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Café Vivian can’t compete with late meal

A red neon sign reading "Cafe Vivian" sits in front of a concrete wall.

A Sign of Cafe Vivian on the first floor of the Frist Campus Center.

Louisa Gheorghita / The Daily Princetonian

Frist Campus Center hosts various delectable spots for students to grab a bite to eat or drink, including cafes, a convenience store, and the much-esteemed late meal. Café Vivian, tucked into the back corner of Frist’s first floor, is a lunch spot that recently opened for the year. Attracted to the brightly-lit, retro-style entrance sign, I decided to check it out.

Café Vivian functions like a standard delicatessen and includes a range of basic lunch options. There are daily deli-style sandwiches, such as roast beef with gouda cheese and egg salad. The Café features a customizable salad bar with some pre-prepared choices as well. For instance, one day featured a white bean salad, an orzo salad, and a quinoa and mixed vegetable salad. There are also menu options for a more comforting, hearty lunch: for example, one day the café served mac-and-cheese as a hot meal. Additionally, there is normally a soup and some prepared snacks, such as a small dessert case and cut fruit.

The sandwiches that I sampled were well-prepared, classic lunch options. I tried a turkey sandwich with arugula and a Dijon sauce, as well as a roast beef sandwich with horseradish. Both sandwiches included fresh ingredients, and the sauces elevated otherwise basic sandwiches. Given that not every dining hall consistently serves deli-style sandwiches for lunch, my experiences at Café Vivian were a refreshing break from the typical dining hall experience.

Customization is Café Vivian’s greatest strength. Although I ordered menu items during my trips to the café, I was asked about substitutions or alterations that I might want to make. Both the sandwich and salad bars can be entirely customizable. For anyone with specific preferences or special requests, Café Vivian serves as a great option for a unique meal that fits an individualized taste. For people with minor allergies or dietary restrictions, Café Vivian can also accommodate that, as specific ingredients can be taken out from or adjusted in the menu’s items. The café is also friendly for vegetarian and vegan customers, with its expansive salad bar and sandwich options that feature main ingredients like portobello mushrooms.

Despite Café Vivian’s fresh produce and flexible menu, I noticed that the restaurant did not seem to be the hottest spot in Frist. The darkly-lit café had several empty seats, and an overwhelming majority of the customers chatting over lunch appeared to be graduate students or professors. As I left Frist through the back entrance, I quickly understood where much of the undergraduate population was during lunchtime: late meal. Students bustled in the late meal area on the lower floor of Frist, where it was almost impossible to find an open seat.

Café Vivian cannot seem to compete with late meal for undergraduates — especially underclassmen — with a new kiosk ordering system and expanded hours. While Café Vivian accepts student dining points, late meal is included in the dining hall plan and does not require extra dining points for relatively similar options. The exact same fruit cups that I saw in Café Vivian could be found downstairs at late meal. Additionally, the hours for Café Vivian and late meal are essentially the same. Café Vivian is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., while late meal is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for lunch. 

While Café Vivian may not be the most popular option for the undergraduate body, I would still recommend it as a lunch spot, especially for students who prefer to customize their food or have special adjustments for their meals. For days when late meal is packed with students and endless lines at lunchtime, I recommend Café Vivian as a potential break from the usual routine of late meal. So, while I cannot say that Café Vivian is a place that I plan to return to regularly, the spot is a great café for graduate students and an option for undergraduates, perhaps even underclassmen.

Isabella Dail is a sophomore and an associate editor for The Prospect at the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at

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