Zhou: All Rise for King Arthur Flour
I can still count my semesters in caffeine and pastries.
If there was one benefit to going to college in rural New Hampshire, away from big city amenities, it was King Arthur Flour. Specifically KAF, the cafe that occupied the physical and spiritual heart of Baker-Berry Library.
I suppose the baked goods were made of nothing more than flour, yeast, sugar and butter. But to the student looking to smooth over heartbreak or disappointing grades, KAF was nothing short of wizardry, central to sacred rites.
No surprise birthday party was complete without buttercream frosted cake with hard chocolate words. Finals period meant pie or boxes of cookies paid for by acquaintances desperate to spend their DBA by the end of the term. Tearing open the crinkly brown parchment bag to reveal a cinnamon bun was like opening a present from a best friend.
On May 14, for reasons unrelated to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, King Arthur Flour announced it would permanently close its Dartmouth location. A wave of grief expressed through memes and Instagram stories followed.
I’ll admit that as much I liked KAF, you would not have to look far to find someone who was more devoted. Often, the line from both windows stretched and spilled into the rest of the library, and I shuffled downstairs to Novack. But the times when I passed through the library and happened to spy only a few people in line felt like discovering hidden treasure.
Waiting in line was perhaps as central to the KAF experience as the pastries and drinks itself. The fact that it took upward of 20 minutes to receive a hot drink other than drip coffee only enhanced its value.
One couldn’t just simply obtain a skim vanilla latte and a croissant. You had to stand in line, brimming with anticipation as you moved ever closer toward the glass case. Even professors had to wait, and sometimes the insulated white cup was enough of an explanation when class started late.
When I reached the front of the line, I knew it was time to make an excruciating decision concerning both my health and my wallet.
My salad of either New England or Caesar descent could come with a crunchy and chewy white roll or an apple. Hot chocolate could be topped with a lasting head of whipped cream or a homemade marshmallow that would melt quickly in the liquid and my mouth. Often I weighed between ordering a cupcake or what I considered a healthier option, a muffin exploding with blueberries.
Having graduated a year ago, I can still count my terms at Dartmouth in memories formed by KAF's royal line of products. I don’t remember much from introductory neuroscience, but I do remember dipping broccoli into hummus while sitting in a stiff basement lecture hall chair.
During sophomore summer, I developed my regular purchase, which I called a “power order”: an ice-cold Arnold Palmer and a double shot of espresso in a separate cup. While I did homework in the air-conditioned library, beads of condensation dripped onto my public policy readings from the plastic cup as I chased caffeine with lemonade and iced tea.
When I started editing The Dartmouth on weeknights, a box of tri-color tortellini would often tag along. Late in the evening — when staring at a screen had dried my eyes — I would retrieve the pasta from a minifridge and warm it in an electric blue microwave of unknown age and origin.
Part of this temporal bookmarking was due to the fact that every term, KAF’s offerings would inevitably change. According to KAF director John Tunnicliffe, the ever-changing menu was a product of the logistical struggles of stocking the cafe away from the company’s main location in Norwich, Vermont.
Students noticed these changes but could never stay mad. During my four years of college, I mourned the loss of Greek salad and the chicken curry sandwich but quickly evangelized the focaccia pizza. Simply sinking my teeth into that cold spongy rectangle was enough to shoot dreams of pepperoni and pepper straight into my brain and, by senior year, it had become a regular lunch.
With no KAF to return to when Dartmouth reopens, the cafe will be replaced by myth sung by students who were lucky enough to experience its wares. I may be an alumna crustier than a ciabatta roll, but KAF was more than a place of caloric joy. It was the great unifier of Dartmouth College, where past and present students had stood.
Zhou is a member of the Class of 2019 and a former news executive editor of The Dartmouth.
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Correction appended (May 26, 2020): A previous version of this article indicated that King Arthur Flour had announced the closing of its Dartmouth branch the week prior to publication. This article has been updated to reflect that the closing was actually announced on May 14.