Katie Zhang / Sun Dining Editor

October 9, 2019

Salute to Café Jennie

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I got my job as a writer for the dining section of The Sun about the same time I got my job working at Cornell Dining’s Cafe Jennie, each about 17 years after developing my love for food. In one, I wrote of my appreciation for Ithaca’s food scene, defined by restaurants, diners and groceries that never cease to surprise and impress as they rival the best of big cities and small towns across the country. In the other, I learned to appreciate both the world of food service and, perhaps above all, my team in that little corner of The Cornell Store.

The cafe’s convenient location and superior coffee (Peet’s beats Starbucks any time) draw long lines that are frequently short on patience. Jennie rises to the challenge every time.

As the line begins to swell, the streamlined system whose efficiency I rarely have time to marvel in kicks into action. Orders taken at the cash register are whisked off to the one of three locations (or more, “Would you like a drink with that sandwich?”) for preparation. A blend of black-clad students and full-time United Auto Workers workers then ignore the instruction sheets hung up by their stations as their tasks flow freely from muscle memory, and usually have an order fulfilled within just a couple of minutes, if not less. Throughout the day, shelves are constantly restocked, drinks made, food prepared and floors swept, all with a brisk professionalism that comes off as seamless to the customer.

But most cafes and, frankly, most stores do the same. It is inherent to the business of running an operation like this that action and service must be smooth and confident, supplies must be maintained and speed must be assured. Cafe Jennie excels, as it must.

It is not, then, a store of seamless sales and satisfaction that I am proud to be a member of, but this particular team. So raise a glass of Peet’s cold brew coffee (or plastic, if you forgot to bring your own cup for ten percent off) to Jennie.

To the ones who wake for the opening shift, losing sleep to provide the caffeine that makes up for your own lost sleep. To the ones whose relentless smiles are not uniforms worn just to face the customer, but involuntary swells of the cheeks that grow from a colleague’s well-placed joke. And to the warm welcome and warmer embrace each new hire encounters, then pays forward in turn.

I was asked to fill a slot to write in the Dining section this week on any topic of my choosing. With the option of dozens of restaurants to review on the table, my mind leapt immediately to the cafe at which I have spent more time than any other.

As a customer, come to find a reasonably-priced breakfast or lunch, excellent coffee or impressive blended drinks. And whether new hire or long time employee, if you find yourself working at Cafe Jennie, expect to find a community.

So to the friendly management, savvy supervisors, clever baristas and charming coworkers: Thank you and keep it up; I look forward to seeing you next week.