When Maggie Kane took on the role of Executive Director at A Place at the Table, she set out to create a space where people of all backgrounds could come together to share a meal and a sense of community.
It’s just taking a little longer than she anticipated.
“If you asked me a year ago when I thought we’d be open, I’d have said by the beginning of 2016 — it’s so funny how long these things take!” Kane said in a recent interview.
The goal now, she said, is to open the nonprofit, pay-what-you-can restaurant by New Year’s.
“We have to be open, we want to be open, and we’re going to be open!” she enthused.
Before that happens, Kane wants to make sure the whole city knows what they have planned. The awareness campaign will kick off in earnest on Saturday, April 2, when A Place at the Table hosts a pop-up café lunch at Solas on Glenwood Avenue from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“This is the time to finally be able to get out and show people our mission, since we’re unable to open ourselves right now, we’re going to do different pop-ups in different areas, they’ll be collaborative, community events with a mix of people,” Kane said.
The event at Solas will feature catering donated by a number of local vendors, including Carolina Ale House, Babylon, Chick-fil-A, McDoanld’s and Urban Food Group.
Carolina Ale House will provide the bulk of the food, Kane said.
“And Babylon, it’s a Moroccan restaurant, they’re going to sponsor us and give us, it’s called a bastilla, they’re little fried little pastries and they’re very good.”
The McDonald’s up the street will be supplying 28 jugs of Sweet & Unsweet Tea.
“The goal is to get different places partnering together, it’s a communal, collaborative event,” Kane said.
“That’s only possible when the whole community comes together, when everyone does a little bit can we pull off something like A Place at the Table.”
“It’s Really Hard to Find a Rent that’s Affordable in Raleigh”
Before the pop-ups, back when Kane thought A Place at the Table would be opening its doors by January 2016, she also thought they’d settled on a location: the ground floor of the new Hillsborough Lofts apartments at 2510 Hillsborough Street.
The space was negotiated after the developer Cary Joshi reached an agreement with the West Raleigh Presbyterian Church, which occupies an adjoining lot.
Unfortunately, that space will be completely vacant when it’s ready for A Place at the Table to move in, and building out a brand-new restaurant requires significant upfront capital.
When asked if the organization still had a long-term fundraising goal of $100,000, Kane just laughed.
“It was probably going to be a little more than that if we found another place, more like $150,000. As we did our research and found other places…rent is high, it’s really hard to find a rent that’s affordable in Raleigh because of how the city’s taken off.”
Kane said the budget now is more in the $400,000 range due to the costs associated with setting up a new restaurant, although they have not raised these funds yet, and she is hesitant to have a nonprofit spend a large amount on construction costs.
While they are still exploring other options, Kane said they would prefer to operate out of the Hillsborough Street location.
“We’re not a regular restaurant, we can’t go out — and I’m not saying that it’s easy — and get an investor and sell our concept and have two big investors that help us open our doors,” she said.
“Fundraising is hard.”
“We Can all be Neighbors and Friends”
Although there are around 50 existing pay-what-you-can cafes throughout the country, Kane said she had spent the most time working with the operators of the F.A.R.M. Cafe in Boone, North Carolina.
“Since it’s the closest one, we’ve been able to go up a couple of times, we spent a few days there several different times,” Kane said.
“They’ve given us great advice, and they’re friends now, it’s been a great relationship.”
While Kane has taken a lot away from F.A.R.M. and the other cafes she’s studied, the concept for Place at the Table is tailored specifically for Hillsborough Street.
“On Hillsborough now there’s not a ton of options for breakfast,” Kane said.
“So we would do breakfast food, or breakfast and lunch; the food would be dependent on what we can get seasonally.
“For instance if there’s an influx of summer tomatoes, then we have an egg casserole/tomato pie quiche; but there’s always going to be egg casseroles and many different options for people to choose from that are healthy, freshly prepared and as local and seasonal as possible.”
Over breakfast, Kane said, she hopes that people will begin to establish a stronger sense of community.
“The sense that all people are welcome around the table, and that we can all be neighbors and friends and get to know one another: food allows us to do that,” she said.
“Food is the one thing that all humans have in common, food is the connector between us, between the human spirit and the human body because we all have to eat, and we all love to eat.”
Future pop-up events have been scheduled at the Oak City Outreach Center in June and at the offices of Bandwith, an IT company housed on Centennial Campus at NC State, in July.