Junior Tim Navarro, majoring in economics and computer science, has worked as a barista at The Meantime since his first year. The Meantime has become his source of financial stability over the years.
“Lately, everything that I’ve been doing at The Meantime is to get the rent money and utilities bill in — to keep surviving here in Chapel Hill during this time,” he said.
After five months away from The Meantime, Navarro is back at work.
The Meantime closed last March when students left campus for spring break, but the pandemic kept its doors shut longer than expected. In May, the members began making plans to reopen.
Chief Operating Officer Owen Conley said the Meantime’s executive members held weekly meetings, open to the baristas, to brainstorm ideas.
He said they joked about cutting down a bush outside the Campus Y to open a takeout window. But in time, they began to seriously consider the idea and asked the University for help — even consulting UNC’s arborist.
“I think it made the University respect us a lot more,” Conley. “It showed that we were taking initiative and thinking creatively and thinking about safety.”
Conley said he led efforts to reopen. He talked to local coffee shops like Open Eye Cafe, Johnny’s Gone Fishing and Cocoa Cinnamon for advice and to discuss strategies about adjusting operations in order to open safely.
Additionally, Conley said he and other executive members worked with Campus Y staff and Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Christopher Payne to get approval from Provost Bob Blouin for The Meantime to reopen.
“It was stressful,” Conley said. “We had to make a lot of decisions pretty quickly because of the nature of the pandemic and how fast things were changing over the summer.”
An additional hurdle was a need for staff.
Eight baristas graduated last spring, so new employees were hired over the summer — before knowing what operations would look like in the fall, Conley said.
“We hired first-years that ended up going home, so they couldn’t work here anymore,” he said. “It was a very confusing time, kind of making decisions on the fly.”
The Meantime opened two weeks later than planned due to delays in getting the final approval to reopen and the emerging COVID-19 clusters around campus.
“The only thing we’re struggling with is bringing people in," Conley said. "Sales have decreased quite drastically. We’re currently doing 10 to 15 percent of what we would normally be doing during the week. Honestly at this point, we’re just trying to break even.”
Within the first two weeks of reopening, Conley said that The Meantime decreased its daily hours and the number of baristas working at one time.
Last week, Navarro said he was scheduled for about 22 hours. This week, he’s scheduled for eight.
Now that safety protocols are in place and it's open for business again, Conley said The Meantime’s latest focus is on marketing to the Chapel Hill community and people off campus to increase sales.
“It’s definitely harder now that there’s not as much foot traffic on campus,” Conley said.
Navarro said he misses seeing his regular student and faculty customers.
“I haven’t been seeing the same people that make working at The Meantime so enjoyable,” he said.
Despite its struggle with sales, The Meantime’s goals haven’t changed. Its latest focus is prominent social justice movements, Conley said.
Over the summer, the organization donated $5,000 to Take Action Chapel Hill, Groundswell Fund and The Marian Cheek Jackson Center —all organizations that support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Conley said that he hopes that The Meantime can begin to make enough revenue to stay open.
“It’s not just a job for a lot of us — it’s something we really care about,” he said.
The Meantime is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.