Frothed milk, toasted coffee beans, chocolate drizzles and vanilla syrup are a golden combination for busy students. At Roger’s Café, the deep, rich scents of Portland’s favorite drink beckon passers-by and create the space for conversation.
Roger Porrett is eager to share the story of “his café” with anyone who passes through. Five years ago, students were asked to submit suggestions for the name of the new café. It didn’t take much deliberation. The students voted in an overwhelming majority to name the coffee shop after Roger, a beloved community figure who has been cleaning tables, arranging napkins and befriending students as a faithful volunteer for more than 35 years.
The day of the café’s christening will forever bring a smile to Roger’s face. “I made a speech and thanked the students,” he remembers. “They all clapped. I gave hugs and cut the ribbon. I was happy for that.”
Roger’s happiness still hasn’t worn off. In fact, it contributes to the café’s welcoming atmosphere. “Roger’s is a great place to foster existing relationships,” says Tony Huyhn, a pastoral ministry major. “It shows that our school is relationally-oriented and focused on building community.”
English major Daniel Gillespie agrees. “It’s a transient place to have a brief or long conversation,” he says. “It’s a space for a wide variety of social interactions in a natural setting.”
Many different types of chats take place at Roger’s. Sitara Kannen, an English major who works as a writing tutor, is thankful that her meetings happen in the café. “There’s something about eating and drinking together that relaxes people,” she says. “Writing tutoring is usually very emotional, but this atmosphere makes it easier for them to talk about whatever they want to. It helps them not be so intimidated.”
The atmosphere is also helpful for dispelling writer’s block. Drew Harper, son of MU professor Brad Harper, is working on a book with his dad. “Roger’s is the only place I write,” Harper says. “I told that to my publisher, and he flew me out from Los Angeles just to write at Roger’s.”
Judy Glanz, the educational ministries department director, enjoys popping into the café because of its inclusive ambiance. “I come here to meet people because I enjoy the comradery of students and faculty,” she says. “This is a central place to connect.”
Whether it’s Hebrew professors and their students gathering around the table to study, or visitors tasting their first London Fog, Roger’s is a magnet for social interaction.
That’s what drew Tirzah Allen, Master of Arts in TESOL student, to apply for a job as barista. She appreciates the opportunity to meet people she might not see otherwise. “I make sure to be intentional about connecting to the student body through my job in the coffee shop,” she says.
Roger’s Manager Annie Bell feels the same way. “Working here is an excuse to be a part of people’s everyday lives,” she says. “It’s an avenue for relationship.”
Roger often wanders through his café to ask questions, hand out napkins, show off his rainbow suspenders and make students laugh. “I volunteer because I like the students, and they like me too,” he says with a lopsided grin.
You can get a caffeine fix virtually anywhere in Portland, but Roger’s signature blend of complex academia, rich conversation and sweet hugs — from the man himself — is a brew all its own.