Alvin’s Café has changed since Chartwells became the university’s food service provider at the beginning of the academic year. But, amidst the changes Chartwells will bring, the name “Alvin’s” will remain the same.
Chartwells replaced Sodexo as the university’s food service provider in July. The company sources seasonally and locally, and tailors their cuisine to the demographics and food sensitivities of each campus, according to its website, chartwellshighered.com.
Chartwells officials decided to replace Alvin’s Café with a Chick-fil-A and a market area. Officials agreed to keep the “Alvin’s” name after pressure from alumni to do so, making it The Market at Alvin’s.
Alvin’s Café was named after Alvin Naifeh, a former OCU student and employee. He was known throughout the campus until his retirement in 2005. He died at the age of 76 on Sept. 5, 2009.
Alvin was known to be high-functioning mentally handicapped, according to Student Publications archives.
Alvin and Jerald Walker, OCU’s 16th president, were roommates in the ‘50s, according to the archives. When Walker became president in 1979, he told Alvin he would have a home at OCU for as long as he was alive, the archives read.
Dr. Mark Davies, professor of social and ecological ethics, knew Alvin since Davies was a student in the mid ‘80s.
“He worked in the mailroom for the vast majority of those years, so he’d be all over the campus delivering the mail,” Davies said.
Alvin had an “incredible memory,” Davies said. He said Alvin learned everything he could about movies and television shows and loved to show people the movie posters on the wall in Alvin’s Café.
“He loved it when people asked him movie trivia facts, because he had an answer to almost every movie trivia question,” Davies said. “When Alvin’s Café was first created, it had all of these movie posters on the walls, many of which he had collected over the years.”
Davies played a major role in the naming of Alvin’s Café in 1987.
“My junior year, in Student Senate, we talked about how big of a part Alvin was in our campus. We said, ‘We have to do something just to show him how much we appreciate him, and create something that would be a legacy for Alvin on campus,’” Davies said.
University officials at the time were renovating the downstairs of what later became Tom and Brenda McDaniel University Center to create a space for people to eat and hang out.
“While the renovations were going on, the Student Senate thought, ‘Well, why don’t we call it Alvin’s?’” Davies said.
The school worked on the renovations before Davies’s senior year, and the area was dedicated as “Alvin’s Café” early in the semester.
“I was student body president at the time, so I got to be the student who spoke on behalf of the student body and dedicated the space to Alvin,” Davies said. “Alvin was there and had a grin about as big as you could have. He really, really appreciated it.”
It wasn’t clear whether the cafe would be still called Alvin’s when students were told last semester that the university center would get a Chick-fil-A.
“When the administration first announced the renovations, it sounded like Alvin’s was just going to be turned into a Chick-fil-A,” Davies said. “Those who knew Alvin were not happy about that, and we let them know.”
Davies spoke to Cary Pirrong, director of alumni engagement, who also knew Alvin. They agreed that the name of the cafe should stay connected to Alvin.
“Whether the administration considered changing the name or not, due to the number of people calling the school, the school said the area where the Chick-fil-A would be will still be called Alvin’s,” Davies said.
“Alvin wasn’t a wealthy donor and he wasn’t a power player in Oklahoma City, but he exemplified the OCU community, and we didn’t want him to be lost by changing the name.”
Pirrong knew Alvin since Pirrong was a child.
“If he met you once, he would know you for the rest of his life,” Pirrong said. “Literally anytime you saw Alvin, he would call you by name. He knew everybody on campus, and pretty much everybody loved him.”
Pirrong said Alvin was one of the most beloved OCU alums.
“Other than Kristin Chenoweth, he’s probably one of the most beloved students we’ve had. Really, it’s different in that everybody loves Kristin, but very few people actually know her. Everyone loved Alvin and everyone got to know him,” he said.
Alvin was named “Mr. Homecoming” in 1995.
“That was the largest ovation I have ever heard on this campus for anybody. The place just erupted when Alvin’s name was pulled,” Pirrong said. “I’ve seen huge people perform here, but that was still the loudest ovation I’ve ever heard. That just shows you how loved he was by everyone.”
Asked one time why he enjoyed being at OCU so much, Alvin said: “It’s because I like everyone, and everyone likes me.”
By Staff Writer Sophia Babb