Café thrives with pay-what-you-can model
by Kelly McCartney
Whether through pay-what-you-can cafés, suspended coffee initiatives or food recovery programs, the good citizens of the world are doing what they can to make sure less fortunate folks get a decent meal. And you can count Libby and Brady Birk among the kind-hearted souls working hard toward that end.
With a top-to-bottom community-based model initially sketched out on a cocktail napkin, the Birks' nonprofit SAME (So All May Eat) Café in Denver uses fresh, organic ingredients from local farms prepared by volunteers. Their official mission statement emphasizes "serving good food for the greater good."
The couple wanted to find ways to serve their community, and they reflected on their time working in soup kitchens. They remembered how difficult it was for the underprivileged to eat healthy foods on a budget and how hard it was for the soup kitchens to serve nutritious food to their patrons. The idea for a community-oriented café focused on healthy foods sprang from there.
At first, they had some difficulty getting their idea off the ground. “Banks essentially laughed at us,” said Libby, and the couple was not even sure the pay-what-you-can concept would be legal. They persisted, however, until they were able to open the restaurant.
The café has not only survived, but has become an essential fixture of the community. The Birkys build a relationship with every person who walks in, and those personal connections have brought in a diverse clientele, from homeless patrons to affluent businesspeople.
It's a simple enough premise that has proven to be quite successful. The healthy fare is served to all who enter — more than 90,000 mouths over the course of almost eight years. In return, diners pay what they can (or more!) or offer up an hour of elbow grease in the kitchen. No one is turned away, and everyone is treated with dignity.
If you like this story, please consider taking out a gift-based subscription.