Old B Kitchen Closes Doors After 40 Years


Photo by Hazel Galloway, Online editor

Left to right: College sophomores Juna Keehn and Leora Swerdlow, College junior Luke Fortney and College senior Beth Minahan cook topless at Old Barrows co-op. The co-op’s kitchen will close this semester and the building will undergo renovations this summer.

Jenna Gyimesi, News Editor

A passerby can often find students sprawled across Old Barrows co-op’s front lawn with makeshift plates and homemade food on the days Oberlin’s erratic weather permits. But pizza night and special meals will soon be a thing of a past for this co-op’s members with the deteriorating kitchen shutting down for good at the end of this semester.

Meetings and negotiations concerning Old Barrows, better known as Old B, began in fall 2015 and lasted throughout spring 2016. The decision to close Old B came about as a consensus between the College and the Rent Contract Negotiation Team, which was composed of OSCA student staff members and a negotiator at large.

“They would meet once a week with the College and give the OSCA Board updates,” said Bridget Menkis, OSCA Board chair and College senior. “Because it was a negotiation between the College and OSCA, the board wasn’t that involved in voting in the actual outcome, so ultimately it did come down to the contract negotiation team. The board definitely had a lot of influence in the proposals the contract negotiation team presented to the College.”

Menkis added that Old B’s dining closure is bittersweet, but that the decided negotiations were ultimately for the best.

“It seems a little bit sad,” she said. “This feels a little bit like we are taking that away from OSCA. It seems like the wrong direction to go in to some degree, but overall I think these negotiations were the best choice to make.”

The co-op will transition into a housing-only cooperative next semester. Although members of Old B are disappointed that the dining co-op is closing after a 40-year lifespan, they expressed pride over the lasting reputation the co-op will leave behind.

Old B was founded as a co-ed dining co-op in 1972. It currently houses 14 students and has a dining capacity of 85 people. As a residential space, Old B has long been known as a safe space for women and trans people. According to Wells, Old B will undergo substantial renovations this summer, some of which will transform the dining space into more of a food-storage area rather than a kitchen.

“The building will be renovated this summer 2017, adding seven housing spaces and remodeling the kitchen space so that it is no longer used for large-scale cooking as it is now, but will serve more as food storage — thus, the space will become the new home of our Brown Bag Co-op,” Wells said.

Wells said that despite the dining co-op’s closure, the decision and new renovation will open new doors and benefits to the OSCA community.

“There are quite a few benefits that come out of it for OSCA,” she explained. “The previously mentioned expansion of Old B housing, major increase for BBC membership [and] small increases for membership of all other dining co-ops,” Wells said. “I believe this was the big bargaining chip that earned OSCA a guarantee that Keep [Co-op] and Harkness [Co-op] will be renovated in the respective summers of 2018 and 2019 to become ADA-[compliant].”

Some co-opers from Old B said they were understanding of the decision to close the dining element of the co-op.

“We know why it was closing,” Old B co-oper and College junior Sally Slade said. “Obviously we want OSCA to be as accessible for everyone as possible. The kitchen is in rough condition, and it’s falling apart. It’s kind of shitty that the option was to increase accessibility or close the co-op.”

Other co-opers from Old B were nostalgic, but remained hopeful that the co-op would leave its mark in OSCA history for its unique dining experience.

“[Old B] leaves a legacy of commitment to culinary experimentation and decadence,” said Michal Schorsch, Old B co-oper and College junior. “I got the pleasure of attending a typical Old B dinner. I was welcomed onto the porch and was assured that what separates Old B from the rest of OSCA is a dedication to cooking the most delicious and extravagant meals.”

Slade and College junior Camille Pass, who are head cooks at Old B, will cook the last special meal for the dining co-op tomorrow at 6:20 pm.

“It will be the last time I ever cook in a co-op,” Slade said. “There’s no pressure about it. I don’t think anyone is pressuring us to make it the best meal ever. Everyone is going to be happy to eat there and celebrate.”

“The concept will be like a southwest Chipotle burrito bowl but also with lots of extras, including churros and mojitos,” Pass added. “Old B is known for going over the top. We are a gourmet co-op. You join Old B for the food; you do not join Old B for the discussion. … It feels like a family. It’s one of my favorite things to cook for people who love to eat.”

Many current members feel that they will have a difficult time transitioning into alternative dining options. Schorsch emphasized that Old B is known for its food, not its food policy.

“I personally resent that so much of meal time is discussion,” Schorsch said. “That is not a pleasant way for me to enjoy my food. I think many people at Old B agree with me and appreciate the sacred silence and socializing that is prioritized at Old B.”

Other Old B co-opers echoed similar sentiments.

“I will be in BBC next year so I expect things to be a little more isolated/less social,” Old B member and College junior Isabel Boratav said. “Most seem to feel that that family and community is irreplaceable. … There will never be another Old B. Even if there is a mass exodus to another co-op, no other place can absorb what it is.”

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that OSCA’s Rent Contract Negotiation Team was composed of College junior Tara Wells, College sophomore Emmanuel Navarro and double-degree sophomore Rory O’Donoghue. In reality, the membership of the group fluctuated with changes to OSCA’s student staff throughout the negotiation period — Zo Paul, Hannah Rosenberg, Natalie Hartog, Joe Martin, Miliaku Nwabueze and Kian Williams were all members at varying times in the negotiation process.