It is lunchtime during a chilly afternoon on the first day of winter quarter, 2020. Friends are reuniting after winter break and catching up, excitedly discussing classes, weekend plans and a new ‘Lamborghini yellow’ sculpture that the University president seems far too excited about.
I am meeting my best friend for lunch at Olives, our favorite dining establishment on campus. The six items on the menu are enough to satisfy our very different dietary choices. Sitting on the benches, surrounded by flowers in this nook behind the History Corner, we spend hours talking about our lives and the world around us.
It is the start of a new quarter and the positivity and liveliness in the air scream that nothing can go wrong.
Two and a half years have passed, and, of course, everything has gone wrong. A pandemic and numerous almost-world-ending events have been delivered to us on an ever-so-depressing news cycle, changing how we live and interact with others. And as restaurants, stores and people open back up again, we can only yearn for what once was.
Fall quarter, 2022 marked the reopening of Olives, and for us seniors, it was like being reunited with a long-lost friend.
As I descended the stairs of Wallenberg Hall, all my memories started rushing in — from quick-yet-satiating meals between classes to long chats with friends over lunch. As I ran to the cozy corner of Main Quad, decorated with balloons and streamers celebrating its reopening, I couldn’t wait to try my favorite sandwich from Olives’ menu: “The Oval.”
“Buffalo chicken, pepper jack, blue cheese dressing, tomato, iceberg lettuce on Dutch Crunch bread.” As soon as you open the cardboard box enclosing the sandwich, you are greeted with the savory scent of cheesy buffalo sauce. The Oval was just as brilliant as I remembered it to be.
You will never complain about a shortage of toppings in an Olives sandwich. With cheese oozing out of the sides, you don’t need to worry about pulling off too much of it in one bite. The soft bread and generous fillings added warmth and homeliness to the sandwich. This warmth was further enhanced by the chefs who made it with so much love and served it with a wide smile.
The ambiance of Olives is no less special. While the restaurant is small, its location is incredibly convenient — near a number of classrooms and with a variety of seating options. Even though Olives is located beneath the ground, it is always sunlit and airy. Streams of cool winds from the outside brush your face as you wait for your meal, gentler than a mother’s touch.
Olives is not the best sandwich spot in the world. But it’s the perfect one to satiate your hunger for food and comfort away from home, especially for the plentiful choice that you are given. Each item on the menu is made for someone with a different palette — from the vegans to the carnivores, covering almost everyone in search of an enjoyable sandwich.
As old patrons like me come back to Olives for an emotional reunion and new students discover the place, curious to see what this restaurant at the end of the hallway is, Olives has become a symbol of temporality on this ever-changing campus. Lakes filled up, circles of death were removed, new neighborhoods created a storm. But the institution of Olives seems to be made of stone.
As soon as you enter, it’s like nothing has changed. But four years have passed and you are a senior starting your last year on this campus. Even though it might not seem like it, you and your friends have grown up and evolved. As you all apply for jobs and grad school, you see your friends grow into themselves even more, slowly becoming the adults you never thought you’d see them as. Some friends are now closer while others have moved further away, but the ones you met at Olives to catch up still remain as close as they were then. New classes in your schedule, new students on this campus and new dorms to move into and eventually move out of. But beneath all these changes, the Olives menu and the taste of its delicious sandwiches remain constant.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.