With nearly 70,000 students on its downtown campus alone, U of T has endless food options to serve students as they run from class to class during the week. While students often frequent places like The Arbor Room, Café Reznikoff, and Ned’s Café to grab a bite to eat or sit with friends, there are also other cafés — ones run by students — that offer cheap food and community-building events for students. 

The Varsity spoke to the students who run Caffiends and Hard Hat Café — two on-campus cafés — about what goes on behind the scenes of running a café and what they offer to hungry people on campus. 


Nestled on the first floor in the northwest corner of Old Vic at the Victoria College campus, Caffiends has been around for the last 12 years. It’s open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday, during the school year. The café is run by a team of two co-managers, 15 executives, and over 150 student volunteers. 

At Caffiends, students can find a coffee for just $1.50 or a medium matcha latte for only $4.50. All drinks are served in donated mugs to prevent the waste of takeout cups. Caffiends focuses on sustainability when sourcing its products. It also previously served exclusively vegan food options for years. However, it recently got a new supplier for food items and now has non-vegan food options like croissants, white cheddar chive scones, and cookies. These food options are around two dollars. 

Students often ask how Caffiends can sell its products for so cheap. Elaine Lee, one of the current co-managers, gave some hints in an interview with The Varsity.

Since Caffiends is volunteer-run, Lee said, it has minimal labour costs and little overhead. It’s located in Victoria College, so the café does not have to pay rent. Since Caffiends’ overhead costs are low and it does not aim to make a surplus, menu item prices have very small mark ups — which is perfect for students. 

Every semester, Caffiends runs a fundraiser for a charity organization that the executive team picks. For the fundraiser, the café’s sustainability co-directors put together specialty drinks, the proceeds for which go toward the selected organization. This semester, the proceeds go toward the Canadian Centre for Refugee and Immigrant Healthcare. 

Caffiends’ executives also organize different events in the space throughout the semester for volunteers and community members to enjoy. This past semester, they had a crafts night and an origami social. 

Additionally, cafés are just a charming space to hang out. Caffiends has several seating options, including a cozy couch and two tables, perfect for studying or hanging out with friends while sipping a warm, affordable cup of tea. 

Lee thinks Caffiends is an excellent social space: people often run into acquaintances, and there is a significant internal community within the café. She also told The Varsity the café aims to keep the barrier to volunteering as low as possible so it’s accessible to students. 

To volunteer, students just have to follow Caffiends on Instagram and fill out the Google form it releases before the start of each semester. 

Hard Hat Café

Just a little southwest of Vic, student-run Hard Hat Café sits in the basement of the Sandford Fleming building, in the ‘pit’ — a space in the basement of Sandford Fleming where engineering students often hang out. Run by two co-managers and 12–14 cashiers, Hard Hat offers a variety of drinks, snacks, and quick bites. 

The two co-managers for the 2023–2024 school year — Kelvin Lo and Edlyn Li — spoke with The Varsity about what goes into running an on-campus convenience store. 

They start the store’s planning process in the summer when they develop strategies for sales or select new products they want to introduce. They then hire cashiers to staff the store and form an executive team who help with finances and planning for special events. Afterwards, they ensure the store is stocked during the year and prepare student events. This year, they held a spicy noodle eating contest that Lo said was very popular. 

Additionally, this year, they expanded the quick bites they serve by introducing air-fried chicken nuggets and hash browns. They also started a Vietnamese sandwich delivery team, which Li said has been very popular. They began delivering sandwiches last semester as a pilot program. Li would pick up the sandwiches twice a week from a shop on Spadina and Dundas called 源香 Banh Mi Nguyen Huong and deliver them to Hard Hat Café where students can then purchase them. When the managers found it was successful, they created a new team especially for delivering the sandwiches, and now offer them daily. 

Lo first got involved at Hard Hat in his second year. He was a commuter student and found that most clubs and student groups operated at night when he had to commute. Hard Hat was one of the few things he could get involved in because it was open during the daytime. 

By the end of his second year, he said that he “really [liked] the overall vision of it, of providing affordable and quality foods.” However, he felt he had some ideas to improve Hard Hat, prompting him to apply as a co-manager. 

Li became one of the co-managers this year after a member of U of T’s Engineering Society (EngSoc) asked her to apply. As Hard Hat was a place she had often frequented during her first two years of university, she said that she found the whole process of running a store “really neat.”

EngSoc funds the café. At the beginning of the year, the co-managers put together a budget for Hard Hat, which EngSoc then approves. The budget includes labour costs, stock, and supplies for events they want to run throughout the year. 

At the end of the academic year, Hard Hat runs a sale with progressively increasing discounts before the summer comes, so you should stop by and check it out to get some cheap drinks and snacks!