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Pay-what-you-wish EAT Cafe to open in September | The Triangle

Pay-what-you-wish EAT Cafe to open in September

Photo courtesy EAT Cafe
Photo courtesy EAT Cafe

EAT (Everyone At the Table) Cafe, located at 3820 Lancaster Avenue, will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony to honor its opening as a non-profit organization and restaurant 11 a.m. Sept. 14. It will be the first pay-what-you-wish style restaurant to service Philadelphia.

The concept of EAT Cafe is unique to Philadelphia, but not to the country. As of this year, numbers showed that more than 50 pay-what-you-wish style eateries opened around the country, with more than 100 others in the process of opening. EAT Cafe is one of these.

EAT Cafe will operate differently from traditional restaurants. Customers will be able to order off of a season-driven menu that will change daily. The restaurant will serve full three course meals that center around healthy and nutritious food items.

“We’re looking to make a strong presence … by engaging with the community at large with quality nutritious food,” Donnell Jones-Craven, general manager of the cafe, explained.

Once the diner finishes their meal, they will be given a check with a suggested price on it. Diners can pay as little or as much of the check price as they wish. The idea is that those who are financially able to will pay the suggested meal price or more to help “pay it forward,” so that others can dine at the restaurant for little or no cost.

The restaurant is accessible to seven different, low-income West Philadelphia neighborhoods: East Parkside, West Parkside, Mill Creek, Belmont, Mantua, Powelton Village and the West Powelton/Saunders Park neighborhoods. Several of these neighborhoods suffer from a lack of nutritious food sources and are homes to areas called food deserts. These areas are full of small shops that sell cheaper snack foods, very few fresh fruits or vegetables and are devoid of large grocery stores or agricultural sources to provide that fresh produce.

West Philadelphia has been deemed by the Obama Administration as one of the nation’s Promise Zones. Promise Zones are areas of low income neighborhoods that have been selected to receive special focus in creating more job opportunities and providing a higher standard of living.  

“When you talk about poverty, you think about access to education and access to employment, as well as access to daily living things, which all of us need. That main thing is [giving people] food and quality nutritious food. We’re looking to set a stake in the community by providing a much needed service of a restaurant serving quality nutritious food,” Jones-Craven stated.

The idea for EAT Cafe started about five years ago. Mariana Chilton, PhD, is a Dornsife School of Public Health professor and the director of Drexel’s Center for Hunger-Free Communities. She has been working behind the scenes to make EAT Cafe a reality since the beginning. Now, the Center for Hunger Free Communities will be one of the biggest supporting organizations of EAT Cafe. Jonathan Deutsch, a professor in the Center for Hospitality and Sports Management, has also been helping to propel EAT Cafe forward and will function as the cafe’s educational partner.

Jones-Craven joined the project in the summer of 2015 and is excited to see the cafe near its opening.

“We will change the dynamic of quality nutritious foods in the West Philadelphia area, specifically the neighborhoods which make up the Promise Zone,” he stated.

The cafe won’t only function as a restaurant. With the help and organization from the Center for Hospitality and Sports Management, educational classes and other programs will be held at the location. Students enrolled in culinary arts at Drexel will have the option to complete some of their coursework and culinary lab work at the cafe.

“Within this space we’re planning on providing classroom instruction here with particular classes at the culinary school such as food production classes. Actual students will get real-time experience working in a restaurant as part of their educational experience where they have a lecture on campus but they’ll do their lab work here,” Jones-Craven explained.

EAT Cafe will be a nonprofit organization, allowing the restaurant to keep costs low for customers in the pay-as-you-wish framework. Jones-Craven explained that many of the food items the restaurant will receive from vendors will either be donated, given at a decreased cost or given at cost with no extra charge.

“The cafe, when it comes to the food we’re acquiring or purchasing, comes to a two-fold aspect. Number one, as a restaurant, we’re purchasing food from vendors just like any other restaurant. However, the unique thing is our vendors are passionate about what we’re doing,” Jones-Craven said, further explaining that these vendors are excited about what EAT Cafe can do for the community, so they are willing to work with the cafe to provide cheaper or free food for meal preparation.

Once the cafe opens, the hours of operation will be Wednesday through Saturday from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. each week. A community open house will be held at EAT Cafe’s location before its grand opening. This will take place Aug. 31 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

UPDATE: EAT Cafe managers have informed The Triangle that the grand opening has been postponed. The online article will be updated as more information becomes available.