Elton's Café in Library Lower Level is Greenwich's Best Kept Secret

Destination for home made fare and good cheer, Elton recommends pairing his comfort food with a good book.

Everyone knows the rule: No food or drink allowed in the library. But in the lower level of Greenwich Library at 101 W. Putnam Ave., Elton's Cafe provides a clean, well-lit exemption from the rule, and the business model is affordable, nutritious comfort food.

Gluten-free? No problem. Sweet tooth? No problem. Tight budget? No problem.

Elton Sousa, who immigrated from Brazil in 1995, and his longtime employee Jose Santos, speak both English and Portuguese. The pair hit the deck running around 7 o'clock each morning and the cooking begins in earnest.

Sousa describes the ebb and flow of customers who begin to arrive at 9 a.m., when the library opens. Breakfast – perhaps a bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich for $3.50 or a bagel with cream cheese for $2.25 – keeps the cafe busy all morning. Hot coffee is available all day.

The lunch crowd forms a swift stream beginning around noon and tapering off around 2:30 p.m. "Our soups are very popular," blushed Sousa on a recent February afternoon when the temps dipped below freezing. "We don't have a huge menu of selections, but everything is home made. Nothing out of a can."

Taped to the glass counter is a handwritten list of lunch specials. Beef barley soup has been crossed out. It sold out quickly.

Sousa says he has never advertised, though he has a Facebook page with 58 fans. And his menu can be found on the library website. Still, countless regular customers including library staff and patrons, as well as nearby retail and office workers find their way to the cafe. Also, according to Sousa, both doctors and patients from medical office buildings across Dearfield Drive frequent the cafe.

Many customers have shared their stories with Sousa over the years – some of hard luck, some of astounding success. This being Greenwich, some stories combine both.

Sousa, who rents his space from Friends of the Library (Friends own the building; the Town employs the staff) has operated the cafe since 1999. Though he does not have family here, his customers were there for him in the clutch.

A year ago Elton broke both his feet in an accident and was confined to a wheelchair for several months. "I received 275 greeting cards. Each one sent to me tears," he said. "My library customers came to see me in Greenwich Hospital. They came to see me at home in Harrison," he said. "I probably shouldn't say this, but the bills piled up and my library friends took up a collection to help pay for my medications."

Sousa is the type to pay it forward. For years he has cooked Sunday lunch for residents of Pacific House emergency men's shelter in Stamford, where he admits he occasionally recognizes faces. With a team that includes Mary Mullen from Darien, and Anita Lai from Community Answers, Sousa cooks Thanksgiving dinner at Pacific House.

Sousa loves to cook and puts in the same effort, whether it be for the homeless or the well-off of Greenwich. "My favorites are the turkey meatloaf, lox, and the beef stew," said 40-year library employee Rick Langeloh, a library technical assistant.

Children's librarian, Deirdre Sullivan, from stopped by for a late lunch. "Elton takes care of me," she said. "He'll adjust the chicken salad special for me so it's gluten-free." Sullivan added that the children and their care-givers love the cafe. "Elton's on a first name basis with a lot of our kids," she said.

Indeed Elton caters to kids' taste. "They love the ice cream," he said pointing to the clear topped ice cream chest as a 4-year old in a stroller craned his neck to see inside. Staples of the kids' menu include the classic PBJ for $2.75, cheese sandwich for $4.00, kids tuna or turkey sandwich for $4.75.

After school, students of all ages often meet with their tutors in the cafe.

Great food. Good cheer. A small business thrives in Greenwich. If that weren't enough, the café is lined with bookshelves that burst with books, movies and DVDs – all for sale. The paperbacks, for example, courtesy of Friends of the Library, can be purchased for 25¢ each or buy-one-get-one free.

Elton's Cafe is located in the lower level of Greenwich Library at 101 West Putnam Ave. Hours are Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. Closed Sundays.

John Twomey February 22, 2013 at 02:22 PM
For the past ten years I have never known a better individual who takes his business seriously than Elton Sousa. But wait!....there's more! He loves people! How hard is that to find these days as a customer? John Twomey
Carl White February 22, 2013 at 02:38 PM
I LOVE Elton's! He has great food. Coffee and muffins, bagels. Salads and sandwiches. A great place to meet friends and relax. Carl
Helen February 22, 2013 at 03:14 PM
Elton's is the best! Great food, great service, friendly environment, and even free wifi!! Helen
Leslie Yager February 22, 2013 at 03:31 PM
I am neutral of course. But I had a wrap and split pea and ham soup the other day that rivaled any restaurant on the Avenue.
Will Gray February 22, 2013 at 04:42 PM
Elton's cafe is extremely convenient, and competitively-priced. The staff are friendly and the food is good. And there's always plenty of coffee on-hand for those in need of a caffeine fix! I'm definitely a fan of the gluten-free guava cookies and the chicken salad. It's nice to have a menu with so much variety, and staff who enjoy serving their customers.
Anita February 22, 2013 at 04:42 PM
Elton's food is the best around! Home cooked goodness. Anita
Siwanoy February 22, 2013 at 05:21 PM
shouldn't the article be titled "...was Greenwich's Best Kept Secret"? :)
Leslie Yager February 22, 2013 at 05:29 PM
yep, cat's out of the bag!
Vicki Camacho - Public Access Producer February 22, 2013 at 05:47 PM
I remember being very excited when Elton's Cafe first opened in the library. It was back in the 90's when putting an eating establishment in a library was unheard of for fear of it getting out of control with patrons leaving food and wrappers throughout the library, but somehow Elton made it work. When you buy a delicious sandwich, wrap, soup or a light snack from Elton's Cafe you want to stay and eat it the atmosphere is so relaxing. I hope what I've been hearing is not true and that is that Elton may be forced to allow outside food to be brought into the cafe, which I think will be a bad move not only for the cafe but the library as well. Seems to me the attitude of some patrons and visitors will be "if I can bring food into the library I can eat it any where".
Margaret Callahan February 22, 2013 at 06:05 PM
Whaat? who would force Elton to allow outside food into cafe? Would it even be a cafe then
Andrew Vieira February 22, 2013 at 07:34 PM
OMG I have been going there for years! This place is really amazing. Nothing better after get a good book with my kids than sit downstairs and have a great homemade Sandwich with warm cup coffee. That's what I call great quality. We hope this place stays there for a long time. My kids love it! Cheers
Ken Johnson February 22, 2013 at 07:52 PM
The soups are amazing! I have them all the time - the lentil was my most recent and it was so flavorful. Still can't figure out how they make their tuna. Of course, Elton won't reveal the secret. I guess I'll just have to keep heading to the cafe when I get a craving! Ken Johnson
Daniele Berna February 22, 2013 at 07:58 PM
Elton's café combines the warmest costumers survice with delicious food, sandwiches, etc... It's definitely a special place managed by great people! It's crazy and nonsensical people bringing food to this place when you have amazing snacks, dessert and wonderful people around you!
Betsy Keller February 22, 2013 at 11:05 PM
we have always loved elton's cafe...best toasted bagel with tuna salad and he is so nice! best of luck to him
John Santangelo February 22, 2013 at 11:23 PM
I have been going to Elton Cafe for over 8 years now. It is a little out of my way but well woth it. The food it terrific and the staff are always smiling. One time when I first started going there I had forgotten my money and had already ordered my lunch when I realized it. A bit embarrised I explained my situation and Elton said don't worry bring it next time. I will never forget that, how often does that happen? Like NEVER. Since then I have gotten to know him and I enjoy the friendly smile as much as I enjoy the food. Recently I saw a sign that said you could bring your own food and dine in the cafe. I asked Elton about that and he said it was a new library policy. When you go to any fast food place such as Mcdonalds or Dunkin Donuts they make it a policy to state that you CANNOTt bring outside food in. Here is a hard working guy probably just about getting by and the place where he works is allowing this.Taking hard earned money right out of his hands. It makes no sense. I think it is disgraceful. No one thinks about the hard working individual anymore.....SHAME on you Greenwich Library!
Amelia Bonacorso February 23, 2013 at 12:01 AM
A very warm cozy little nook to have a bite to eat while spending time at the library.
Loide Polli February 23, 2013 at 12:23 AM
Wouldn't that be the same as taking your own food to a restaurant and use their premisses (clean table, napking, utensils, etc), and then leave the mess for them to clean ? People assume that because the Elton's Cafe is located at the library, the cost to run and maintain the bussiness comes from tax payers. Elton's Cafe is a private bussiness. This is ridiculous !!! Besides, the food is quite afforadble. Where is our support to small bussiness ?
Leslie Yager February 23, 2013 at 12:38 AM
I noticed on Thursday when I interviewed Elton that there is a sign designating TWO of the exisiting tables for "outside food."
Glenn Wolff, LCSW February 23, 2013 at 04:21 AM
Great food! Best of luck to Elton and Jose!
Michele Martin February 23, 2013 at 02:49 PM
Elton's offers hearty delicious homemade soups at a great value. It's my favorite lunch spot in town.
barbara martin February 23, 2013 at 04:20 PM
His lox,cream cheese, caper, tomato and onion sandwich on pumpernickel bread is the greatest! Barbara
jeanne colangelo February 25, 2013 at 08:24 PM
I just love the place, the food and Elton and Nilson. My kids just love going there. Elton's cafe became a tradition for my kids Stacey and Lucca, It's a great incentive to get my kids to the library after school. Thank u guys!!!! Jeanne Colangelo from Rye Brook
Leslie Yager February 25, 2013 at 10:20 PM
I went back to the library today to meet the Community Answers staff. I thought why not take home some lunch from Elton's. The hot sandwich with turkey, a layer of stuffing, and cranberry sauce -- on toasted whole wheat bread. Out of this world!
Leslie Yager February 26, 2013 at 12:45 AM
Just realized "Nilson" is José's nickname! There's just Elton and Jose...
Joanne Gaither February 26, 2013 at 05:28 PM
Just finished my hot roast beef sandwich on toasted roll with lettuce, tomato, and melted cheese with horse radish mayo.....Thanks Elton...for the food and the conversation!!
Anne Martine Cook March 02, 2013 at 09:52 PM
I haven't been there in ages. Am ravenous suddenly and look forward to eating there soon. Great writing as always, Leslie
Corinne March 03, 2013 at 01:58 PM
Elton's Cafe is indeed a unique find that offers delicious food at affordable prices in a relaxed atmosphere. Topping it off, is the friendly service lead by an entrepreneur who cares not only about the quality of his fare but also his customer's needs- so rare in this day and age. The Library should continue to support this small business owner versus mandating that space be set aside in his leased establishment for non-payers, a policy which will lead to the demise of this hidden gem. Corinne


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