Emily Perlow, Mark Richman, and Joe Kraskouskas in front of the counter at the Quorum. They're all smiling.

A New Gathering Place: The Quorum

New café keeps with a nearly century-long tradition of Higgins House
August 31, 2017

On September 5, the WPI community will get a peek at the newest gathering spot on campus—The Quorum, an upscale café for faculty and staff.

As the name implies, The Quorum, located in Higgins House, is a place for collaboration and coming together. With both soft seating and dining tables and a bistro-like menu prepared by Chartwells, The Quorum, which will host a grand opening event on September 11, replaces the old faculty and staff dining room. The renovations will make the space look new, but, in fact, the use keeps with a nearly century-long tradition of this beloved house on the edge of WPI’s campus—the room was used by the Higgins family as a dining room when they occupied the home.

A shot of The Quorum.

According to Mark Richman, associate professor of mechanical engineering and Secretary of the Faculty, the new space was designed to be inviting and welcoming, and to provide a relaxed but elegant atmosphere that many have said the old dining room lacked. The Quorum will offer coffees, teas, pastries, and a lunch menu; it will be a casual place to connect throughout the day. With seating for about 25 people in the café and another 14 in the sunroom, the area is intimate and open.

“The Quorum is open to all faculty and staff and offers a place to meet for coffee, pastries, or a cappuccino in the morning on your way in or to have the panini of the day or soup at lunch,” says Emily Perlow, assistant dean of students. Perlow says it will be a spot for Gateway employees to grab a bite to eat between meetings on the main campus or for a few alums to gather. Eventually, The Quorum will host events such as lectures or faculty presentations.

Renovations in Higgins House began in July to create a space with new prep areas, dining and seating areas, and electrical and plumbing updates. Because Higgins House is on the National Register of Historic Places, the changes couldn’t upset the structure of the building. “The challenge was to design a modern space that blended seamlessly with the history of the house,” says Richman. “This is a substantial change that has the utmost respect for the building.” For instance, new beams were installed that match the original woodwork and are fitted with track lighting to align with original lighting fixtures and save extensive or disruptive electrical work. Tearing up the old carpet revealed beautiful hardwood flooring underneath. “We had no major surprises,” says Perlow.

Outfitting the space and choosing the menus was the collaborative effort of a team that, in addition to Richman and Perlow, included Joe Kraskouskas, director of dining services for Chartwells; Tanja Dominko, associate professor of Biology and Biotechnology; Nick Palumbo, project manager with the facilities division; and Sharon Jerome, manager of The Quorum. Seating arrangements feel inclusive, offering small tables for groups of two or more in the dining room and additional chairs placed in groupings in the sunroom. Richman hopes that outside seating will be added in the future to offer a view of the Higgins House gardens from the stone patio. The mellow greens and grays of the soft seating complement the stone walls and floor of the sunroom; bistro chairs and tables and a white service island complement the stone countertops and the existing dark woods of the dining room.  

The Quorum offers comfortable seating areas for faculty

and staff.

To give The Quorum an especially personal touch, faculty and staff artwork will adorn the space with rotating displays. Richman says working with artists on campus is an excellent example of how The Quorum fosters relationships. As he was connecting with faculty members on campus to find artists to show their work, he met people he never would have run into in his normal routine.

Richman sees the space as serving a much-needed purpose for faculty and staff to meet others whose campus paths would not otherwise cross. In this space, he says, they can leave their offices to come and work in a comfortable environment that is social, but is not as hectic as a hub like the Campus Center. They can also use the space to work together in small groups. Richman hopes that even faculty and staff members who come alone will do so expecting not just to meet new people but to find out about their work and to explore possible collaborations. 

The dining choices vary from items found in campus dining centers, says Perlow, and will be on dishes if dining in; disposables will be available for anyone taking their items to go. Flatbread sandwiches with upscale ingredients and salads are offered with bread and olive oil for dipping.

The Quorum will offer coffee and custom-crafted espresso-based cappuccino and latte beverages using beans sourced directly from farmers who use ethically and socially responsible methods. The beans are also roasted in a LEED Gold-certified roasting plant. The prices will be comparable to those of other locations on campus, while being reflective of the personal and attentive service guests will experience.

Although many will work or possibly hold meetings in The Quorum, Richman says the team decided against putting in whiteboards and anything too office-like. “We already have plenty of conference rooms on campus,” he says. “What we’ve needed for a long time is to strengthen the community through social interactions. First you become friends, then you become collaborators.”

Perlow agrees. “The Quorum further creates opportunities for relationship building,” she says. “It feels like a living room. It feels like family.”

- By Julia Quinn-Szcesuil