A new cafe with a groundbreaking business model has selected Providence as its first U.S. testing site. Deliberately situated in close proximity to Brown University, right off the corner of Thayer and Angell Streets, SHIRU CAFE is slated to officially open its doors for business this month.
The Japanese word “shiru” means “know” and “knowledge” in English according to Alex Inoue, general manager of SHIRU’s U.S. operations. The mission of parent company ENRISSION Inc., he says, is “to create a place where students can learn about the professional world and envision their future careers.” To accomplish this goal, each SHIRU location opens near a prominent university and provides complimentary beverages to its students, as well as a WIFI connection, outlets, and comfortable spaces to study or hang out. Only students, faculty members, and staff/administration members at universities are allowed to frequent the new cafe by registering via an app. Non-student Brown community members can purchase $1 drinks.
How can SHIRU offer free beverages? Through sponsorships from corporations eager to cultivate relationships with students that they hope to someday employ. Over the school year, up to 30 companies will schedule small group meetups and information sessions through the cafe with interested students. And cups feature a rotating selection of sponsor company logos.
The first SHIRU CAFE in Japan opened in October 2013; the first one in India opened in April 2016, and others have since opened on the Indian Institute of Technology’s campus. Now the company is expanding in the U.S.: in addition to Providence, branches near Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Amherst are set to open by Summer 2018. American sponsors have yet to be announced, but those in Japan include Microsoft, Panasonic, Accenture, Brother, Nissan, and Suzuki.
“We strongly believe and hope that [our cafes] will bring students great opportunities to gain knowledge about companies, society and themselves,” Inoue says.
SHIRU Providence, with a 2,500 square-foot space, offers typical American cafe fare: coffee, espresso, lattes, and juice, as well as baked goods and pastries (though the latter do cost money). To-go cups cost $1.
The Providence SHIRU is directly adjacent to Brown University’s career services office “just by luck,” Inoue says. At the time of this interview, he was set to meet with the CareerLAB to explore potential collaboration opportunities.
When asked if the potential public response to a Brown-exclusive cafe concerns them, “We worry,” Alex admits. “We will have to explain our business model, that we are sponsored by many companies for free drinks – that is the reason why we can provide them. But we know that there are a lot of other good coffee shops right nearby.”