BATAVIA — Avid readers will tell you the best accompaniment to a good book is a hot cup of coffee — or tea, if that’s your preference. They’ll often add a biscotti or a muffin to complete the reading-hour nourishment.
But inside Richmond Memorial Library, there’s something very different getting served up among the racks of books — hot soup.
Krystyna Stefanik, owner of the Bookworm Café, has found that her homemade soups are a popular choice for those perusing the shelves or using the computer lab. After three years, it has become her signature dish, even if it changes every day.
“When I first opened, I had the pastries, the basic things,” Stefanik said on Monday, while stirring the soup of the day, pumpkin bisque. “The library is different, the clientele is totally different. It’s not like going into Starbucks. People requested soups and sandwiches for lunch.
“I have a lot of people who come in specifically for lunch. They know the soups are homemade.”
Part of the allure to the customers is that they don’t know what the soup will be from day to day. The truth is, neither does Stefanik.
“I try to source as much local produce as possible,” she said, adding that much of her vegetable haul comes from Promised Land CSA in Corfu. “That’s why I can’t say ‘Tomorrow, we’re having such-and-such soup,’ because I don’t know what vegetables I’ll have, or what I’m getting on that day.”
One thing that remains consistent is that nearly all of the soups are vegetable based. She says many of her customers are vegetarian and request gluten-free options. So she abides.
Those who walk up to the counter, which is nestled between the history section and the graphic novels, are likely to find soups like Swiss chard, broccoli and cheddar, and French onion. The recipes are a combination of those she got from cookbooks, family members and her own experimentation in the kitchen.
“When I first opened, I used store-bought, frozen soup,” Stefanik said. “Then the gluten-thing came in, so I started making homemade soup. Then I stopped for the summer, and I had a lot of people complain, because they had come in just for the soup. I never anticipated soup being a big deal, but it was.”
Each morning, Stefanik begins cooking whichever soup she chooses for that day at 8 a.m. in her 3-gallon pot. The café opens at 9 a.m., the same time as the library. On the days she doesn’t sell out, the leftover soup is frozen and sold in to-go containers.
But what made the soup so popular that people are willing to come into the library just for lunch?
“I think a lot of it is, especially with the older people, soup is not something you can make a bowl of,” Stefanik said. “You can fry a hamburger or make a hot dog, but you can’t make enough soup for one or two people. The older people can come in here and have homemade, fresh soup without having to go and make a pot of it. I think that’s why people started coming in.”
A 12-ounce bowl of soup sells for $3.99 and comes with crackers.