Creating Community Through Meals: SAME Café
Hebrews 13:6 “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
So All May Eat (SAME) Café of Denver, Colorado only serves lunch each day and patrons don’t have to pay for their meals with money. This is not your typical restaurant, but it has grown since inception in 2006. Libby and Brad Birky were not famous chefs when they opened for business after quitting their fulltime jobs and investing all their money and retirement savings into the restaurant. The husband and wife team had been volunteering together once a week at different food and homeless shelters and were aware of the poor food quality. They are passionate about ending hunger and believe in providing more than just a meal. Quality food and giving a person an opportunity to help others makes a huge difference in the health and well being of individuals.
Libby was a teacher and Brad worked for a computer company when they became passionate about opening a café where all people from homeless to wealthy were welcomed to eat and build a community. You pay what you can for your meal and if you don’t have money then you work around the café, which adds to the community aspect of this café. This concept has caught on and there are now 29 cafes around the country they are connected to that follow a similar concept. The Birky’s have helped many of the community cafes get started and openly offer advice.
The daily menu includes meals like soup, chili, salad and pizza. All dishes are made from scratch with fresh and organic ingredients. They even prepare special menus for holidays, such as the potato pizza, broccoli pizza, spinach salad and bacon vinaigrette and colcannon soup they served on this past St. Patrick’s Day.
[caption id="attachment_7519" align="aligncenter" width="539"] The Birky’s believe in the power of building a community. “The more we connect, the more we can help people and relieve burdens,” states Libby.[/caption]
The Birky’s believe in the power of building a community. “The more we connect, the more we can help people and relieve burdens,” states Libby. They are open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and work in conjunction with other services. They do not provide housing, but know they can direct people to the proper resources, such as The Gathering Place (day shelter for women and children), Denver Urban Ministries (food pantry), Metro Care Ring (food pantry and more) and HOPE House (resources for people with HIV/AIDS). “If an individual goes to the woman’s shelter after they stop serving lunch, the shelter knows they can send people to us and we will happily provide a hot, nutritious meal,” states Libby.
SAME Café is located in the heart of Denver in a strategic location near the largest woman’s shelter in the state, police department, hospital, homeless shelters, food banks and many other non-profit organizations that serve the community. “A large percentage of our patrons are hard-working individuals who are trying to rise above their situation. Most have housing and good, honest and fair people who want to be part of our community,” states Libby. The demographics of Denver are different from many other cities. In Denver, if you are a family of four and make less than $59,000 you qualify for lower income assistance. There are numerous homeless shelters, so if you are on the street, it’s usually by choice.
Challenges in the Beginning
When the Birky’s first started planning for SAME Café, One World Café in Salt Lake City, Utah was the only other community café they had heard of. Denise Cerreta, founder of One World Café, shared how they operated and provided crucial guidance in helping SAME build a solid foundation. “The concept was foreign to people, so banks would not lend us money to get started. We lent SAME our savings and cashed out our 401Ks,” states Libby. The whole operation was a risk, but they believed in bringing their dream to reality and it has paid off today in numerous ways. When the recession hit in 2008 the economy began changing drastically and they went from serving around 20 people per day that paid between $6 – $10 per meal on average to serving over 100 people per day who donated an average of $2.50 per meal. Since SAME had already been in operation for two years and had fostered the right connections with other cafes, they knew what modifications were needed and were able to grow from it.
Growing the Concept
The Birkys are happy to share their experience with others and their strong belief in building a sense of community is apparent each day. People knew Libby’s love for teaching and often asks if she misses it. She smiles and replies, “My classroom and students are different, but every single day I get to teach.” Many cafes have approached SAME Café for advice on how to bring the concept to their community. This type of business in the restaurant industry is much different because the cafes often bounce ideas off one another and they gladly offer a hand to build one another up.
SAME Café has developed into a vital part of the community since the doors first opened and they even cater and host events. They always welcome donations and have an active wish list on Amazon that you can view on their website, www.soallmayeat.org.