“Pay-as-you-can” is a slowly expanding trend led by people like Libby and Brad Birky, who opened their nonprofit restaurant several years ago in Denver, Colorado.
Thanks to numerous volunteers and patrons, they have been self-sufficient during a time when many restaurants and businesses are failing. Their concept is being emulated by others who envision a world where all may be nourished.
Here is Their Story:
Libby Birky noticed the dollar bill on the floor one morning as she opened the door to SAME Cafe. “Did we drop this?” she wondered. And then almost every day for the next eight months, she was heartened by the sight of a single dollar bill that had been pushed through the slot in the door. (On the rare day when there was no dollar bill, there would be two the following morning). One evening, Libby was working late and caught a glimpse of the giver, a man in tattered clothes who surreptitiously walked away. Although she has not seen him since, a dollar still awaits her arrival each day.
At a restaurant where customers receive no bills, and there are no cash registers or credit card machines, one never knows what to expect. “You get awed and shocked every day,” says Libby.
Although there’s a donation box at the end of the counter, on one particular day two of the volunteers discovered a $50 bill next to a used coffee cup. They told Libby that the only person who had sat at that table was “the scrawny street person who looked like he was wearing all of the clothes that he owned.” Incredulous, Libby realized that even she gets to have her stereotypes broken down.
It was while volunteering at homeless shelters that Libby and Brad became disenchanted with the poor quality of the food, and the lack of connection that people in poverty were experiencing. Glad to be able to go to a restaurant for a good meal at the end of their day of volunteering, they realized that others didn’t have that option or the luxury of eating healthy food. So the idea for SAME Café was conceived. It took five years and their life savings to manifest.
The Birkys created their “pay-as-you-can” restaurant in the heart of a transitional neighborhood, where people from all walks of life could eat a fresh, organic, “cooked from scratch” meal.
“We want to offer a piece of dignity that everyone can have access to,” says Libby.
There’s no pressure to pay. Guests can choose to contribute by making monetary donations, by sweeping the floors or by doing dishes.
Libby had noticed a dramatic change in the second week of November 2008, when several companies, realizing the economy wasn’t going to turn around quickly, laid off huge numbers of people. That’s when the lunch-only restaurant went from serving 35 to 50 people a day—with average donations totaling $7 or $8—to serving 90 people a day, averaging donations of $2 to $3. Still, SAME Café was able to eventually pay back Libby and Brad’s initial investment, and continue to support itself on the “pay-as-you-can” honor system, thanks to the open-hearted generosity of numerous volunteers, local businesses, patrons and individual donors.
Libby and Brad are grateful to offer a space and opportunity for others to eat well, and to freely give or receive help as they are able. Their currency of love, and the best part for Libby, is creating a community for such a diversity of people: single moms, teachers, elderly patrons, business professionals and those without jobs or a place to call home—all seeing each other in a dignified way in a place where they feel like they belong. It has validated Libby’s belief:
“Humans are good. They do the right thing when given a chance.”
Linda Commito, author, speaker, entrepreneur, consultant and teacher, is passionate about her vision to leave this world a kinder, more loving, and interconnected place. Her award-winning book of inspirational stories, Love is the New Currency, demonstrates how we can each make an extraordinary difference in the lives of others through simple acts of love and kindness. Linda believes that in order to inspire a kinder world the place to start is with children. She recently volunteered at a Title One elementary school, working with over 500 students, to create and facilitate “Kindness Starts With Me,” the results of which include a website (www.kindnessstartswithme.com) and a book for children. Also visit www.loveisthenewcurrency.com for more information and/or to sign up for an uplifting monthly newsletter.