In 1985, during the fall of their sophomore year, Willamette students Eric Fishman and John Donovan realized that their campus had a problem: there was nowhere for students to hang out in the evening, much less late at night. After the cafeterias closed for dinner, there was no place for a hungry student to grab a snack without going off-campus.
Eric and John believed that they had the solution to this problem: a student-run coffee house that would provide food, beverages, and musical entertainment to Willamette's campus. The following spring, they pitched their idea to then-president Jerry Hudson, supported by adviser Bob Hawkinson. To the surprise of many Willamette administrators, President Hudson supported Fishman and Donovan's idea, and gave them the start-up cash to make their vision a reality.
In the fall of 1986, the Bistro opened its doors for the first time. Armed with their grandmothers' recipes, hand-me-down cafe tables, and a group of 10 enthusiastic student staff, Fishman and Donovan laid the groundwork for what has become a Willamette institution.
Ten years after the Bistro's founding, it was renovated and expanded to its current size. By this time, Open Mic was already a long-standing tradition, and students were almost unable to imagine a Willamette without the Bistro.
The Bistro is coming on its 40-year anniversary since opening its doors to the Willamette Community. The Bistro is now a self-sustaining business, almost entirely financially independent from the University. Well over 400 Willamette students have spent a portion of their college years serving lattes behind the counter and baking bars in the kitchen. The Bistro today is a testimony to the innovation, hard work, fun-loving spirit, and “Bistro love” of each of those students.