UPDATE: The Non-Profit Restaurant concept is currently on hold, while we focus on other activities.  Please visit www.FoodAtFirst.com to see all of the exciting stuff happening in Ames!

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What’s a Non-Profit Restaurant?

Sometimes called a Community Kitchen, it’s a new paradigm for feeding those in our community who are struggling.  It combines a “soup kitchen” (like ours, Food At First) with a traditional restaurant – it looks like a restaurant, but has some significant differences:

  • Instead of each item having a price, customers are encouraged to make a donation when they leave.  They pay what they can – some will contribute the same amount that they’d expect to pay in other restaurants, while others will pay little or nothing.
  • The menu would be different each day, depending on the food that has been gleaned from area grocery stores.
  • It would be attractive to customers who want to…
    • contribute to a good cause (and enjoy a good meal) while not paying any more than they would at another restaurant
    • eat food that has been “recycled”, having a positive impact on the environment
    • experience a more communal setting than a typical restaurant
  • Most importantly, it eliminates the “us vs. them” divide – instead of “donors” and “recipients” of a free meal, it’s all of us gathering together to enjoy good food, and contributing what we can.

We know that one of the greatest barriers to attending free meal programs is embarrassment.  Also, people don’t want to “accept a handout”, typically assuming that there is someone else who needs it more.  This type of venue eliminates those barriers.

Is this the first of its kind?

There are examples of this concept around the country.  “One World Everybody Eats” has received some good press coverage, and I heard that there is a non-profit restaurant in Des Moines, but I haven’t been able to find anything via a web search.  Even traditional restaurants are experimenting with the benefits of pay-as-you-wish – check out this article on Panera’s restaurant in St. Louis.

What makes ours unique is the use of gleaned food – as of now, I have not found a single restaurant that actually takes recycled food and serves it.  If you find one, PLEASE let us know!

Would it be in the same location where the free meals are currently served?

The venue would need to be in a commercial location, and would be an attractive and comfortable environment.  It would be just another alternative, when people are thinking about where to go out to eat – in this case, potentially tax-deductible.  (We’re checking on that.)

If we were to create a non-profit restaurant, it would probably replace the current Food At First “free meal program”.  It will take some time to put together, and a SIGNIFICANT amount of up-front capital, but the hope is that it would become self-sustaining after a period of time – especially since our food costs and labor costs would be extremely low!

What’s next?

If you haven’t already done so, be sure to subscribe to this blog so that you hear about updates as they occur!  (at the top of the column to the right)  It’s going to take a MASSIVE effort to pull this off, and it will have a MASSIVE impact on the hungry throughout our community, and hopefully, throughout the country as we replicate the idea in city after city!  (Yep, we’re big thinkers!)

Questions/comments?  Please email scott@FoodAtFirst.com or dial 515-344-HELP.

8 Responses to

  1. John says:

    This is a fantastic plan. I recently visited Chicago and ate at a place with a similar goal. Their plan is a little different. It is not a donation; the meals have set prices. The service is more about hiring the homeless and giving them the skills to get a job. Here is the website; it might be a place for some ideas.

    http://www.cafetoo.org/

    • Scott says:

      Wow – what a cool restaurant! I love their sayings – “Dine Well. Do Good.” and “We serve people on both sides of the register.” John, thanks for sharing!

  2. Rachel says:

    I think this would be great. Everyone can enjoy the greater sense of dignity this approach offers.

  3. Sue says:

    This is a great idea. I especially like the reuse aspect of the program. I read the blog on the SAME (S0 All May Eat) Restaurant in Denver. I liked the way they had people pay (donate) for their meal by placing what they could in an envelope and place it in a box when they left. If they couldn’t pay, they could volunteer in the restaurant for an hour. Maybe that would still make the divide apparent.

    • Scott says:

      I agree that the “placing whatever you can into an envelope” is a great way of doing it – that’s why it’s so cool to research different programs, and steal their best ideas!

  4. Shari says:

    I also recommend considering (at some point) the idea of having a training program similar to DC Central Kitchen’s. They train homeless men and women to work in the food industry while preparing meals for the soup kitchens around DC. I think they prepare something like 20,000 meals per week, using graduates of their program as managers and head chefs, and participants in their program, along with volunteer groups, as prep chefs, delivery drivers, and in many more capacities.

    Too grand a scale for Ames, but partnering with ISU hotel management might provide opportunities if one were to think a bit outside the box.

    • Scott says:

      I really like the idea of training – we need to find out what is available already in our area, but it does seem like a logical extension of the program. One of the reasons for our success, I believe, is that we’ve stayed focused on what we do best – feeding people – so we’ll want to think carefully as we move forward! ;o)

  5. Julie says:

    As always, thinking outside the box generates great ideas! I can see several “pros” and “cons” of morphing Food at First into a community restaurant.
    Pros: Less of a “soup kitchen” feel, more interactions between lots of different people, upgrade to consistently restaurant-quality food.
    Cons: I like to current FREE…no-questions-asked policy. I also like the fact that a church hosts the meals…convenient to the Free Medical Clinic and meeting space for MICA families. By moving from a church setting, the prayers before meals and the idea of “sharing God’s abundance” might be lost.

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