Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

At This Organic Restaurant You Pay What You Can

Can a restaurant only charge donations for organic food and survive in today's economy? Denver's SAME Café does just that.

CAFE sign

Photo: Pete Ashton (flickr)

SAME Café is volunteer-powered and offers organic food. Some ingredients are even grown by an urban farmer located less than a mile away.

A New Business Model

There are no price tags on meals at SAME Café. In fact, there are no prices at all. This small organic restaurant in Denver, Colorado lets customers pay what they can for their meals, even accepting volunteer time in place of cash.

In a mini-documentary about the restaurant produced by Organic Nation, co-owner Libby Birky says, “We’re making healthy, really good food available to everyone.”

Customers come from a wide range of backgrounds: business people, the elderly, single moms, college students, young artists, families with children, and other people who are stretching their budgets and don’t qualify for financial assistance elsewhere.

70 percent of SAME Café’s costs are covered by donations for food and the rest of expenses are paid for by grants. Although it may not sound like a sustainable business model, SAME Café has expanded their staff, space, and food since opening in 2006.

Volunteer-Powered

SAME, an acroynm for So All May Eat, was founded by Birky and her husband Brad Birky and is powered by a team of volunteers. Some of the ingredients used in their organic meals are grown by an urban farmer located less than a mile away. The volunteers serve 65-120 meals of soup, salad, and pizza every day, with more meals provided toward the end of the month when people are trying to stretch their dollars until their next paycheck.

Birky says volunteers are committed to SAME Café’s mission. “They want to see SAME Café open tomorrow, so if that means that if they’re helping with the dishes we’re open another day, then of course they want to participate.”

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Julie Rooney

Julie Rooney is a vegetarian, musician, and artist who primarily works in video and new media. Currently she is the director of Low Road Gallery, a non-profit contemporary art gallery located in Greencastle, Indiana.

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