by Nikia Brown
Each year, Philadelphia homeless outreach organizations engage over 5,500 individuals living on the streets or in abandoned buildings. About 12, 000 people, including families, seek shelter on a yearly basis. Additionally, nearly 1 in 4 people struggle with food insecurity in our city. The numbers are daunting and the demand for solutions boldly confronts policy-makers and community stakeholders alike. This fall, a Philadelphia non-profit will take an innovative approach to address these challenges.
E.A.T (Everyone at the Table) Café is a non- profit, pay-what-you-can café that creates a welcoming platform for community members to unite around. The Café endeavors to respond to the food insecurity crisis by providing nutritious, high quality meals for community members in targeted West Philadelphia neighborhoods: Belmont, East/West Parkside, Mantua, Mill Creek, Powelton Village, and West Powelton/Saunders Park.
The Café is a converted row home that seats approximately 30 people. It has stage seating space to accommodate anticipated community events, presentations, and programming. In the back of the Café, there is a patio that is open for dining and events during warm weather months.
Customers will be able to select from a varied menu consisting of three-course meals made from fresh ingredients. The organization’s mission is two-fold:
1) provide a hearty, affordable meal to customers and
2) foster an environment that is conducive for community engagement.
In addition to food service, the Café plans to offer a variety of activities, events, educational programming, and workforce readiness training.
This kind of business model, while inspiring, may leave people curious and hungry for answers. How will the restaurant operate? How will the said communities respond to this new business endeavor? The Café will function as any other restaurant would. Customers will receive a check with a suggested price after dining. They will have the option to pay the amount on the check, more than the amount on the check, or nothing at all. All of the funds collected from paying patrons will cover the cost for people who cannot afford to pay for their meal.
The projected success of the Café may be attributed to the key funders and community members who are at the table. E.A.T. Café is a collaboration between Drexel University’s Center for Hunger-Free Communities, the Vetri Community Partnership, Drexel’s Center for Hospitality and Sports Management, and the West Philadelphia community. Before launching this endeavor, the leadership of the enterprise surveyed community members from targeted neighborhoods to elicit feedback regarding the Café’s business methods and planned initiatives. The outflow of responses from focus groups and interviews, not only affirmed the need for the Café, but also how crucial community involvement would be to the success of the project.
To this end, the leadership created EAT Café’s Community Advisory Committee—an ongoing forum that garners input
from neighbors, community leaders and supporters. Data collected from these meetings will inform café operations, build connections and help staff prepare for future programming.
E.A.T. Café is clearly a new Philly enterprise that you want to keep your eyes on. It is a community-oriented restaurant that desires to make the tradition of Sunday family dinner accessible to all every day of the week. If you reside in one of the Café’s targeted neighborhoods and would like to participate on the Community Advisory Committee, you can contact the EAT Café staff at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about EAT Café you can visit their website at www.eatcafe.org or drop by the restaurant for their grand opening in September.