BEC coffee shop leaving on Rockey Grounds

After 15 years in St. Thomas’ Brady Educational Center, the Rockey Grounds Espresso Bar will be replaced this fall with a university-run coffee cart.

The university made the decision this spring as part of a plan to use internal service providers, said Bruce Van Den Berghe, associate vice president of auxiliary and administrative services.

<p>Rockey Grounds will be replaced by a university-run coffee cart that will feature an expanded menu. (Katie Broadwell/TomieMedia)</p>
Rockey Grounds will be replaced with a university-run coffee cart that will feature an expanded menu. (Katie Broadwell/TommieMedia)

“It was just a move on the part of the university to internalize as much of the services that could be provided on campus,” Van Den Berghe said. “We thanked them for their years of service to the university, its faculty, staff and students, and informed them in line with the terms of the agreement that we were giving them their formal notice that their services would no longer be required.”

Independent of the St. Thomas dining services, Rockey Grounds was operated by owner Lorna Rockey under the terms of a month-to-month lease.

Rockey said she was stunned when she received what she called “a very impersonal, short letter,” informing her that the lease would be terminated July 30.

“It came out of nowhere, they gave me no heads up at all,” Rockey said. “After 15 years of service, you’d think if they were thinking of making a change they’d give you a year or at least a semester heads up to tell you, ‘Hey, we’re phasing this thing out, you might want to look for other venues.’”

Rockey said she believes the change was handled unprofessionally and unethically by the university, since she never received a phone call or was asked to meet with St. Thomas officials to discuss the change.

“It just is not reflective of anything to do with a Catholic university to be treated this heartlessly. I’m really surprised,” Rockey said.

Van Den Berghe said he didn’t believe the situation was handled unfairly and that nothing in the agreement was violated.

“Things like this are never easy to handle. A business decision is made and then business processes kick in,” Van Den Berghe said. “It’s not as though they had a 99 year lease and we elected to end it prematurely.”

The new coffee cart will open at the beginning of fall semester  and will be run by student employees, said Todd Empanger, director of dining services. Empanger said it will serve Starbucks products and accept cash and eXpress dollars.

Students should not expect a reduction in quality and the new cart will feature an expanded menu, said Gayle Lamb, cash operations manager for dining services.

“We’re just in the process of hiring our new staff person and she comes from a coffee background,” Lamb said. “We have a lot more resources than what Rockey Grounds had, to be able to supply a more expanded menu. With the support of Starbucks, we’ll have their full product line.”

Sophomore Tommy Glass, a frequenter of Rockey Grounds, said he’s most concerned about losing the uniqueness of Rockey’s coffee cart.

“One of the biggest things, obviously besides having a good cup of coffee, is losing just the entire atmosphere,” Glass said. “Even if you were just passing by, it was a really nice touch to the BEC. I know plenty of my friends even formed friendships with her and they are just outraged at the situation.”

Brent Fischer can be reached at

18 Replies to “BEC coffee shop leaving on Rockey Grounds”

  1. Lorna and her staff will be greatly missed in the South campus community. They have provided faculty, staff, students and visitors with more than great coffee–Rockey Grounds has been a hub of meaningful conversations and supportive relationships. Lorna has a great knack for introducing people who might not otherwise connect; I am grateful for the times that she has introduced me to UST folks and visitors who have enriched my life. Many of my students have told me that Lorna was a primary factor for staying in a class or staying at UST; her support and encouragement as they left a difficult exam or a less-than-successful audition kept them going one more day or one more semester. It has been great fun to be at Rockey Grounds when alumni have brought friends and family members to meet her and to again thank her for being such a valuable part of their college experience.
    Thank you for enriching South campus for so many years, Lorna.

  2. I am disappointed in UST’s administration for deciding to sterilize campus culture in favor of a meager few extra dollars in their pocket. When coupled with the administration’s decision to banish off campus food from club meetings, this shameless grab for money greys out a few more of the remaining colors of the UST culture.

  3. The money grabbing continues. St. Thomas is looking more and more like a giant corporation and less and less like a university that has its unique little touches and flairs. Rockey Grounds will be greatly missed among the South Campus community. Way to go, St. Thomas.

  4. Rockey Grounds was such a nice little eclectic, different patch of color in an otherwise pretty bland campus–I’m sorry to see it go. Bryce and Stefan, I agree with you. St. Thomas is effectively creating a monopoly over all the food services on campus, which only means that prices will stay ridiculously high, and quality will plummet. (Scooter’s food anyone???) With no shred of compitition, UST can hose students for every single cup of coffee or club pizza we get. Of course, it’s the university’s decision, but really? Isn’t tuition high enough already, without watering down EVERYTHING on campus to make a few extra bucks?

  5. Apparently, in light of recent changes from the administration, Saint Thomas has no interest in the thoughts and preferences of actual students. We have to ask ourselves then, if the administration’s priorites do not lie with providing a good environment for students (academically and otherwise), where do they lie?

  6. You guys (and lately, Tommie Media in general) are being ridiculous.  If you hate UST so bad, maybe you should think about transferring elsewhere… I’m sure you’ll just love the food that Aramark Foodservice provides to the U of M, or that U of M catering provides to campus clubs and events.  How about writing a positive story about the homemade food you get at places like the Binz (which would never happen in most college dining halls) rather than continually bashing every move they make.  And.. from a reasonable standpoint, there’s no reason why UST should be allowing another foodservice company to make a profit on their campus.  If there’s money to be made in a UST building, it belongs to UST.  If you don’t like it, eat off campus or transfer to another college.  The people making these decisions are much wiser than the students when it comes to running an efficient campus (even though you all think you know more than them… you don’t). Whining daily on this website will get you nowhere.

  7. well mark,
    how would you explain keeping coffee bene(“another foodservice company”) around after only ONE semester of service in the main library, but closing a15 year cafe without even a forewarning? how would you feel if it were YOU who was given the boot without cause or provocation or even a chance to say “goodbye” to all your patrons? there’s whining, and then there is a question of ethics and justice. a Catholic university is required to hold this bar higher than just a mere” for profit” business. have you read the mission statement of UST lately? maybe you should. when you take the humanity out, you’ve lost more than just your moral compass.

  8. Lorna will be missed greatly. As an older student, I will miss the wise and wonderful words of Lorna and most importantly her compassion and friendship, she had a business called Rockey Grounds and was the rock of BEC. Mark…1. clearly you never went to Rockey Grounds, because if you had you might have been as outraged as the rest of us. A university that professes to be Christian and a hub of culture sure isn’t acting like one! I for one will NOT be buying anything from the Overpriced Dunn Bros. cart, not to mention the fact that they made a weak cup of coffee….and don’t even get me started on the tea! 2. I don’t think standing up for what you believe in needs to be called Whining…I call that being a duty, a duty to friends and strangers. Lorna lived by these values every single day. SHAME ON UST!

  9. If there’s anything we’ve learned about the “people making these decisions”, it sure ain’t that they’re any wiser than a bag of bricks. Even if that wasn’t the case, your argument from authority embarrasses you.

  10. Oh how I long for the days when my biggest problems were about how UST spent my student activity funds or about who was allowed to sell coffee on campus.  

    The economy is in what appears to be a nosedive, and like many I am clutching to my job hoping that it will be there tomorrow (almost exclusively so I can pay off my student loans).   So, to you, current UST student de jour, I offer this bit of advice, get a grip.  Remember, (A) events and decisions made don’t occur in a vacuum, they are made based upon many factors and I am sure, aren’t taken lightly (B) The picture being painted by these comments about the UST administration is emotional and irrational, they are neither Lex Luthor nor Mr. Burns from the Simpsons, instead they are in fact a group trying to provide a quality education, with a generous financial aid package to most, and a top notch student life experience (cough, new student athletic center, cough) and to do all this, sometimes tough decisions have to be made.   In parting, I suggest those of you who are getting so wound up about all this to do one thing, tighten up your seat belt because your re-entry into the atmosphere of the real world outside of the bubble of UST once you graduate will be a bumpy one.  

  11. So much for honoring Catholic teaching. “nothing in the agreement was violated” according to Bruce Van den Berghe. Just because terms weren’t violated, doesn’t mean those terms, or the way the termination of Ms. Rockey’s services was handled, was ethical or moral. “It’s just business” Auxiliary Services would say? Well, when you work within the auspices of an institution that espouses Christan ideals, you need to do better. If you can’t do that, then drop the ‘Catholic University’ talk. Being a ‘Catholic University’ goes beyond Catholic Studies programs (of which I’m an alumnus), theology classes, and opposition to abortion, and birth control.
    Shame on you. Once again, I’m ashamed to be an alumni.

  12. The last vestige of “local” business will be missed at UST. No non-UST funded venues. No Peace Coffee. No outside food. Whats next every textbook has to have a stamp from the bookstore? Sarcasm aside and tough decicions in mind, it is still too bad things are headed in such a direction.

  13. I was fortunate, because I became acquainted with Lorna before the shutdown of Rockey Grounds (I might even call myself a friend, though this may presume too much). She was an excellent and admirable person with lots of strong opinions (most of which I disagreed with!) who created a wonderful atmosphere and, by all accounts, sold great coffee. I was unfortunate, though, because I only met Lorna a few months ago, and now I won’t get the chance to get to know her better.

    Contra Dan Dwyer, I think the image of the administration as Mr. Burns is the most appropriate image suggested so far. A lot of decisions the administration has made lately have been stupid, inconsiderate, wrongheaded, irresponsible, and occasionally unethical, but this is the first decision I can point to that is plainly uncharitable and un-Christian. Anybody from Catholic Studies (of which I am a current student) to Justice And Peace Studies to Economics to bloody Music Business can see that.

    In a word: I’m glad I’m graduating soon. We’ll miss you, Lorna.

  14. What a shame! I am teaching on the south campus for the first time in a few years, this semester, and was looking forward to frequenting Rockey Grounds. I do believe the board and administration are authentically attempting to keep costs down in order to lower the curve of tuition increases and benefit students. But this is so sad.

  15. I am greatly saddened to hear that Lorna and Rockey Grounds are being replaced at St. Thomas by a multi-national mega-chain like Starbucks. Some of my best memories of south campus involve Lorna’s uncanny ability to bring people together a congenial, collegial, and local atmosphere that cannot remotely be replicated by a mega-corporation.BEC will look even more like a mall than before, and everything that was unique, local, and personal about Rockey Grounds will be replaced by a faceless corporate entity. Oh yes, the menu will be more extensive, how lovely–but is that really where it’s at? I think not; in fact, I think it’s far more about corporate interests, big business, and penny pinching at St. Thomas than about the “menu” available to students. And I speak from personal experience. I know everyone will miss you, Lorna, as I do. And I’m so sorry to hear how they’ve treated you. And, what next — a Wall Mart on the quad?

  16. As a wandering neighbor who stumbled upon Rocky Grounds some years ago I am disappointed that Lorna will not be returning to the North Campus. Surely there was a lack of responsible behavior to a woman who has been committed to serving the north campus at St. Thomas University. I have nothing but respect and support for Lorna and Rockey Grounds and the friendly outgoing support that was served with each cup of coffee. Obviously, there was a dilemma here, but I think there could of been a more positive and ethical way to handle the situation of terminating the lease to such a long term fixture on campus. Lorna seemed so responsive and nuturing to all her patrons on campus and was great at promoting and supporting all that was St. Thomas University. From the article, it seemed that it was not relevant to discuss with Lorna the termination of her lease and her livlihood. How sad, disrespectful, and degrading to such a nice person. In these tough economic times, I hope Lorna will find a niche for dispensing her humor, sage advice, and coffee in the near future.

  17. From the outside looking in…what a gift she seems to have been for so many! Our family has traveled the rocky road of unemployment, I understand tightening the belt. After home, I get to cut it at work too, no easy decisions. It appears, that after 15 years of service, she was dismissed with a generic letter? Shame! Or: fear? and the pink slip is the easy way out. That would not fly at my worplace of 800+ employees. Is this a big deal in the grand scheme of things? Depends on your perspective. Remain smug, uninterested–part of the mission statement, right? The belt is still tightening…I hope all you 15 year employees in there, or out here, don’t have to face the kick in the guts of unemployment or having your daily reason to get out of bed axed. It doesn’t just affect your wallet and your family, it is an arrow to the heart for those who give a crap about their job. Check the stats for those over 50 looking for jobs, it seems dedication has become too expensive to retain. The intangible benefits are not valued. What did we learn about investing more than just hours in a job? Don’t bother. How hard would it have been to recognize this individual, work out a celebratory exit? What was the fear? Good luck to you Lorna, keep the faith! And keep filling the pot so we can stir…

  18. You know, the timing on this one just seems a bit odd. It seems as though they were trying to get rid of the whole situation over the summer when no one was there to notice. Seems a little sneaky. Bruce Van Den Berghe also comes across a bit heartless with the quotes, but of course that could just be the writing. A bit sad considering that though UST is a business, it also seems to always tout the community aspect. Just my 2 cents.

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