Section: Features

Friday Cafe cooks with care for the community

Friday Cafe cooks with care for the community

by McKenna Trimble

When you sit down at a checkered cloth-covered table ready to plunge your spoon into Friday Cafe’s gourmet chickpea soup, you probably don’t know that one woman behind the cafe gained her knowledge of cooking from her birthplace, England. There she earned a degree in hotel and catering management, completed cooking school and ran two restaurants. This woman is Victoria Baumann, wife of Professor of Political Science Fred Baumann, who runs the Cafe alongside Joyce Klein, wife of Professor Emeritus of English Bill Klein.

In contrast to her partner, Klein’s cooking skills developed in a much less linear fashion.“I didn’t know how to cook when I came here [in 1968],” Klein said. Citing the lack of restaurants within and immediately beyond Mount Vernon, Klein recalled that neighbors and friends cooked so frequently that she herself gradually picked up the craft. Now, she experiments with recipes pulled from a variety of cookbooks and magazines, such as The Silver Palate, The New Comfort Food and Gourmet Magazine

“We like to sit down to a good lunch,” Klein said, recalling a common refrain of Peggy Turgeon. Turgeon, who eventually left Friday Cafe to care for her ailing husband, was Klein’s first business partner. Klein, who has spent 35 years preparing lunch for Friday Cafe, explained that, at its conception in the mid-seventies, the Cafe was about more than just a good lunch.

“Initially, the [Gambier] community was very suspicious of the students,” Klein said, recalling how turmoil related to the Vietnam War and the anti-war protests that preceded and followed shootings at Ohio’s Kent State University in 1970 found its way to Middle Path. Klein said she intended for the Cafe to help bridge the gap between students and their surrounding community.

As the years went by and the Cafe grew in size and popularity, Klein found that, “We were having so much fun doing it, we just kept doing it.”

Today, Klein’s signature Friday Cafe lunches can be found at the Harcourt Parish House  at 201 W. Brooklyn Street from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on most Fridays during the academic year. Klein and Baumann prepare a full meal, including coffee and dessert available to Kenyon students and local residents at the price of seven dollars.

Now in its third and most spacious location, having moved from what is now Wiggin Street Coffee to the Kenyon Inn before settling at the Parish House, Klein says she is confident that Friday Cafe still fosters a sense of community. “We have big tables … so you’re almost sure to sit with somebody you don’t know,” Klein said. Both Klein and Baumann see a vast array of faces come through the Parish House doors, with a seemingly equal frequency of students, faculty members and locals, some of whom come from Mount Vernon or even as far away as Granville.

The planning for the Cafe begins well before Friday afternoon. According to Baumann, she and Klein establish the menus at the beginning of the semester. At the start of each week, they gather ingredients as the paid staff prepares the meal on Wednesdays and Thursdays.  Although the Friday Cafe staff consists largely of students and Kenyon faculty members’ spouses, only Klein and Baumann cook the meals.

The types of food that the Cafe serves are just as varied as the culinary backgrounds of the two women who run it. “The food comes from all over,” Baumann said. “It’s a collection of the Farmer’s Market [in Mount Vernon], the local grocery stores, people’s gardens.” Though she finds it too time-consuming to attend on a regular basis, Baumann sometimes visits the Owl Creek Produce Auction, where individuals auction off local produce every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It can be difficult to piece together a meal of entirely local fare on a limited budget, but Baumann said the end of summer is an ideal time to find produce at an inexpensive price.

Despite the challenges involved with putting the Cafe together, Klein described the Cafe’s mission as straightforward. “It’s a friendly place to sit down and have lunch with someone you may not know,” she said.

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