The Simons Center for Geometry and Physics, located by the northern end of Stony Brook University, is a haven for mathematicians and physicists, especially during lunchtime.
Inside this $60 million building, one only needs to climb 24 steps in order to reach a restaurant brimming with sunlight, the aroma of savory meats, salads, coffees, teas and the simple yet satisfying fragrance of warm bread.
The Simons Café has even caught the eye of Edible Long Island magazine, a local branch of Edible Communities, a company that publishes and relays information about local foods and restaurants.
Now the café has won Edible Long Island’s 2015 Local Hero Award in the category of chef/restaurant.
This award winning location goes largely unnoticed by a large number of people on campus.
“I didn’t know the Simons Café was open to students,” said sophomore Betsy Abraham, as she picked up her meal at the Wendy’s in Roth Quad.
Most people on campus flock to either the Student Activities Center, the Union building, or Jasmine for lunch. Unlike these places, lunchtime crowds aren’t a problem at the Simons Center Café, which can only hold a maximum of 60 people. In this café, the sound of peaceful conversations and chiming silverware fill the room.
What has allowed the café to maintain its sanctuary-like status is its commitment to its original design.
Maria Reuge, the Administrative Manager and one of the current owners of the café along with Chef Paolo Fontana and Julie Pasquier, said that she and her husband, Guy, were asked by the building’s director to open a café for the Simons Center. Their goal was to create a place where physicists and mathematicians could come together and discuss their ideas while enjoying good food. The plan seems to be working as professors, older students, and visitors take their seats in the café, chatting lively as they try to take bites out of their huge $13 Italian heroes.
Reuge is even hoping to expand the café to have a conference room in the back.Yet how can a place that serves pricey food yet not accept Wolfie Wallet, the university’s prepaid debit account system for students and their typical source of capital, actually expand on a campus where not a lot of people know about it?
The real key to the Simons Center Café’s success lies in the kitchen, that focuses on not only serving the customers in the restaurant, but also the Long Island community as a whole.
The overwhelming aroma of fresh cakes and pastries fill the kitchen as the cooks move about the room, preparing for the afternoon Tea Time, a private wine dinner at night, and Saturday’s Bar Mitzvah catering.
This may all seem like much, but Fontana and his employees, Bill Rhame, Dave Armone and Patrick Murphy, are so well prepared that they are now simply baking a few more cakes and heating up dough.
Rhame met Fontana years ago during a rough day at work, and when Rhame told Fontana that all he really wanted was stable working hours so he could be with his family, Fontana offered him a job at the Simons Center Café.
Armone had worked together with Rhame at another restaurant and decided to join him when the café was looking for a third cook.
The last to join was Murphy, who started out as a busboy and moved into the kitchen when he said he wanted to cook.
Along with Fontana, the three of them enjoy the freedom and creativity that the café offers them with its standard dining hours and ever-changing menu; the menu is updated every day.
“Variety is good,” said Rhame “It keeps us fresh,”
The free environment also allows them a chance to experiment and pursue new interests.
Armone has taken up baking and uses the café’s Tea Time as a way to construct new pastries and coffee cakes.
“You get to push yourself here,” he said as he checked on his coffee cakes. “I’m not a baker, but I like it.”
The café has clearly found the winning formula that allows it to thrive on a college campus without completely depending on students for revenue,all while still devoting itself to serving those hungry mathematicians and physicists.