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Temple of Zeus feeds Cornell for more than 50 years

Nearly 900 customers pass through the lines every day at the Temple of Zeus café in the Groos Family Atrium of Klarman Hall. That’s a far cry from its humble origins in 1964 as a coffee and donut operation run by building maintenance staff.

These days, you can find on the menu creative soups, a really healthy sandwich or salad with local breads, meats, cheeses and vegetables; yogurt from Ithaca Milk; and summer fruit from local growers.

“It started because students felt intimidated going to faculty members’ offices for meetings, so they wanted a space to meet on neutral terms,” said Henry Crans, director of facilities for the College of Arts and Sciences, who managed the café from 1979 to 1995.

The café’s name comes from the plaster casts that lined the walls, replicas from the Temple of Zeus in Olympia purchased by Andrew Dickson White in 1881.

“Although it was basically a storage room converted into a coffeehouse, Temple of Zeus was definitely a cool place,” said Bill Cowdery ’73, M.A. ’81, Ph.D. ’89, supervisor at the Sidney Cox Library of Music and Dance. “All of the top professors were there, and the top campus radicals.”

Since the café moved to the Klarman atrium in 2016, its business has more than tripled, said Keith Mercovich, café manager. Mercovich manages four full-time staff, two student managers and 50 student workers. The atrium has 170 seats, which are often full.

“We offer food that’s not offered anywhere else on campus,” Mercovich says, so the café attracts a crowd interested in eating healthier, local foods. “I’m pretty passionate about food and what’s in it. I want everything here to be something I would eat.”

- Kathy Hovis

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Jeff Tyson