Wednesday, December 27, 2006

At a new breed of "Robin Hood" restaurants, diners pay what they can afford -- and what they think the meal is worth

Deciding between the spicy peanut stew and the pesto chicken, or the squash soup and the avocado, chicken, lime soup, are not the only decisions tempting patrons at the One World Café in Salt Lake City and the SAME (So All Might Eat) Café in Denver. They must also decide what the meal is worth.

These pay-as-you-can cafes have missions that are unapologetically altruistic—call it serving up fare Robin Hood style. "Our philosophy is that everyone, regardless of economic status, deserves the chance to eat healthy, organic food while being treated with dignity," explains Brad Birky, who opened SAME with his wife, Libby, in October. Customers who have no money are encouraged to exchange an hour of service — sweep, wash the dishes, weed the organic garden — for a meal. Likewise, guests who have money are encouraged to leave a little extra to offset the meals of those who have less to give. "We're a hand up, not a hand out," says One World owner Denise Cerreta, who prides herself on the fact that everyone can afford a meal at her café.

An epiphany scribbled out on a cocktail napkin on a plane ride gave birth to SAME café (So All May Eat). Both Brad and Libby had been searching for a meaningful way to give back while making a living. Admitted volunteer junkies, they had been serving and eating with homeless shelter residents for the past eight years. "We loved the service aspect of giving to the community and attacking the issue of hunger," says Brad. "Plus we both love to cook." When they found out about One World, they flew to Salt Lake City to learn how it was run. Cerreta, in turn, spent a month helping the Birkys prepare for opening. One World has had more than 25 inquiries from others around the country interested in starting a similar café. Recently, the café formed a nonprofit One World, Everybody Eats aimed at helping others replicate such a venture. Read More...

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