Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Masked students study in Temple of Zeus in September. The cafe reopened in October, serving up soup and coffee to a quieter Klarman Hall crowd.

November 19, 2020

Temple of Zeus Returns as Steady Soup Stop

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When Temple of Zeus reopened Oct. 8 after five months without dishing up its signature soups and coffee, it was a joyous day for Zeus staff and regulars — but also the beginning of a slow semester at the cafe.

The Klarman Hall gathering spot has been quieter than usual this fall, as students trickle in to grab their paper-bagged mobile orders filled with soups and scones. Others study inside the rotunda that once brimmed with snaking sandwich lines, coffee chats and clanking ceramic mugs.      

Temple of Zeus assistant manager Fred Cederstrom explained that his team has been trying to keep the menu simple this semester, sticking to the classics — mostly bagels, soups, scones, tea and coffee — to limit waste and accommodate the decreased demand. On a normal day, the cafe is seeing a fraction of last year’s business.

With Goldwin Smith Hall classrooms occupied with handfuls of studying students and with vacant faculty offices, business this semester started off slowly at first, according to Cederstrom. But starting three weeks ago, the cafe saw an uptick in business. 

As the semester picked up, Temple of Zeus expanded their options. “We have been somewhat limited due to the lack of business,” Cederstrom said. “So we are trying to be creative and think about how we can get people interested.”

Before Zeus reopened, many members of the Cornell community missed the food that had become an important part of their routine. 

“There have been faculty that have come here for lunch for the last 20 years, and it is part of their routine and part of their lives,” Cederstrom said.

Desiree Alexander, an audiovisual collections coordinator in Olin Library, has made Temple of Zeus a regular stop during her day. She’s grateful the soup stop is back open — especially as many Central Campus eateries remain closed.

“I am really glad that there are now some options to get food from Temple of Zeus because there are otherwise really limited options available on campus,” Alexander said. “I think their soups are some of the best. They are always satisfying and healthy.”

Some Zeus soup — or as some like to call it, “zoup” — is also steeped in tradition. The cafe has been serving up tomato garlic soup for more than 40 years, and this semester was no different.

“Temple of Zeus has served tomato garlic soup every Monday since the mid 1970s, and people have come to expect that,” Cederstrom said. “And what goes well with tomato garlic soup? Grilled cheese sandwiches. It takes a little longer and a little more effort to make, but it is delicious and comforting.”

While Zeus has run on mobile orders this semester, Cedestorm said he misses the community that formed through the cafe over the years. Students are not able to work at the cafe this year, though he said they still visit four to five days a week.

“One thing that is really nice about coming to work is seeing all the student workers come back. We miss them,” Cederstrom said. “The people who work here love working here. It’s a very nice social atmosphere.” 

Choklay Lhamo, a member of the Temple of Zeus kitchen staff for 21 years — and the cafe’s lentil soup namesake — said it’s the people who keep her coming back each year.

“I really love the people I work with,” Lhamo said. “And for the people we serve, especially for vegetarians, it is hard to find good and healthy food, so we try to give them the best food possible. It makes me happy when people are eating healthy food.”