“We have never advertised,” says Café Opus co-owner Larry Bender. He looks out over the café itself, a room full of Hamilton students sipping coffee on overstuffed couches. “We just let the space sell itself. And it’s been a soft sell.”
Bender and Sarah Goldstein are the owners of Opus I and Opus II, a pair of small but extraordinarily popular independent eateries at opposite ends of campus. In addition to providing students with a ready supply of high-quality, well-brewed caffeine when they need it most — “it gets a little crazy around exam time,” Goldstein says — the cafés serve as social hubs, meeting spaces and performance venues. “The space is really malleable,” Goldstein observes. “You can go off in the corner and have a nap, or sit up front. Students make it into what they want.”
Goldstein and Bender stress the importance of student contributions to the identities of the two cafés. They employ an all-student staff of baristas, with each generation training those who follow. “There’s a sense of community just because it’s students who work here,” says Katie He ’11, who has worked at Opus I since her sophomore year. “It’s a big part of introducing the College,” she continues, noting that the cafés have not only become a creative and friendly mainstay on campus but also standard stops on tours given to prospective students.
Bender agrees that Café Opus says something fundamental about the Hamilton community. “Hamilton has allowed a grassroots initiative from Opus,” he says. “It opens the door to letting students express themselves.”