History on the Hill: The Rez

The Rez frequently updates its characteristic menu. (Courtesy The Rez)

Among the coffee shops and other caffeine options available on campus, the Rez in the Mayer Campus Center seems to have a particularly strong hold among students. While the student leadership of this café changes from year to year, the existence of the café itself spans back in recent Tufts history.

Although not even the current managers know when the Rez was founded, it has been located in the Campus Center since at least as far back as 2002 (as evidenced by a Nov. 7, 2002 Daily article). Its name refers to the reservoir that used to be where the Res Quad is located now, according to a March 18, 2004 Daily article.

The Rez was a quieter and more ambient alternative to its counterpart, the Oxfam Café, which took its name from the charity it supported, Oxfam International. Having begun in the 1970s as a snack cart in front of Eaton Hall and eventually relocated to the basement of Miller Hall, the volunteer-based vegetarian café was characterized by its eclectic collection of students and musicians and slightly chaotic charm. According to an Oct. 29, 2008 Daily article, it hosted frequent concerts, gaining popularity as a concert venue in Boston in the late 2000s under the name the Midnight Café.

The Rez, along with other parts of the Campus Center, underwent renovations in summer 2009 to make it the space familiar to current students, according to a Sept. 8, 2009 Daily article. The renovation, spearheaded by then-Tufts Community Union Senate Vice President Antonella Scarano, aimed to increase visibility and comfort and to provide better services to students. The renovations included an expansion of work space that nearly doubled the size of the café, overhauled the seating area and replaced all existing equipment. It also made the Rez wheelchair accessible.

After the closure of the Oxfam Café, the Rez opened a second location in its place in the basement of Miller Hall in February 2010. Called the REZquad, it was was a much quieter and cozier space with an ever-changing and unique drink menu — including the “Larry Bacow” named after then-University President Lawrence Bacow — according to a Sept. 27, 2010 Daily article.

The REZquad closed in 2011 when the university chose to repurpose the area into rehearsal space for student performance groups and to house the Tufts Institute of the Environment, according to a May 13, 2011 Daily article.

Today, the Rez remains in its singular and original location in the Campus Center. It is a social space for a variety of students across campus and continues to serve coffee made from beans that are equal exchange and fair trade, according to senior Bailey Werner, the financial manager at the Rez. The café, though under the operation of Tufts Student Resources, is entirely student-run.

“Every year, there are three student managers: the operations manager, the financial manager and the personnel manager,” Werner said. “Traditionally, the managers are always seniors, and you apply as a junior. It’s always someone who has been working at the Rez for a while.”

Claire Gelbart, a senior and the Rez’s current current personnel manager, spoke about how the café changes frequently due to the quick turnover of students every year.

“Because we have a new managing team every year and because we hire new staff, the personality of the Rez changes so often,” she said. “The year that I was hired, the managers made sure that the Rez was more of a unit. I think that every year it caters to a different personality.”

Ariel Feola, another senior and the operations manager at the Rez, said that the managers hope to diversify the groups of people that come to the café.

“One thing that Bailey [Werner], Claire [Gelbart] and I wanted to bring was something new to the Rez,” Feola said. “We’ve been hoping to diversify the groups that come to the Rez, both in hiring and as students. We were looking for people who didn’t have much overlap, who didn’t study the same thing, who had different hobbies and interests and were from different social groups.”

One of the ways they hope to diversify is through hosting more events. The Rez has hosted several events in the past, including the Tufts Observer’s Story Slam in November 2016.

According to Werner, because other campus groups cannot host events at the Rez without the Rez as a co-host, she hopes the café will collaborate with more groups in the future. Additionally, Gelbart hopes to continue and make more frequent the Rez tradition of Open Mic Nights.

“Open Mic Night started the year I was hired [in 2014],” she said. “We had such a musical staff that year, and the first Open Mic Night was a folk mic night at one of their houses. It was super well-attended, so we decided to make it a Rez Open Mic Night.”

According to Feola, the Rez itself keeps an informal record of its history in the form of composition notebooks stored behind the counter. Though the records do not trace all of the Rez’s history, they provide some insight into the different styles and personalities who have managed the Rez.

“We call them Rez logs,” she said. “They’re just notebooks that are full of notes or tic-tac-toe games that workers play during slow hours. We have a lot of them and some of them just go back years.”

There are parts of the Rez that still remain a mystery, lost in the continuous cycle of students who work or frequent the café. Regardless of how it got there and why, the Rez — with its coffee, ambience, people and the impossibility of ever finding a seat there — continues to hold a unique space in campus history.

“It’s definitely a special spot on campus that brings people together,” Werner said.