I had to wait a few minutes before chef Matt Weber was available to chat, so I took some time to wander around and get a feel for this place. What I already knew about Table Grace Café is that it’s a place that offers food for a free-will offering. They don’t suggest a certain amount of money as a donation – you just give what you feel like giving and nobody knows how much you donated because it all goes into a wooden box at the counter. Just learning that was enough to prompt me to stop in and have a look around.
I’m not sure what I was expecting to find at Table Grace Café. I suppose I envisioned a soup kitchen type-vibe, but instead what I found was a quaint restaurant filled with friendly people and healthy, fresh food. Customers were sharing tables – not because they had to, but instead because they wanted to. In fact, as I sat waiting to speak to Matt, another customer came up and asked if he could share my table with me. I glanced around at the other empty tables and shrugged, unaccustomed to breaking the “hey-this-is-my-table” norm that is typical at eateries but happy to have the company.
I asked him about Table Grace Café, and he was enthusiastic in his responses. I found out that his name is Corey and he’s a regular at the café. “There’s good art up on the wall, there’s a good vibe, and yeah, it’s just pizza-salad-soup, but it’s good.”
The pizza-salad-soup combo is standard fare at Table Grace Café, but before you envision microwave pizza, canned soup and wilted iceberg lettuce doused in ranch dressing, you should know that Matt is a trained chef who studied at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City. Pizza and soup is handmade every day at Table Grace Café. The varieties they offer depend upon what they have available.
“We have a relationship with Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Wohlner’s,” says Matt. “That’s where almost all our food donations come from. During the growing seasons we get some donated by produce markets and local farms.” These donations help keep costs low, and help Matt and his crew continue to offer nutritious food to folks who might otherwise go hungry.
It’s important to note here that while Table Grace Café certainly helps people who might not otherwise be able to afford this type of meal, this place is for everyone. Everyone is welcome, and everyone is free to pay whatever they want to pay for the food. Whether you drop a couple of quarters into the donation box or a hundred dollar bill, you’re going to receive the same friendly service and wholesome meal as everyone else.
Matt told me stories about some of the customers who are regulars. “There was a guy named Shannon who was staying at the Sienna Francis House, which is within walking distance of here,” he begins. “Every time he came in he brought a big garbage bag full of aluminum cans, so we just got used to seeing him with that bag. He’d always donate a dollar or more, and if he didn’t have money he would always volunteer to do chores.”
“We knew he was homeless. He told us he collected cans to make money. He was a really good guy – always very friendly and appreciative. One day he came in without his bag of cans and was obviously tired and worn out, and just dragging himself along. So I said, ‘Hey, you look kind of beat, what’s going on?’ He said, ‘Well, this morning I had my chemo treatment and I didn’t think I would have the energy to carry my cans around.’ So here is a guy who is homeless, collecting cans to make a living, and is trying to scrape by, and all the while he’s receiving chemo treatments for skin cancer. And that day he was dragging himself around and he still gave money. Somebody like that – it’s the epitome of generosity. He’s doing as much as he can do.”
Brace yourself, because there’s even more that Table Grace Café does. “We have a training program for people looking for references for work,” Matt explains. “Basically they get ten days of work experience here and after that we give them a letter of recommendation and help with their resume. We give them some job coaching too.” One of his current staff members first came to him homeless and pregnant. She received training and, when resources became available, she was hired on.
Table Grace Café also gives back to the community they’re already helping. “We can’t always get through all the produce we get,” says Matt. “Whatever we can’t use here we take to the food pantry. We also have a relationship with a farm that uses our scraps for composting.”
“Everyone knows that fresh fruits and vegetables are very important,” says Matt. “We’re really trying to not waste anything and make sure it gets used.”
There are ways you can help this incredible organization. First off, go eat at Table Grace Café. The food is good and if you are generous with your free-will donation, that’s even better. “As a non-profit organization, we really rely on donations,” says Matt.
You can also spend some time volunteering at the café. Volunteer for food prep, cleaning, or to help the folks who are in the training program. “We do need help from people willing to sit down with someone and role play a job interview or take a second look at their resume,” Matt says.
Table Grace Café just celebrated their second year anniversary. Considering many restaurants charging high prices for their menu items can’t even make it to two years, this milestone is quite an accomplishment. Now go eat some pizza that you can feel good about.
Table Grace Café
1611 Farnam Street
(402) 708-7815 www.tablegracecafe.com
Monday – Saturday: 11:00 am to 2:00 pm