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Co-managers Larry Bender and Sarah Goldstein remember traveling into town for ice every morning and keeping extra supplies in their car during the first days of Café Opus. Some 26 years later, the much-beloved coffeehouse has grown — its original location below McEwen Dining Hall expanded and Opus 2 snug within the Taylor Science Center atrium since 2005 — and the café has developed a cult following among students, alumni, faculty, and staff. 

That’s why the end of the 2020-21 academic year also marked the end of an era with Bender and Goldstein retiring. A new vendor will soon be named to take over operation of the two coffeehouses, continuing the tradition begun by its co-founders, in time for the start of the fall semester.

Cafe Opus co-managers Sarah Goldstein and Larry Bender say thanks. Video: Dave Yi ’23
café Opus memories

Say congratulations and thanks or share your favorite Café Opus memory with us. We’d love to see your Opus photo, too!

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For Bender and Goldstein, creating a legacy that would live on for future generations wasn’t always a given. Café Opus’ co-founders were not confident in the venture’s success when they opened for business in 1995. “Coffee hadn’t really hit the area; the whole idea of a social space based around coffee or whatever, really it didn’t exist at Hamilton at the time. This was a trial [when we] started out,” said Bender, who originally predicted the venture might last five years.

Explaining the duo’s inspiration for the café’s coffee, food, and culture, Goldstein said, “I think that Larry and I saw something Hamilton needed before Hamilton knew it needed it, and we brought it. And we stuck with it, and I feel proud of that.”

The co-founders attribute Opus’ longstanding success to student support. Bender said that “the enthusiasm, the warmth, the stimulation that the students brought to the space” motivated and enabled him and Sarah to continually breathe life, passion, and fresh chocolate chip cookies into the café.

It’s a home away from home, and we’ve developed a family attitude, a family atmosphere, that a lot of them find this as a safe space.

And for the students and alumni who regularly met with friends over brunch, enjoyed a mango brie panini (created by Hilary King ’05) every chance they could, and bought a coffee the night before a test, it was Opus that made some of their most important Hamilton experiences possible.

Cafe Opus
Larry Bender and Sarah Goldstein at home behind the counter. Photo: Nancy L. Ford
Cafe Opus
Students lounge at Café Opus. Photo: Nancy L. Ford.

Epitomized by Opus 1’s comfy, well-worn, eclectic chairs, Bender and Goldstein always strived to make Café Opus feel like a world away from the stressful, busy day-to-day of college life. “I think students love Opus because it’s comfortable, and I think that comfortable is what we were going for. Like, your home. Your home away from home,” Goldstein said.

Bender agreed. “It’s a home away from home, and we’ve developed a family attitude, a family atmosphere, that a lot of them find this as a safe space.”

related: Opus Turns 20

With little fanfare — but tons of warm beverages and mango-brie paninis always served with a smile — the eclectic coffeehouse celebrated two decades on the Hill.

read hamilton magazine feature

Upon gearing up for their retirement, Opus’ managers said they would most miss the students. Bender cited as highlights of his career “the constant evolution that’s gone through from 26 years ago to now, the music that they play, the conversations that we have. … They kept us young.”

Bender and Goldstein said they’d like to thank all who supported them, particularly Nancy Soule, who ran Opus for 13 of its years, former Hamilton President Gene Tobin, Irene Brogan-Leone, and again, the students. 

As for what’s next, they are still figuring that out. “It’s our summer,” Goldstein said, looking ahead to an open, calm next few years. Whatever the future has in store, both are content with their decades of memories and the lingering smell of freshly brewed coffee.

 Sarah Goldstein and Larry Bender
Cafe Opus co-managers Sarah Goldstein and Larry Bender pose for a photo in May 2021. Photo: Nancy L. Ford

Café Opus Memories

Say congratulations and thanks or share your favorite Café Opus memory with us. We’d love to see your Opus photo, too!

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Larry & Sarah - Your warmth and kindness made Opus a real family and the heart of Hamilton for so many of us. You taught me so much about leadership and friendship, about responsibility and accountability. And most importantly you taught me that there’s no such thing as too much cheese on a panini (a Nina Panini, to be exact). ‘Thank you’ doesn’t seem to be enough. I wish you all the best in whatever comes next. Lots of love & gratitude!

— Nina Sharma ’01
 

Sarah and Larry! You were my family during my years at Hamilton. You gave us all keys and told us we could come get whatever we needed — to stay awake, to fight off hunger, you took care of us and gave us real skills and experience. We shared so many laughs and deep conversations too. I love you both and send all my well wishes for a much deserved retirement.

— Elena Wood ’11
 

I remember waiting on my Opus latte when, strangely Chip from the audio/visual department was wheeling out a cart with a TV on it. I said “Chip what’s going on?” He replied, “something happened in New York City and I was told to have TV’s around campus.” That’s how I learned of the 9/11 attacks. I then retrieved my latte, placed it right into the garbage (offending the barista) and ran back to my room in North to instant message my brother who worked in the World Trade Center. Phone lines were down so IM was the only way. Though not the best memory of Opus, one that is certainly seared into me.

— Justin Ginsberg ’04
 

Dear Larry and Sarah, thank you so much for everything — I loved being a part of the Café Opus team, and it gave me a sense of belonging.

— Katherine (Kat) Kenney ’08
 

Cafe OpusGreat memory of going to Opus with my daughter for a chocolate muffin when she was an “outie” at the childcare center, then on campus in Root Res Hall. When we moved to Clinton, I knew life would be okay as long as I could get good coffee at Opus. We’ll miss you, Larry and Sarah!

— Amy James
 

Dearest Larry and Sarah, without you my Hamilton experience wouldn’t have been as special and as fun. I have such great memories of you and our conversations. It was a joy to be part of Opus, and it felt like a second home. I wish you a wonderful retirement and hope to visit you in the near future if you’re still in the area!

— Gloria Quintanilla
 

Larry and Sarah! I have so many good memories behind the counter at Cafe Opus! It’s hard to imagine Hamilton with you! Thanks for everything.

— Karsten Lund ’03
 

Larry and Sarah taught me the value of having caramelized onions on hand to start a dish, how to encourage mangoes to ripen by storing them with bananas and the excitement of leftover lunches saved for employees coming on shift. They trusted me with hummus, Friday lunches and teaching new employees the right way to tie a trash bag. Most importantly they demonstrated how to build a community with food and the importance of having a community of people to share food with. Thank you.

— Simone Rutkowitz ’10
 

I remember so many smiles along with coffee and a great cookie.

— Jamie S. Wildstein ’09
 

Julia so so loved working at Opus and with you two. You made an incredible impact lot on the young woman she has become, and we cannot thank you enough for your love for her and trust in her. She values your friendships so much. Thank you! Café Opus will live on in our hearts!!

— Carol DeMaio
 

Hey my wee and sweet opus café, thank you for creating so much sweet memories of my college years, nurturing me and my friends with yummy food and warm cares. My favorite opus item is always the lemon poppy seed muffin with a hot latte! Yum yum, I was an international student who never had a lemon poppy seed flavor before. Oh my, I still remember the moment when I had the first one over a late night study during a final’s week, I felt so nurtured and sheltered from the outside snowstorm darkness. There are so many stories and sweet memories I had with my beloved opus café, thank you so much again for creating such a loving place on campus that I will always treasure when I think of my wee college.

— Katie Qi ’11
 

Thanks so much for all the great coffee, conversations, and delicious cookies, and best of luck to the next adventure!! x

— Kate Bickmore ’15
 

The countless hours I spent in Opus with friends, especially during various choir events, are some of my most cherished college memories. It was like having a cozy living room at our fingertips, with the most incredible chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had.

— Fiona (MacQuarrie) Helmuth ’09
 

Larry & Sarah! Omg, I miss you both and our Opus family… To this day, I often think about my former shifts with you and recall how much joy they brought to me amidst some hectic days on campus. Thank you SO much for the laughs, the life advice, the cookies, and alllllll those opus magnums lol… xx Ali Gay

— Ali Gay ’17
 

Larry and Sarah, Puru here. You guys made Hamilton the best experience possible. My first and best employers without a doubt. Best of luck with retirement and hope our paths cross someday soon. All my love to you both. <3

— Purujith Gautam ’16
 

Opus picnicCONGRATULATIONS, SARAH AND LARRY! You are responsible for many of my fondest memories and closest friendships at Hamilton. Thanks for being such great mentors and friends, and for creating such a nurturing community for us Dark Siders, Outsiders, and Artistic Types. With Love, Rory Pavach ’10 (plus her seven-year spouse, Opus regular Andrew Peart ’10)

— Rory Pavach ’10
 

You two deserve a break!! Thanks for the memories!

— Nitsa Weld
 

Thanking you for the food and memories our daughter has enjoyed at Opus. We have heard many many accolades and know Opus will be missed.

— Jeffrey and Joyce Holbrook
 

Some of my fondest memories of Hamilton are from Café Opus. Your food and spirit will always be part of the college. Thank you so much!

— Dan Mason ’00
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