28 April 2021

Teaching by remote methods and student life on hold, right? Well, two students from the two cafés run by the student sections, Baljan and Byttan, describe how they maintain commitment and enthusiasm even in the days of the pandemic.

Picture of student cafe.
Baljan and Byttan are two student-operated cafés at Linköping University. Before the pandemic, they used to sell more than 2000 cups of coffee every day. Magnus Johansson

The student-run café Baljan and its satellite Byttan, both on Campus Valla, were forced to close in November 2020. The closure of the campus was a consequence of an increase in the rate of infection and LiU’s stricter restrictions, and the popular coffee bars in Kårallen and Studenthuset have been closed ever since. 

LiU studentViktor Larsson“Since we closed, we’ve been keeping the committee meetings going in the hope of being able to reopen sometime in the spring. But the outlook just got darker and darker, until it was almost as dark as our dark-roasted coffee, and now we’ve got our sights fixed on opening in the autumn,” says Viktor Larsson, member of the committee for Baljan and taking his fourth year of a master’s degree in industrial engineering and management.

Zoom dinners and a new committee

Student life for the group that operates the cafés has truly been different during the pandemic. Instead of holding large parties to thank all of the committed personnel, they’ve been using other ways of socialising in spite of the pandemic.

“For example, we held a formal dinner using Zoom for all committee members”, says Viktor Larsson. 

Just as in previous years, they have reached agreements with the mentor system to distribute fika coupons during the reception period this autumn, which they hope will be almost as usual. 

“We’ve collaborated with the mentors for a while now, and it’s an easy way for new students to discover student life, while at the same time Baljan and Byttan gain new customers that will, we hope, keep returning.”

Furthermore, they have recently recruited new committee members. 

“We were fortunate in being able to remain open for nearly the complete autumn term of 2020, which meant that we could establish ourselves as a coffee bar for the newly admitted students at Campus Valla. Backed up by this, and with the memories of older students, we’ve been able to recruit new folk, with a healthy mixture of young and experienced.” 

And there is usually a lot of interest in landing one of the job opportunities at Baljan and Byttan.

“But earlier in the pandemic we offered personnel who wanted to continue working here the opportunity to do so in the coming term, to retain their invaluable skills and experience for the future.”

“Lifting” a coffee machine, and something sweet and sticky

Baljan, which is a non-profit student society, was founded in 1987, and its satellite Byttan opened in August 2019. Before Baljan, each student section made its own coffee, until someone realised it would be more fun to do it together. A coffee machine was “lifted” from a student residence, and the sections joined forces to sell coffee for one crown a cup. Since then, innumerable students and the occasional LiU employee have bought a cup of coffee from Baljan and stayed for a chat. The café is student-operated, and has become a natural meeting place. Today, 21 committee members and more than 100 students are involved, usually working without salary for four half-days per term, two in Baljan and two in Byttan. In return, in additional to the thank-you parties, they receive free coffee, which should normally be drunk together with “klägg”.

LiU studentJulia Magnusson BjörkThis special LiU word describes something sweet and sticky, in other words a treat with your coffee. 

What was selling like hot cakes before the pandemic?

“The most popular at both Baljan and Byttan was the classic small coffee and a quick bite that we call ‘Delicatobollen’, which is available with either coconut or pearl sugar. But the favourite of the committee members was an almond-based cake called a ‘mazarin’”, says Julia Magnusson Björk, second-year student taking the master’s programme in design and product development, and Baljan treasurer. 

When they were forced to close, there was quite a lot of cakes and sweet stuff in stock that they couldn’t sell, so they ended up giving it away.

“We gave away everything to the hard-working personnel at Linköping University Hospital, to homes for the elderly, and clinics for women’s health.” 

The financial state of the non-profit organisation has otherwise not been affected too severely by the pandemic.

“Since we are not out to make a profit, and don’t have many fixed costs, the shutdown was reasonably pain-free for us, compared with many other cafés and restaurants”, says Julia Magnusson Björk.

While it is true that income has dried up, more than 30 years of impressive work from a series of treasurers has left the group with good liquidity that can cover fixed costs such as rent and security without problems. Viktor and Julia agree: 

“Klägg comes and klägg goes, but Baljan will ever be here!”

But how do the students get coffee with klägg now that Baljan and Byttan are closed?

“When we were recruiting the new committee members, we asked them about this. We can conclude that coffee drinking has increased markedly for some people, now that availability at home has increased. Others, in contrast, have nearly stopped drinking coffee since the only time they drank it was when socialising at Baljan and Byttan between lectures”, says Viktor Larsson.

What does the future hold for Baljan and Byttan? 

“The future is lightly roasted and full of flavour! There are many who are interested in working here to provide students with coffee and klägg, but there are probably even more who are longing to return to the ground floor of Kårallen or Studenthuset to enjoy a coffee and Delicatoboll.”

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