Finding the Value in a Free Lunch

Finding the Value in a Free Lunch

The city's first pay-as-you-feel restaurant has inspired close-knit bonds even among strangers

Karma Cafe Opens ABQ’s First Pay-As-You-Feel Restaurant

The green walled interior of Karma Cafe   How much is a meal worth? It’s a question worth some thought.

The folks at Karma Café have that question in mind every day. When Wade McCullough, known for local favorites Tia Betty Blue’s, Tia B’s and El Cotorro; and Skylar Petty started offering food with no set price from a stand at the Downtown Growers’ Market a few years ago, that question was pretty high on the list, but feeding folks who might not be able to afford food was even more important.

It’s a brave endeavor – are there enough people who will chip in to help folks who can’t afford to pay full price for a meal to make a business financially viable? So far, it looks like it is working.

The founders took their idea from a stand at the local farmers’ market to a small food truck operation with the help of crowd funding.

About a month ago, people who believed you shouldn’t have to have money to eat helped open up Albuquerque’s first “pay what you want” restaurant. The proprietors attempt to use locally sourced ingredients in all their dishes.

A bowl of soup   The brick-and-mortar location seems to be settling in at its San Pedro site. According to manager Shannon Sweet, an average of 40 to 60 patrons a day visit. Some come for the opportunity for a free or inexpensive meal. Others come to support the idea of helping those who need an affordable meal. Some come in for a cup of coffee just to see the good deeds being done and leave after dropping cash in the donation box or the jar for tips to volunteers.

Sweet said the average take per day is seven bucks a person.

Customers, too, seem to believe in the idea of helping others. One regular helped a young woman find a battered women’s shelter. A stranger sitting across the room offered help finding a place for the young woman to spend the night off the street.

The restaurant accepts volunteers and free or discounted ingredients and supplies. Donations are tax deductible. The restaurant does not have a land-line phone as of yet, but that is in the works. Find them online or visit the restaurant at 1617 San Pedro NE.

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Steve “Mo” Fye is an Instructional Tech in the Culinary Arts program at Central New Mexico Community College and has been known to giggle after making a low-fat, gluten-free, low-cholesterol dish and eating it with a sauce he knows will blow his diet for days.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.