There’s something very Lockean about Philadelphia’s first nonprofit “pay-what-you-can” restaurant.
Everyone At the Table (EAT) Cafe only asks patrons to pay a “suggested” price once they’ve finished their three-course meal in West Philadelphia. If they can’t pay it? No harm, no foul.
Really, EAT stakeholders are making a big bet on their community by banking on patrons just being inherently good people — good people who will saddle up their suggested bill eventually if they don’t have the cash to pay it today.
Manager and chef Donnell Jones-Craven hopes the cafe will make the community better by investing in the conscience of customers.
“Our expectation is our community at large will not take advantage of it but help to sustain it,” Jones-Craven said. “We’re not trying to question or belittle people when it comes to sitting down and having something to eat. We hope when people walk away they’ll feel a real sense of humanity.”
"We hope people will come in one way and come out another."
Jones-Craven said EAT will treat patrons with the kind of “respect and dignity” they may not receive at other restaurants. So much even the serial opportunist couldn’t help but pay the suggested price after a few visits.
“We hope those people will come in one way and come out another,” he said. “We hope by the time they leave, their perspective not just on us but on humanity starts to shift to a higher level. That’s one of the goals I have — one of my personal mandates.”
Jones-Craven said the experience of visiting EAT should be akin to “going to church” even if you’re not a believer. The restaurant will aim to fulfill a base spiritual (and nutritional) need in its community. That spiritual boost, Jones-Craven said, might even sway some more affluent customers to foot the bill for patrons who can’t afford to meet the suggested price.
Food and fellowship can go a long way, he said.
“We’re striving to paint those pictures in hopes they become a reality so we can keep our staff employed and keep our restaurant moving and growing in the direction it needs to go.”
EAT is a collaboration between Vetri Community Partnership, the Center for Hunger-Free Communities and the Center for Hospitality and Sport Management at Drexel University and is expected to open its doors in June.
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Jones-Craven said eventually EAT will look to roll out a work readiness training program for the formerly incarcerated in late fall or early winter. For now, the nonprofit is taking all kinds of donations from monetary to cookbook to volunteer hours for front-end staff.-30-
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