Growing Your Own Cafe the North Texas Way
by Michael Wolman, Denton Science Café, Denton, TX
Departing from the Eagle County Airport at the start of the ski season is quite a site as the nouveau riche arrive from all over the country for their first crack at Vail’s virgin powder trails and the accompanying wine bars. Many appear agitated as they are not used to sitting in steerage, but there is no choice as it is a capacity issue.
My wife and I were there as guests of a hotel chain that awarded us a free trip with the condition that we arrive and leave before the hectic and profitable ski season.
We boarded the plane after a week of thrift shops, hiking, and explaining to locals that we were not there to ski. Five minutes before take off I finished the second part of the ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ four part trilogy and began rummaging through the sleeve on the seat in front of me for the Airline brand friendly magazine. I stared from the back in typical Hebrew fashion, and quickly found an article on something called Science Cafés.
I was intrigued. Science classes/lectures in casual environments for the lay science enthusiast. I like science. I like bars. Therefore I like Science Cafes.
It appeared as though the idea of the science café was brought to popularity by NOVA, a program I have been addicted to ever since their exposé on EO Wilson and his torrid love of ants. I ripped out the page and would scour the website (http://sciencecafes.org) once I arrived home to North Texas.
I found meeting in Ft. Worth and drag/lead/followed some friends and coworkers to the get together. When the event was over we thought we could do it as well. We could start a science café, but closer to home.
‘We’ in this case is Joseph Jackson and me. Both science enthusiasts both not professionally involved or trained in any particular field of science.
We contacted the webmaster, a friendly fellow enthusiast named Graham, and began making plans after a quick reply. Immediately we struck gold when Love Shack in Denton, TX said that we could host our event there on the last Sunday of each month.
Love Shack is a Burger spot owned by Chef Tim Love, a Denton native that won a Chile Pepper contest against Masaharu Morimoto on Iron Chef America in 2006. The fare at Love Shack is great and the set up, which includes a small stage, overhead and PA system, was perfect.
We then reached out to the colleges in town (North Texas University and Texas Women’s University) to ask for speakers. The first responders were graduate students in the chemistry department at UNT. We would find the initial communication process challenging as it straddled finals and the holiday season, a three week period in which Denton is a ghost town. Eventually, we had a confirmation from student Kate Kerr, who agreed to speak about lasers.
The vision of our production was to have a speaker go on for 30 minutes or so and have other fun, science based things on the docket. We purchased a periodic table and would raffle it off; a good way to collect new email addresses. We also created a ‘This Month in Science, Human Flight’ list which I would read off before the speaker would take the stage. The small but ferocious crowd loved these gimmicks, so we concluded that they will remain part of our show.
We now had a venue, gimmicks and a speaker. Now, we just needed people. If we build it, will they come? What was the demand for a science café in Denton, a city of two universities and countless coffee shops, used book stores and barfly friendly watering holes? We decided to approach marketing from two fronts, the hip social networking route and a garage band style flyer route.
Flyers were made in a hectic morning between meetings. The most difficult step was finding the color printer at work and using it at a time when no one else was around. For social networking, we started a Meet Up page (www.meetup.com/Denton-Science-Cafe) and pushed it on our Facebook pages as much as possible.
I did not want to appear as though I was tricking people into coming, so I was very modest about my expectations. I wanted people to show up because they were genuinely enthusiastic about science and in the Denton area, not because they thought it was going to be something that it was not.
We had a lot of people accept on Meet Up and on the Facebook invite I created, most of which I assumed would not show. It reminded me of high school when I would hand flyers out to friends rock shows only to have the red prints discarded by people that were most enthusiastic about it. I say this with the understanding that people have lives to live and with a great appreciation for those that did attend.
We have another scheduled event, a good program, a top notch venue, many interested speakers, and boundless enthusiasm for science. Things are looking slightly inclined.