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Pay it Forward at A Place at The Table

By Melissa Biediger | February 6, 2018 | Corporate Citizenship

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Walking into A Place at the Table on Hargett Street in downtown Raleigh seems like it might be any other restaurant. Diners are lined up to order, the chef and his assistants are busy on the line making meals and wait staff are bussing tables.

What happens inside A Place at the Table is different than most restaurants. You can feel it from the warm welcome as soon as the door opens.

A Place at the Table is the Triangle’s only pay-as-you-can café. The restaurant offers breakfast and lunch at a suggested price, and diners have the option to pay the list price, pay more to cover someone else’s meal, pay less or volunteer as payment for their meal. The restaurant emphasizes dining with dignity – offering a space for all to gather around good food, regardless of ability to pay.

“When you eat with people, you get that shared community. You get to talk to someone and really get to know them,” said Maggie Kane, executive director of A Place at the Table. “I always wondered, why is that just for people that can afford to dine out?”

Passion for food and people

Kane, 26, grew up in Raleigh, volunteering in soup kitchens. In college, she worked at a day center that provided space and meals for the underserved. While these organizations were meeting basic needs, she noticed there wasn’t always a feeling of community. A self-proclaimed foodie, Kane wanted to create a place that stressed hospitality and offered delicious food to any guest. With a little research, she found 60 pay-as-you-can cafés and restaurants across the country, including the F.A.R.M. Café in Boone.  Kane arranged to volunteer at F.A.R.M. and observe the model in action. It didn’t take long to decide to bring the concept to Raleigh. 

Kane and her advisory board searched for a location for more than two years, hosting pop-up services at churches and restaurants in the meantime. Finally, on Jan. 8, 2018, A Place at the Table opened its doors in downtown Raleigh.

“To have people physically come in and support us has been amazing,” said Tosheria Brown, community volunteer and member of the restaurant’s Community Advisory Board. “Bringing people from different backgrounds together at a table to have the same dining experience makes this place special.”

Pay what you can 

The restaurant offers breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. – 2 p.m., serving about 200 diners a day. The expectation is that 80% of people will pay the suggested menu price or more, offsetting the 20% of diners who pay less or volunteer for their meals. These volunteers work alongside community volunteers to wash dishes, bus tables and greet guests.

Some of the restaurant’s earliest supporters were local churches, family foundations, and individuals who believed in its mission. Sean Degnan of Raleigh’s bu·ku and so·ca serves as chair of the board of directors, providing sponsorship and industry expertise.

20 meals per day for a year

Adding its support to A Place at the Table, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) has pledged to provide 20 fresh, healthy meals per day for a full year to those in need. Blue Cross NC will also assist with upfront operational expenses.

“Now that Blue Cross NC is with us, it’s a message to the community that this company believed in what we’re doing, and we’re going to make it,” Kane said.

This donation is one of several that supports local charitable organizations that align with the mission of Thrive NC presented by Blue Cross NC.

Scheduled for May 10-11 in downtown Raleigh, Thrive NC is a two-day event that will feature a food festival with contributions from top chefs and restaurants, live music, and community service. A collaborative summit will kick off the event with meaningful conversations to address food system challenges in North Carolina.