One World Everybody Eats in Salt Lake City and SAME Cafe in Denver try out different social venture models for feeding those in need.
The Baltimore Urbanite magazine (Donna M. Owens) tells of a couple of restaurants where patrons pay what they can and work if they can't.
The more ambitious of the two is One World Everybody Eats (EIN 20- 2856026 too new for a Form 990), an outgrowth of the One World Cafe in Salt Lake City, which has been in operation for over three years. Denise Cerreta, once owner, now founder of the cafe, has implemented a model that involves no prices and no menus, except for a standard staple dish (dal and rice) for those who can neither pay nor volunteer. All the food is organic and selected on the basis of what is in season and what is available at low cost. It is served cafeteria style so that people take just the portion they will eat, minimizing waste.
The cafe has published an extensive how-to business model, which reveals its strong and weak points. Paid staff receive what is called a living wage in Salt Lake City ($8.50 per hour for dishwashers, $10-$14 per hour for cooks), which results in low turnover and high productivity. But medical and retirement are still off in the future. The model notes:
[W]e don't suggest even thinking about this until your third year of operation and with revenue above what the kitchen needs to survive. These priorities can get tricky because if you get top heavy, it'll distract from the work and that will show up in the food.
Volunteers are a big part of the operation, and there is a section on how to treat volunteers with respect, but knowing how to set boundaries.
Of particular note is a section on location. The model is very specific on this:
Look for those neighborhoods that are at the crossroads of eclectic, hip or up and coming, and business-oriented, without being too pricey.
The Salt Lake City cafe is located near a college, downtown, an affluent neighborhood, and one of the city's poorest neighborhoods. But it's not clear how this careful attention to neighborhood demographics fits into the concept.
As it's been since the nineteen sixties, it's more like: one world, everybody who doesn't need medical care eats in hip, up and coming neighborhoods.
Ms. Cerreta and OWEE have big plans. Their web site states an intention to open kitchens in New York, Washington D.C., Minneapolis-St. Paul, Iowa
City, Boston, Santa Fe, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Fort
Lauderdale and Chicago. The level of ambition shows in the determination to open in New York next. But it seems to me that her concept is better suited to smaller metropolises between the coasts—and only after the organization figures out a way to provide basic medical benefits.
The Denver restaurant, So All May Eat or SAME (no EIN or Form 990, too new to be in the IRS master file), is the creation of Brad and Libby Birky. It was recently featured in a story in the LA Times (Stephanie Simon) and on the CBS Early Show, according to an entry on their blog. Like OWEE, SAFE finds itself in a gentrifying neighborhood with a number of homeless people who visit the cafe regularly. But this operation seems more modest, growing out of the Birky's personal passion for helping others and Mr. Birky's love of cooking. The notion of running a cafe like this as a hobby of sorts—a step up from volunteering in a soup kitchen—seems to me to be more viable than the OWEE vision.