Kolver Cafe Review

By Harmesh Bhambra '16

At the time of writing we are in the midst of Chicago Restaurant Week where some of the finest and most overrated restaurants in the city are offered to all. There is something absurd about all the fuss and the marketing. However, last week I somehow went to a brilliant dinner in Wicker Park, with Restaurant Week offering a sweet $4 discount on the usual $48 prix fixe menu. I mean: I need to stretch my student loan as far as possible.

During my biweekly visit to Hyde Park I am not presented with a similar range of choice. However, there are some lovely offerings: Z&H on 57th and Robust Coffee Lounge on 63rd.

But a key insight from spatial competition, pioneered by economist Harold Hotelling, is that location is critical to sustainable competitive advantage, and so I find myself drifting to the Kolver cafe at the Harper Center despite my best instincts.

Kolver offers an eclectic range of food: sushi, mexican, salad, pizza, burgers, and probably other gastronomy offered on Monday or Friday when I refuse to be at the Harper Center.

The burger bar is my favorite part -- decent choice, made on-the-spot, cheap. And the service is a thing to behold: when I enter within a one-meter radius of the bar, the chef immediately understands my demand and places my order with a nod of the head (grilled chicken burger in a lightly toasted bun with sweet potato fries).

While wanting to provide a complete review of Kolver, I dodged the pizza, for the umpteenth time during my one and a half years at Booth. The pizzas lie there, furtive, sweaty, surprised. They just scream tasteless toppings and soggily textured meats. Each pizza has its own printed paper box, but it looks like someone has forgotten what’s going to be inside them.

Opposite the pizzas lies the salad bar. And while there is decent choice and kale, the items appear to have been cut by scissors. There are no combinations, just cubes of...things and the cost per pound is similar to Whole Foods. I caught a second-year who sighed and reminisced about a visit to Stanford GSB. “The salad bar was amazing. They even had fresh butternut squash.”

The atmosphere is convivial and exemplifies the benefits of the Harper Center -- having staff, students and faculty in one place. There is always a certain buzz -- and plenty of children. (Where do they come from?) But while there is a certain je ne sais quoi about the Winter Garden or Student Lounge, there is an aversion to sitting in the Kolver seating area -- it is overly functional and uninspiring.

In a city where the food can be inspired, can’t the Kolver cafe just be a bit better?

Harmesh can’t find a rating system that adequately reflects his disappointment with Indian food in Chicago.


Change at Kolver

  • The current caterers were chosen because they have the capability to cater every type of event, from large formal receptions to lunch-and-learns.
  • The contract for catering is put up for tender every five years. So if you want change for future generations of Boothies, submit feedback!
  • Feedback is generally sent to the Booth listserv email address and student feedback goes through the GBC. Facilities address feedback case-by-case.
  • Facilities is planning on making a few changes in the near future, to include moving the deli to a more prominent place, looking to improving traffic flow in some of the more congested areas and purchasing new, updated soda machines.