Sunday, January 14, 2007

Robin Hood Restaurants: Organics for Everyone

I just finished writing a post on Gristmill's new "Ask a Brokeass" column for Treehugger, and seem to be in a frugal living mood tonight, as Groovy Green's post on Robin Hood restaurants grabbed my attention, also. What's a "Robin Hood restaurant?" According to Time magazine, they're " cafes which have missions that are unapologetically altruistic." Time features Denver's SAME Cafe and Salt Lake City's One World Cafe, which both feature organic fare that customers can either buy or trade for:
Customers who have no money are encouraged to exchange an hour of service — sweep, wash the dishes, weed the organic garden — for a meal. Likewise, guests who have money are encouraged to leave a little extra to offset the meals of those who have less to give. "We're a hand up, not a handout," says One World owner Denise Cerreta, who prides herself on the fact that everyone can afford a meal at her cafĂ©.
To increase affordability, customers can choose their portion sizes, and payment is based on what the customer believes is fair, rather than set menu prices. Do some people take advantage of that? Certainly. On the other hand, these restaurants generosity has come back to it in spades:
At One World, patrons have given Cerreta a car, bought new dishes, arranged to professionally clean her carpets, supplied new tile for the restaurant bathrooms, and donated property for an organic garden and funded a new irrigation system for it. Last week, a gentleman left a $50 bill next to an empty bowl of soup at SAME. Since opening, one man has regularly come in and left money on the counter without eating, stating "I was blessed today so I though I'd pass it on." He's homeless.
I don't know if this can work everywhere (an Indian restaurant in NYC has had to start stating prices on its menu), but it's very cool that it works at all. The other thing that's great about this system is that it gives people from all walks of life a chance to eat fresh, organic foods, not just those who can afford/have access to chains like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, or who have an active farmer's market nearby. I know where I'm eating next time I'm in either of these cities...

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