The owners of the Same Café in Denver, Colorado believe that high quality organic food should be available to everyone. At the Same Café, it is. The Same Café offers healthy meals made from locally grown, organic products to all who walk through the door on a donation or work exchange basis. At the Same Café, community, generosity, and social change are always on the menu.
Libby and Brad Birky have worked together as volunteers in homeless shelters preparing and serving food for the last 11 years. “As volunteers, our jobs were to see what was edible and what was trash. We were making food that we didn’t think we should serve and we were trying to make it taste good. We felt there was a real discrepancy between what we would eat and what people who were living in poverty would eat.”
Today, Libby and Brad have built a small community around growing, preparing, and serving high quality, organic foods to all people. Social change is happening at the Same Café in Denver, where there is a new lunch menu every day and the expectation that you do what you can in exchange for food and community. The café operates on the honor system: guests eat in exchange for a reasonable donation or for volunteering in the café. The results have been rewarding because the very nature of this café has created a spirit of generosity that fills the room. If you can pay, you do. If you cannot pay, you can work in the garden, sweep floors, serve food, or help with the dishes.
“A lot of times we find that the people who are the most generous are the people who have the least amount of financial flexibility.” Herb comes to the café every day, carrying his lifelong belongings with him. He steps behind the counter and washes up. Recently Herb came in and shared that he did not want to eat because he felt that he had not worked as long as he felt he should have. He left a $20 dollar bill without eating.
Libby also explains that many people with means are also very generous. One couple that can afford to eat at any restaurant in the city comes to the Same Café every Saturday. “They always leave enough for their own meal and extra for others who cannot.” Because there is a donation box, there is no obvious distinction between people who are paying for their food and people who are working. The boundaries between these distinctions are blurred and the honor system works. What happens in this small community is a dignified exchange of generosity that reaches everyone who participates in the act of giving, so that all may eat.
Libby and Brad talk to local farmers every weekend to find out what is in season and what is fresh so that they can plan the menu for the week. The café serves two different kinds of salad, soup, and pizza every day. Right now the menu features Asian greens, arugula, fresh herbs, potatoes, squash, apples, citrus, snap peas, kale, summer soup with cantaloupe, chicken noodle soup, chicken sausage pizza, beets, and goat cheese and three cheese pizza.
Their garden, which is just two blocks away, is managed by longtime customers and volunteers who created additional plots in their own garden that could provide food for the restaurant.
This kind of sustainable venture is expanding thanks to the efforts of Denise Cerreta, who started One World Café in Salt Lake City. She now runs the One World Foundation, a non-profit designed to assist people in other communities who want to start their own café to serve all people.
Denise Cerreta was instrumental in helping Libby and Brad when they first opened in October 2006. She flew to Denver, rented an apartment, and spent a month assisting the Same Café with everything from painting walls and getting permits to guiding them in all aspects of their new business. Six cafes sponsored by the One World Foundation are currently in the works across the country, proving that this is a replicable model that could change the way we view eating in community.
Click here to visit the website of the Same Café.
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