As FoCo Cafe prepares to launch, we will be featuring fellow community cafes around Colorado. The community cafe model is what FoCo Cafe is built upon, which integrates a non-profit model, pay as you are able structure, and many times locally-sourced food. Each cafe is a bit different based on their goals and their community. The first cafe we are featuring is SAME Cafe in Denver, Colorado. Read on to learn more about this wonderful nonprofit cafe.
SAME Cafe—Denver, Colorado
“Be the change you wish to see in the world,” a quote from Mahatma Ghandi, reads proudly over the kitchen of the SAME Cafe in Denver, Colorado. This quote reflects the decision of SAME Cafe co-founders to quit their former jobs to start a non-profit cafe that embodies fresh food that everyone could afford. Brad and Libby Birky, co-founders of SAME dreamt up the idea of the cafe, which stands for So All May Eat, on a plane ride back from Austin, Texas. Sitting on the flight and brainstorming ideas on the blank page of the in-flight magazine, Brad and Libby came up with the idea of a cafe where there are no prices—a place where all could eat.
SAME is modeled under the community cafe structure, which works by bringing community together through healthy and affordable food. At SAME, individuals pay what they are able, pay it forward, or they can donate some time in exchange for a meal. As Libby put it, “SAME is a community space – a place for people to belong, a family,” she said. “It is important because people need a place to belong, and they also need access to really good healthy food at a price that everyone can afford.”
On October 20, 2014 SAME celebrated its 8th Anniversary. When SAME launched back in 2006, the then small cafe on Colfax Avenue in Denver was able to seat roughly 17 people. Now, eight years after they opened their doors, SAME has expanded and become known, feeding close to 80 people per day. “Over the last eight years we have served over 115,000 meals at SAME,” Brad said as the last SAME guest trickled out the door one day, and the busy volunteers cleaned up.
SAME runs with the help of two full time and two part time employees along with the help of volunteers. “Our volunteers are from all walks of life,” said Libby. “We have people who are volunteering in exchange for a meal, we have people doing community service hours, we have folks paying it forward. No one wears a name tag that says ‘I am working in exchange for my food,’ so we all get to treat each other with respect and dignity.”
Yellow walls greet you as you enter the cafe, and the room opens into a kitchen where you instantly see smiling volunteers bustling around preparing and serving food. The warm, home-like feel of SAME is not by accident. “We want it to feel open and comfortable,” said Brad about the layout and design of SAME Cafe.
A second piece of the community model that SAME is built on is supporting local and organic agriculture. “We compose the menu based on what is growing in season,” said Libby. “Most of our farmers are in Denver including the Botanic Gardens, Granata Farms, Ekar Farm, and we also use produce from Grant Family Farms, Miller Farms, Monroe Farms, Ella Farms. We try to stay as local and organic as possible.”
Initially, Libby and Brad were not in the business of restaurants—Libby with a masters degree in education and Brad with a computer science degree. After the idea came to fruition on the plane ride, a friend of theirs who also runs a community cafe told them they could always return to their old jobs. Libby described that they are not too far from where they began, “People ask if I miss being a teacher, and I say I still teach every day – the classroom and students just look a little different than they used to,” she said.
To learn more about SAME, to donate, or to stop by for lunch, visit www.soallmayeat.org
“People ask if I miss being a teacher, and I say I still teach every day – the classroom and students just look a little different than they used to,” Libby Birky, Co-founder of SAME