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

The Mustard Seed's menu board on opening day. Photo: The Mustard Seed

The Mustard Seed’s menu board on opening day. Photo: The Mustard Seed

E911: What would be your advice to restaurants, specifically the big chain restaurants?

DC: Offer different portion sizes. For example, offer more half portions or small, medium and large portions. The other day, I overheard an adult order a kids’ meal for herself, because she didn’t want more than that. Maybe offer more “kids’ meals” that are not considered just for kids.

This would not mean a profit loss; there actually can be more profit to be made in serving small portions. A regular dinner portion might run $8. I, as well as a lot of folks, would happily pay $5 for a half portion. It doesn’t have to be half price for a half portion. Plus, some of us are willing to pay for the privilege of not wasting food and reducing the chances of overeating and feeling too full.

E911: What do you think was a turning point in community cafés taking off?

DC: Things really popped in 2010, four years after I opened One World. Ten cafés opened that year — one of them opened by Bon Jovi, called Soul Kitchen. He and his wife saw one of the cafés on a TV show and the next day they called me.

Then the Panera Bread company got interested in creating community cafés and opened five under their nonprofit Panera Cares. They have a full staff but allow some volunteers, mostly from partnerships with at-risk youth to provide training for future employment.

Together, all the community café kitchens serve approximately 3,468 meals a day, or more than 1.3 million meals a year to their communities.

E911: With more than 40 community cafés operating now, what are some that stand out?

DC: I really love them all in different ways, but there are two that stand out in my mind right now. [One is] the F.A.R.M. Cafe in Boone, N.C., which was a grassroots effort by the community — a church, actually — that steadily and methodically raised money to create and run a community café. It is located on the town’s main street. To me, this café exemplifies the strength and commitment of community.

The Mustard Seed in El Paso, Texas, has received ample community support. Photo: The Mustard Seed

The Mustard Seed in El Paso, Texas, has received ample community support. Photo: The Mustard Seed

Another café, The Mustard Seed, located in El Paso, Texas, started when a woman, Christi Brown, had a strong desire to do something for her community. It is a beautiful space with huge painted artwork created by the kids there. It is located in a church, but it feels like a beautiful café. Christi is quite the visionary, and she pointed out that they were able to do it without much money. When the community is behind such a place, it can happen for a lot less than you think.

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