The Fix is In: Repair Café Comes to Cal Poly

Student holding dremel
Mechanical engineering student Quinn Horak works on repairing an electric Dremel in preparation for the first Cal Poly Repair Café on Sunday, October 8, 2023. Horak started the San Luis Obispo chapter of the International Repair Café organization.

UPDATE: A nice turnout and a strong success rate left Cal Poly Repair Café organizer Quinn Horak excited about the concept, thankful for his volunteers and inspired for the future.

“Everyone was amazing and helped to make this event a great first start for our group here at Cal Poly,” Horak said. “In total, we helped fix 22 items over 4 hours — resulting in approximately 5.5 items fixed per hour. We also had over an 80% fix rate!”

Horak said the success of the event was a catalyst for planning future Cal Poly Repair Cafés.

“As far as our next steps go, I will be working with other interested Cal Poly students to, hopefully, form a club dedicated to holding these events quarterly,” he said. “Look out for a date in early January for our next event!”

Got a weed whacker that won’t whack, clothing in need of a needle and thread, a coffee maker that fails to percolate or a lamp that no longer lights up the dark? If so, third-year mechanical engineering student Quinn Horak may have a free fix to those and a myriad of other broken household items: The Cal Poly Repair Café on Sunday, Oct. 8.

Hosted in partnership with the Cal Poly Amateur Radio Club and open to students and the public, the first Repair Café in San Luis Obispo will run from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday in the Bonderson Projects Center. Parking is free in the adjacent H2 parking lot.

Horak, who organized the event by forming a Cal Poly chapter of the international Repair Café organization, said among the items welcomed in the café for a free fix — or at least free advice — are:

• Bicycles

• Clothing repair and sewing projects

• Small household appliances like toasters, irons and vacuum cleaners

• Electrical appliances like coffee makers, blenders, clocks and fans

• Computers and computer-related items

• Small mechanical items like weed whackers, cordless screwdrivers and sanders

• Lamps, luggage and purses

“To my knowledge, the only thing we can’t work on is motorized vehicles, so no cars, motorcycles, scooters or stuff like that,” Horak said. “Basically, we’ll take a shot at anything else.”

Horak said if the item can’t be fixed on-site, people will leave with a solid plan on how to proceed.

“Chances are we won’t have a lot of the parts that need to be replaced, especially in regard to computers and electronics, but we will help you order the parts and give you free advice on how to finish the fix,” he said. “Repair Cafés around the world claim a success rate of partially or fully fixed items at about 70%. So, most folks leave with their item fixed or at least with information on how to order a needed spare part and complete the repair at home.”

Horak, who grew up in Santa Rosa, California interested in all things mechanical, learned about Repair Cafés when a roommate asked if he wanted to spend a few hours volunteering at the Five Cities Repair Café in Grover Beach.

“I didn’t have anything else planned for the rest of my weekend, so I went and had a really good time,” he said. “I was able to help fix a toaster, a Dremel tool and a TV. It just felt good!”

A shop tech in the Mustang ’60 Machine Shop, Horak said it was the Grover Beach café that inspired him to start one in San Luis Obispo.

“I looked around and noticed how nice of a space we have here in Bonderson and felt it would be a shame if we didn’t bring it to Cal Poly,” he said.

Horak, who said he is always a little shocked and saddened by the number of appliances he sees tossed in the trash at the end of the school year, said he was also motivated to start the café by economics and the environment.  

“Hopefully, the cafe empowers people with confidence to gain the knowledge to repair things by themselves,” he said. “Then, instead of going to Home Depot or Best Buy every time something breaks, people can open it up and take a look inside and save themselves some money — or a lot of money — and, of course, maybe save the planet a little bit.”

Where to find the Repair Café:

The cafe is being held in the Cal Poly Bonderson Projects Center off of University Drive. Free parking is available all-day Sunday in lot H2. To get to lot H2, enter campus through the Highland Drive entrance and take a right on University Drive.

For more information:

By Dennis Steers