Pay what you can at SAME Cafe
Non-profit depends on sliding scale pay model
Founded in 2006 by Brad and Libby Birky, SAME Cafe is dedicated to serving customers healthy, organic, and locally sourced foods prepared fresh daily. “SAME” stands for “So All May Eat.” The cafe is Denver’s first (and one of its only) non-profit restaurants. Instead of having a set menu price, customers pay what they can for their meal or eat in exchange for volunteer work.
Brad Reubendale took over as executive director in early October. “My background is in nonprofit management. I was hired to take SAME Cafe to the next level,” Reubendale said.
The SAME Cafe serves between 30 to 55 people daily. Their motto is “Everyone, regardless of economic status, deserves the chance to eat healthy food while being treated with dignity. Good food for the Greater Good.” This means that each customer is treated as equal, even though the cafe’s clientele varies drastically.
“We do get a lot of people who experience poverty, we also get people who drive in from the suburbs because they love our food so much,” Reubendale said. “We have business people having meetings next to people experiencing homelessness next to older people on a fixed income. The community that has developed here is incredible.”
SAME Cafe runs off the idea of all patrons participating in the cafe. This does not always mean pay what you can, however.
“We don’t talk about money until after we bring you your food. We just have you order off of our menu and then we give you the food and say ‘How would you like to participate?’ For someone who makes a lot of money, participating might mean they give us a $50 for their meal because they can and they like what we do. If they are someone experiencing homelessness, participating might be giving us 30 minutes of their time to wash dishes. But everyone gets the exact same experience when they walk in,” Reubendale said.
Reubendale has made big plans for SAME Cafe’s future.
“Stage one of growth is a food truck,” Reubendale said. “That’ll be happening this summer. We will have a pay-what-you-can model food truck where we go half of the time into food deserts and half of the time at festivals.”
There are six identified food deserts in the Denver area. A food desert refers to an area in which there is no grocery store that sells fresh produce within walking distance.
“The first thing we want people to take away from SAME Cafe is the delicious food,” Reubendale said. “The second is dignity because you never have to fill out a form to eat. You can just sign up for a [volunteer] shift or put a few dollars in the jar and we won’t look sideways at you. The last is community. We think that when people from across the socioeconomic spectrum get together in the same place and actually have conversations, the community that develops is phenomenal.”