April 13, 2013
By Adam Gerchick ’13
The line snaked from the northwest corner of Frost Library’s first floor almost to the main entrance, the Amherst students, faculty and staff watching as those ahead of them reached the counter, collected what they’d come for and excitedly left the building for their 2 p.m. classes.
Sorry, bibliophiles: They were there for the free food.
Students enjoyed baked goods and conversation
March 28 marked the grand opening of the Frost Café, the college’s fourth on-campus dining site and a dramatic addition to the library. Reminiscent of a Starbucks counter, the café offers high-end muffins and cookies and hot and cold drinks, catering to the hundreds who visit the library throughout the day.
The opening of the café represents an effort to make the library more inviting and to adapt it to the study methods of a student body increasingly reliant on laptops and collaboration—in addition to printed books and solitude.
“This generation wants more group space and less sequestering,” says Bryn Geffert, librarian of the college. “We want the library to feel like a place not only where one goes to be alone, but a place to think about and talk about what you’re working on with others.”
Geffert regards the café as crucial to fostering that inviting and communal atmosphere. To that end, the college endorsed the café’s installation as part of a package that included improved lighting, additional power outlets, more gallery space and new carpeting throughout Frost and all-new seating on its first floor. Geffert and other members of a library committee overseeing the project invited the college’s in-house Dining Services division, which manages Valentine Dining Hall and Schwemm’s Coffee House in Keefe Campus Center, to run the café.
The café aims to address demand for more upscale offerings, says Charlie Thompson, director of Dining Services: “We didn’t want it to mirror Schwemm’s. We’re not a big enough campus to have two operations serving the same thing.”
Featuring such drinks as “Frost Mocha” and San Pellegrino sparkling water (yes, there’s plain coffee, too) and snacks such as marble chip bread, the café competes just as directly with the town’s several coffee shops as it does with Schwemm’s. Dining Services bakes some of the café’s menu items, including its muffins, while it purchases others from Sweet Street Desserts, which supplies several restaurants in town.
Since its unofficial opening in late February, the café has enjoyed steady business from library patrons, including some who come to Frost simply to grab a drink or buy a bite. The café is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. each Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays and 2:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sundays. It’s closed on Saturday, when library usage is lightest. Tony Esposito, the café’s full-time manager during the academic year, reports that demand becomes strong after 6:30 p.m. and is usually heaviest around 9 p.m. Thompson says Dining Services will review the café program over the summer and make any operational changes it deems necessary for the fall semester.
When the idea for the café began to take shape, Geffert worried that noise from the eatery could prove an annoyance to library patrons. Though those fears appear unfounded—“sound hasn’t been an issue at all,” Geffert says—the library has declared its third floor to be the “quiet floor.” Geffert says he also faced skepticism from a few faculty members who questioned the proposed café’s effect on the library ambience, but the librarian says he is “heartened” to see at least one of those wary professors patronizing the café. “Every [comment] we’ve gotten unsolicited has been glowing,” he says.
On a recent Thursday afternoon, a senior English professor chatted with a pair of colleagues at one of the café’s tables, while at another, Kasope Aleshinloye ’14, sitting with several classmates, browsed through a website with his right hand and held a cup of coffee with his left.
“Frost,” Aleshinloye said approvingly, “is becoming a new hub on campus.”
That’s music to Geffert’s ears. “I like to note that the library at Alexandria had places to eat, converse and debate,” he observes. “It wasn’t supposed to be quiet. It was a place to chew the fat.”