In 1806, five Williams College students in Williamstown, Massachusetts, took refuge from a rainstorm underneath a haystack to continue their discussion of religion — a discussion that eventually led to some of the first international missions from the U.S., according to the Williams College website.
The gathering, known as the Haystack Prayer Meeting, gave the leaders of OU Baptist Collegiate Ministry the perfect name for the coffee shop they wanted to put in their new building: Haystack Coffee.
The coffee shop, which opened Oct. 1, is located directly west of Couch Restaurants and has already served more than 1,000 people, said Bronson Baker, a BCM full-time staff member of almost six years.
Haystack is the only non-university coffee option near the dorms. When BCM leadership realized they were getting a building through a “land trade” with OU, Baker said they decided a coffee shop would be the best way to reach students.
“We want to love campus and do that well,” Baker said. “And so the thought was, well, if we can put a legitimate coffee shop in and people can come in and get some really good coffee, have a place to study and hang out, great. That'll be awesome.”
Baker and BCM director Shane Kammerer then began visiting coffee shops in the Oklahoma City area over a two-year period to figure out how to create a good coffee shop, Baker said. To allow for more flexibility with hours and within the business, leadership decided not to rent the space to a third-party vendor and made Haystack a part of BCM.
Because they knew some people might not want to visit what they saw as a church, Baker and others involved with the effort made a decision to separate Haystack Coffee from BCM.
“So I would say the biggest challenge was, 'How are we going to make a legitimate shop inside another place?'” Baker said. “'Where people can feel that, and it can seem like its own independent kind of place?'”
To that end, Haystack Coffee is a separate space from the rest of the BCM building. It has its own entrance and can be closed off from the rest of the building by a set of sliding glass doors. Most of the employees are also separate from the regular BCM staff, Baker said.
In order to better connect with the community, Baker and coffee shop manager Justin Talley made an intentional effort to foster a culture with Haystack Coffee employees that focuses on the customer.
“When you care about people first, it changes everything,” Baker said. “We want our employees to take some initiative ... (to ask,) ‘Is that going to help accomplish the goal of caring about someone?’ Yes? OK, then yeah, do it.”
International development junior Bailee McCurdy, who also works for Haystack Coffee and is involved with BCM, said the culture allows employees to better connect with customers.
“Being able to just be a friendly face for anybody that’s coming in to get a cup of coffee, you kind of get more than just the coffee,” McCurdy said.
That culture created a memorable experience for advertising sophomore Aubrey Scott, who visited Haystack Coffee with a friend. The hot chocolate she ordered was better than Starbucks, Scott said.
“The girl I was with ... is there a lot, so she knows the bartender,” Scott said. “And he was just so sweet and put little foaming hearts on our hot chocolates.”
Though Haystack serves coffee to OU students, it also has another goal in mind for the larger Norman community.
“We want to serve the best cup of coffee we have because OU is in Norman, and Norman does not have very many coffee shops,” Baker said. “So we wanted to help up the coffee game and do what we can to help, and I think we have so far. It’s been pretty cool.”
Many OU students will be glad to have a coffee shop nearby, Scott said.
“I personally love to go to Stella Nova and Gray Owl, and some of my friends even go to coffee shops in downtown OKC and drive like 30 minutes to go to a good coffee shop,” Scott said. “So I think it's really good to have a coffee shop on campus, somewhere that you can kind of get away ... but it’s also really close by.”