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Moonlight Café provides late-night food and entertainment

by Thao Nguyen  ’15

Don’t stop believin’

Hold on to the feelin’

Streetlights people…

At 1 a.m. on a Saturday night, the Ratt was full of passionate singers, or at least know-how-to-have-fun Cornell college students, singing and dancing wholeheartedly to the famous lyrics from Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin.” This was a typical night at Moonlight Café. It was chicken wings, and smoothies, and French fries. It was karaoke, and dance, and friends.

Open from midnight to 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, Moonlight Café offers late-night food options for Cornell students, such as chicken wings, French fries, hamburgers, sushi, and nachos. Moonlight Café always features karaoke and sometimes dance parties with student DJs. The two-year-old business project, run completely by students, has served over 1000 customers, with an average of 60 to 80 food orders each night.

Student entrepreneurs fill late-night need

Nguyen Vo ’12, the founder of Moonlight Café, came up with the idea late on a Saturday night when he and his friends realized driving 30 minutes to Iowa City or Cedar Rapids was the only choice for a good meal at that hour. Inspired by this need and his Entrepreneurship course, Vo hatched the idea of providing more late-night food options and non-alcoholic entertainment for Cornell students.

Receiving tremendous help from Student in Free Enterprise (SIFE) as well as his Entrepreneurship class, he and several other Cornell students opened the café in November 2010. From that point, Moonlight Café has opened regularly every weekend during the first three weeks of each block, contributing to Cornell students’ night life.

Global flavors

Not only does Moonlight provide good food quality, it also introduces culinary flavors from different countries. In 2011 they offered sushi and spring rolls, and this year they introduced nachos and fried dumplings.

Bernard DeWet ’14 comes to Moonlight every week.  “I love Moonlight Café because of the food and people,” he said. “A lot of my friends come here, and I know all those lovely people who work here.”

Coming to Cornell as a transfer student, Megan Francis ’15 talked about her first time at Moonlight Café: “It is a great place to hang out. Singing is not for me, but I love to chill out with my friends and watch people singing karaoke.”

Managed by students, for students

For students who operate the café, this is an extraordinary opportunity to acquire real business and start-up experience. Their jobs involve essentially everything to make this project successful, ranging from running the café at night to taking care of its business aspects, such as finance, marketing, human resources, customer service, and food management. Viet Do ’15, a member of the Moonlight team, said he has grown a lot after one year working in the project, earning both teamwork and leadership skills needed for his future career.

Not only does Moonlight Café show how proactive Cornell students are in pursuing what they want, it also shows how open and supportive both the school and the campus are to new ideas. From a simple but creative idea, Moonlight has become an inseparable part of the Cornell experience.