"So All May Eat:" Denver's pay-what-you-can cafe offers food and dignity
For nearly 20 years, SAME Café on Denver's East Colfax Avenue has operated under an unchanging business model for one sole purpose: "So All May Eat."
Why it matters: SAME — which opened in 2006 as the city's first nonprofit restaurant — now lays claim to being the longest-running nonprofit, participation-based cafe in the country.
- Through the decades, it has managed to build community and bring dignity and hope to people in need through unfettered access to fresh, healthy food.
How it works: In exchange for locally sourced, made-from-scratch meals, diners have three options: They can trade 30 minutes of volunteer time, deliver fresh produce, or donate however many dollars they can spare.
What they're saying: "It doesn't matter if you have $1 million or $5 in your pocket. This is a place where everybody is welcome. Everybody can come and sit down and have lunch together," executive director Carrie Shores tells us.
By the numbers: The nonprofit has six paid full-time staffers and runs on roughly $800,000 in annual contributions. 80% of the eatery's expenses are covered through fundraising efforts. The rest comes from the cafe, where donations average about $5 per person, Shores says.
- SAME serves roughly 80 meals a day inside the eatery, but it delivers hundreds more around the city when called on by the community — like catering to people experiencing homelessness during COVID.
- The cafe is serving 600 meals a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — but it's not enough to meet demand.
- More than half of the migrants being fed are children. "We're talking younger than pre-school age," Shores says. "And they're hungry."
- "Everything here makes the difference, whether you're chopping vegetables, whether you're filling somebody's coffee cup, whether you're downstairs sweeping and mopping, it doesn't matter," Shores says.
- "Everybody contributes to the mission of the organization, and that is how we've been able to stay here for 17 years."
Zoom out: Although SAME Café's business model is unique, there are hundreds of other nonprofit restaurants around the country that donate some or all profits to charities.
- Not all have stayed afloat, however. For example, Rosa's Fresh in Philadelphia — a $1 pay-it-forward pizzeria — was forced to close in 2019 after just six years amid financial struggles.
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