Rao’s rebranding is met with mixed feelings

By Shelby Ashline

(Daily Collegian Archives)
(Daily Collegian Archives)

After rebranding as “Share” on Jan. 2, the Rao’s cafes in Amherst and Northampton underwent significant changes, affecting the shops’ aesthetics, menus and pricing.

According to an article in MassLive, Ken Majka, co-owner of both coffee shops and Share Coffee Roasters of Hadley for which the cafes are named, said that the switch will the benefit of the customers.

“We’re very, very sensitive to people’s relationship to the cafes,” Majka said in the article. “Everything that we’re doing on the coffee side of things, interior updates – they’re all focused on improving customer experience there and upgrading quality for all of our offerings.”

When Majka and co-owner Bob Lowry purchased the two cafes from the owner of Rao’s Coffee Roasting Co., Jeffrey Waskiewicz, six years ago, they agreed to a contract with the roasting company that expired on Jan. 1, enabling them to serve Share coffee in their cafes.

Seeing how Majka founded Share Coffee Roasters alongside co-owner Patrick McCaughey roughly a year ago, it seemed only natural to use Share coffee in his cafes once the contract ran up, Majka told MassLive.

As a result of the rebranding, prices have been raised about six percent, the menu has been simplified and some ingredients have changed. For example, the shops “did away with all store-bought syrups, replacing them with house-made mocha, vanilla and locally sourced maple and ginger flavors,” according to the MassLive article.

Although the customers were largely optimistic about the change, baristas at the Amherst cafe said that many customers seem taken aback by the rebrand.

“People have just been coming here for a while, so they’re a little apprehensive,” Barista Solstice Warles said. He added that the staff has been paying a lot of attention to making customers comfortable during the transition.

Countless people have asked about the change when they approach the counter, Warles said.

From the outside, it is difficult to tell that the cafe has rebranded, due to the absence of a Share sign. Once inside, the name is quite subtly woven into the new environment, branded on the menu, wall art and coffee cups.

Some local college students and customers of Share have mixed feelings about the switch from Rao’s.

Melissa Danz, a junior philosophy and religion double major at Mount Holyoke College, has been going to Rao’s for two and a half years and said she intends to continue using the old name out of habit. She expressed discontent with the new ambience, which she said used to have a warmer scheme.

“The bathroom is now painted really bright red,” she said. “It’s a little dizzying.”

The new color scheme and wall art are coordinated to match the colors of the coffee bags, according to Warles. They are sold in red, blue, green, yellow and orange bags.

Alex Cleaves, a senior English major at the University of Massachusetts, has been a customer of Rao’s for as long as Danz. He liked that the environment was conducive to studying, an aspect of the cafe that he said has remained the same.

However, Cleaves said he prefers Rao’s old menu, as many of the tea options he once enjoyed have been eliminated.

Christopher Marcus, an online student of Prescott College and a native of Amherst, has enjoyed going to Rao’s to study for the past six years, sometimes spending all day there.

Although Marcus said that he preferred some of the paintings in the old cafe to the new wall art, he also complimented Share for its new tea, which he said is now served in “fancy trays.” He described the cafe as one of the staples of Amherst.

“It’s been Rao’s since I remember, but I don’t really mind (the change) that much. It’s the same people,” Marcus said. “It’s the only place I can go to get my work done.”

Shelby Ashline can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Shelby_Ashline.