'Pay what you can' Knead Community Cafe thriving in New Kensington
The Knead Community Cafe's pay-what-you-can model is working as intended after a year in operation, the downtown New Kensington restaurant's owners and volunteers say.
Some had doubts but, "Things are going great," co-owner Kevin Bode said Tuesday as the nonprofit cafe opened for lunch on its Day 365.
"We've truly been blessed," Bode said.
About three dozen diners were in the Barnes Street cafe as of noon Tuesday. On a typical weekday, between 60 and 70 people eat lunch there, Bode said.
The idea behind the cafe is simple, if a bit unusual: Those who can pay should; those who can't don't have to.
If customers feel they can part with more cash than suggested, they can, and co-owner Mary Bode, Kevin's wife, said she hopes they will.
But if a customer can't foot the bill, then no donation is required.
There is a paid chef, and there likely will be a manager soon to oversee volunteers, Kevin Bode said. Each day, about a dozen volunteers put in time to prepare food, serve and clean up, and, in most cases, they work simply for the pleasure of helping out.
In the case of someone who needs a hand up, food can be traded for volunteer time. "We want them to partner with us, to help us out," Kevin Bode said.
The Bodes have been running the restaurant in a way never seen before in the Alle-Kiski Valley. They say the community response has been incredible.
"We are so happy to be part of this rebirth of New Kensington," Mary Bode said, referring to efforts to revive the downtown area. "It's taken many people, but we've done it. I think that we've made a little bit of an impact but we think there are going to be much more wonderful things to happen here."
Plans for the cafe include offering outdoor dining starting this spring in an adjacent courtyard, Kevin Bode said. A small movie screen may be put up, and the cafe would invite the community to take in films.
There also are plans to grow food for the cafe in four raised planter beds on the property, Kevin Bode said.
An average meal costs about $8, for a large "really good" sandwich with fresh chicken or sausage, lettuce and tomato, for example, plus soup. Tacos and pulled pork also have been on the menu, he said, and there always are three different soups.
"The wedding soup is pretty much a standard," he said.
Lately, the restaurant has been adding entree salads and main dishes — such as crab cakes last Friday.
And there always are grilled cheese sandwiches and other fare that appeals to children.
Generally, about 30 percent of patrons pay what they can, less than the suggested prices. Among the other diners, about half pay the standard prices and the other half chip in a little more — giving $10 for an $8 meal, for instance, Kevin Bode said.
"We've been overwhelmed by the support of the community," he said. "The people who come in, it's just been great. The number of people who come in for help has been really increasing and that's been great."
Jan Jennings, a retired hospital executive, said he has been volunteering at the cafe for a month.
Jennings said Knead really does serve every segment of the population, including those who need help the most.
"We get all kinds of people in here," he said. "One of the best parts is that they aren't singled out in any way. They can come in here and eat next to professionals and not feel like they are on the outside."
Customer and occasional volunteer Judi Contes echoed that sentiment, saying she tries to pay her success in life forward when she's at the cafe.
She she paid $10 for a Caesar salad and soup that she shared with a friend, and then left $10 on top of that.
"I love this place and I try to volunteer to help whenever I can," she said. "I truly believe this is one of the best things that ever happened to New Kensington."
Matthew Medsger is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4675, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @matthew_medsger.