Q&A: The Community Café Model of Adjustable Portions, Prices

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Denise Cerreta started a community café in Salt Lake City and now helps others around the country emulate the concept. Photo: One World Everybody Eats

Denise Cerreta started a community café in Salt Lake City and now helps others around the country emulate the concept. Photo: One World Everybody Eats

Because it was so uncharacteristic and a bit remarkable, I recall three distinct moments the first time I ate at One World Café in Salt Lake City.

  • The food was served a spoonful at a time onto my plate according to my requested portion size. (One spoonful? Two? More?)
  • I was asked to pay what I could and what I felt the meal was worth.
  • I noticed the café’s garbage can — a 5-gallon container — wasn’t even half full, yet they had served easily more than 100 customers that day.

It was 2003 and despite raised eyebrows and gentle “are you crazy?” comments, owner Denise Cerreta had spontaneously switched One World Café’s business model to a pay-what-you-can-and-what-you-think-it’s-worth model.

Her driving concept was that everybody should have access to a healthy, delicious meal regardless of whether they could afford it. Those who could pay more could compensate for those who had little or no money to give.

Her impulsive decision and passion resulted in the nation’s first community café. About a year in, Cerreta was fielding requests for mentorship from those wanting to create a like-minded café in their own communities. She began traveling from one state to another, nurturing these startups, sometimes staying for months at a time.

Today, more than 40 such cafés have sprouted across the country, and Cerreta helped found One World Everybody Eats. This nonprofit, supported by a network of community cafés, seeks to reduce world hunger and eliminate waste in the food industry. As the demands for Cerreta’s time increased, she chose to let go of her original café in Salt Lake City.

“One World Everybody Eats is really a movement. Initially it was about me and one café, but it has grown way beyond that,” says Cerreta from her home in Santa Fe. “For me, it became a question of how to make this self-sustaining regardless of whether I’m here or not.”

She spoke with Earth911 about customized portions, changing the restaurant business model and why reducing waste matters just as much as ending hunger.

Next page: Denise Cerreta shares what makes this concept work

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