heaters at Haas to make the food and drinks.

“We’re so excited for [the storefront plans] to come together and for it to be a more official operation,” he said.

While students worked as volunteers during On Call’s first pop ups, the initiative looks to pay its team of 40 student workers with sales revenue in the future. Though this marks a change from the first pop ups, van den Daele underscored plans for the items served to be both affordable and filling.

“We want to support [students] in ways that are deemed fit. Having prices on the menu can help keep this as a student-run organization,” said Maclaira Camper ’26, an On Call head chef responsible for curating the café’s menus.

For her, On Call’s menu selections — often variations of toast and hot drinks — represent “childhood classics, with a little twist.”

However, “when we added certain ingredients like miso paste or sesame seeds, using a balance of factors, I think we’re able to achieve an unusual play found in those different tastes,” Camper said.

On Call, Camper added, looks forward to introducing new options in the winter, with frosted marzipan and cranberry sauce toasts as possible inclusions. Favorites from the first dates of 2023, such as the grilled cheese and Mediterranean toast, will make their return.

While the menu is crafted with memories of childhood in mind, the process for determining which menu ideas ultimately make it onto the serving plate is far from simple. Klein creates a list of ingredients, spreads and toppings. Then, a small tasting team holds a series of “tasting sessions” to determine the exact taste they want to achieve, trying various combinations of flavors during each session. When samples match the team’s standards for quality and taste, they become featured on the menu.

Camper described On Call as “cozy” and “homemade,” and van den Daele characterized the café with a related word: “friendship.” As On Call Café moves toward having more solidified roots on campus, van den Daele said On Call can represent what he views makes Stanford special as a place of learning and personal connection.

“Stanford is an educational institution. It’s a place to learn from brilliant people, but it’s not just that,” van den Daele said. “It’s the conversations you have with your friends that are going to outlast any of the classes you take.”

A previous version of this article misspelled Maclaira Camper’s last name. The Daily regrets this error.

Jack Quach ’27 is a beat reporter, covering research and awards, and staff writer for News. He is from San Francisco, CA, and in his free time loves cheering for his hometown sports teams, exploring the outdoors, learning new recipes and being the official™ S.F. expert/tour guide for his friends.

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