September 24, 2007

Zeus Serves as Sustainable Sanctuary

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Temple of Zeus café, located in Goldwin Smith Hall, cultivates a loyal customer base through emphasis on vegetarian foods and a friendly atmosphere.
The origins of Temple of Zeus, an independently run eatery affiliated with the College of Arts and Sciences, can be traced back roughly 45 years to its first location in what is now Kaufmann Auditorium. Zeus, named for the statues of the West Pediment of the Temple of Zeus in Greece that shared the space in Kaufmann, “grew up from an empty room in a basement,” said Thomas Walls, manager of the eatery. Zeus “was nothing more than some tables, chairs and coffee.” That was the way the café ran for 30 years until the College of Arts and Sciences hired Walls 13 years ago in an attempt to turn Zeus into a viable business.
Today, Temple of Zeus is a fixture on campus, providing alternative dining options with a unique menu.
“The intent was to offer a lot of vegetarian options,” Walls said, “at a time when there was very little to be had on campus as a vegetarian.”
This form of dining is familiar territory; Walls is a former employee of Moosewood, a local vegetarian restaurant that focuses on sustainability.
“Vegetarian food is good for me,” said Emily Parsons ’08.
Parsons, who maintains a vegetarian lifestyle, said she enjoys the sandwiches and the “safely vegetarian” soups every day at the café.
The vegetarian soups offered by Zeus have created one of the most loyal customer bases on campus.
“I didn’t see soup as becoming a main theme of Zeus,” Walls said, but now, the café cannot keep up with the demand.
Zeus prepares approximately 220 servings of soup daily, yet continually runs out shortly after noon. The recipes for most of the soups, including Armenian Lentil, Creole Red Bean, Curried Split Pea and Gingered Sweet Potato — to name a few — can be found on Zeus’ website.
“Once you make a recipe and serve it to the public, it belongs to everyone,” Walls said.
Customers agreed that the vegetarian-focused menu, although still containing non-vegetarian options, is a main attraction of the café.
Prof. Jenni Cragun, English, loves their soups because “they change everyday and are very affordable and delicious too.” Still, Cragun stressed that Zeus also carries non-vegetarian items such as turkey and roast beef sandwiches. Zeus’ menu features a variety of options, including egg and tuna salad pitas, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, BLTease (a twist on the traditional sandwich, using tofu instead of bacon) and salads.
Likewise, Aubrey Winkler ’08, an employee of Zeus, agreed that “it is really easy to find vegetarian food and I know it’s cheaper.”
Since Zeus is not affiliated with Cornell Dining, it does not accept CornellCard or Big Red Bucks. This fact does not seem to deter customers; Winkler even admitted that she “likes that it’s not affiliated with Cornell because [she doesn’t] feel like a slave to the University.” The loyal customers don’t seem to mind either, as Winkler admits to seeing “the same people all the time.”
Temple of Zeus also promotes the value of natural eating and sustainability through price incentives to practice environmentally sound behavior. A sign hangs by the kitchen stating, “Save a tree! Bring your own container and save 15 cents on coffee or soup.” In addition to price breaks, Zeus’ website provides the link to in an effort to endorse sustainability and environmental consciousness.
Not only do the unique food options draw in customers, Zeus’ friendly atmosphere is appealing as well. Part of the inviting ambiance stems from the visibility of the managers, Nyima Dondhup, Chocklay Lhamo and Thomas Walls. Dondhup and Lhamo are often seen in the front, interacting with the customers.
“Regular customers think they’re married,” Wells joked. “It lends a certain character to the place.”