The Center for Hunger-Free Communities

Solutions Based on Science and the Human Experience

Grid Magazine: A quarter of Philadelphians are food insecure. What are we doing about it?

December 2, 2016
Event Date: 
December 2, 2016

The EAT Cafe was featured in a story in Grid Magazine about hunger in Philadelphia and what local organizations are doing to address it. 

Below is an excerpt from the article:

In West Philadelphia, another food service model that’s helping to feed those in need takes a community approach, bringing those who can afford to eat and those who can’t to the same table.

Many Philadelphians take for granted that they can walk into a restaurant and order a meal where they’re attended to by a team of professional servers and cooks—some of whom may be food insecure themselves. At EAT (Everyone at the Table) Café, divisions between those who can pay and those who cannot are removed.

It’s the city’s first not-for-profit, pay-what-you-can restaurant, offering tasty, wholesome meals to all in the community.

Diners can select one of two rotating three-course meals from a streamlined menu—caprese-inspired chopped salad, flavorful lemon roast chicken with pasta, sorbet with fruit for dessert and a hot cup of tea, for example—but when the check comes, diners decide what they can pay: the suggested price of $15, or more, or less, or nothing at all.

EAT Café wasn’t just conceived as a place where those unable to buy food might be able to get a healthy meal. The concept offers the same experience for everyone, combining a welcoming, community-driven ethos with touches that echo trends  that diners might see at the city’s cutting-edge BYOs and fast-casual restaurants, like a menu that’s updated every week based on what’s in season and a no-tipping policy, since all staff are paid a higher than average hourly wage.

The Café is the culmination of a years-long collaboration of Drexel University’s Center for Hunger-Free Communities, the university’s Center for Hospitality and Sport Management, Vetri Community Partnership and the greater West Philly community.

“The idea is to minimize hunger,” said April Thompson-Harris, a Powelton Village resident and a member of the project’s Community Advisory Committee. “You have those who can afford [to eat] and those that can’t. If you’re able to pay the suggested price, that’s great. If you’re economically unable to, it’s perfectly fine. They designed [the restaurant] in this way for comfort, ease and community, and [so we can] grow together.”

The service, the food and even the end-of-meal transaction that usually occurs are designed to be the same for all diners, paying and nonpaying. In this way, EAT Café offers an experience that creates community by encouraging diners who can pay full price (or more) to do so to support the concept, while diners who can only pay less than full price or not at all can enjoy a healthy meal in a beautiful space side by side with other diners.

General Manager Donnell Jones-Craven, a food industry veteran whose culinary career has included fine dining, specialty catering and upscale hotels, joined the project in 2014 and has worked with project partners to bring EAT Café from an idea to a brick-and-mortar space to open for business.

“I'm really excited about getting open and working with my staff and just making our hospitality and our customer service stand out—then the food comes after that,” Jones-Craven said just before the café’s opening in late October.

The food that EAT Café serves comes from a combination of donations from grocers, bakeries and other food businesses as well as purchases from purveyors. It’s important to Jones-Craven to build relationships with mission-aligned organizations and businesses, and to source food produced within 200 miles of Philadelphia, including urban growers, whenever possible.

“We’ll be utilizing purveyors that are sensitive and passionate about what we’re doing, who want to join our cause, as well as local community gardens [and] local grocery stores,” says Jones-Craven. They’ve received donations from businesses like Giant supermarket in Wynnewood and Metropolitan Bakery’s Rittenhouse location, among others.

EAT Café’s menu, which is posted online each week, will change seasonally and based on which ingredients have been donated. While selections are limited—initial menus included two appetizer and dessert choices and three entrée options—the kitchen is able to accommodate for dietary restrictions and food allergies.


To read the full article click here


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