A Place at the Table
Maggie Kane is the Founder and Executive Director of A Place at the Table, the first pay-what-you-can cafe in downtown Raleigh. She graduated from North Carolina State University in 2013 and began working for a nonprofit with people experiencing homelessness. Through her work with people on the streets, she realized the power of community, the importance of dignity, and the beauty in bringing people together over incredible food. In February 2015, A Place at the Table was birthed and first opened in January 2018. And since has served thousands of people in Raleigh with a dignified, healthy, and affordable meal.
Maggie, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to meet with us today. We know that you have previously granted interviews and articles to national and regional media including the Today Show, ABC11, Food Triangle, Indy Week, The Walter, and the Raleigh News & Observer. And you have already received several local distinctions as well, including Tarheel of the Month and N.C. State’s Outstanding Young Alumna award. We are flattered that you would take the time to talk to the smaller Regency Park Partnership.
Thank you for having me and I certainly appreciate this opportunity to reach out to the many regular followers of the Regency Park Partnership. It is important that I get our message out to those like your readers who are in a real position to patronize and help us. Thank you for having me! I love telling the story of A Place at the Table and meeting new people. I tell you, this café is only possible with supporters and readers like yours!
What about all of that publicity you have gotten nationally such as in the Today Show. How has that helped you attain your goals?
This has been really huge for us. I look back and I never thought that about that one, that A Place at the Table would be this successful, and that The Today Show would be interviewing me. No way in a million years. For me, it’s insane to think that the community has truly supported us to get to this place. The fact that The Today Show wanted us means we did something right.
So finally after almost 3 years of planning and preparing, the Place at the Table finally opened its doors in January 2018 in downtown Raleigh on Hargett St. in the space formerly home to Cafe de los Muertos. So what is this place called the Place at the Table and how does it work?
A very good question. So instead of actual prices on the menu, we ask customers to pay what they can afford. There is a suggested price, so that diners may pay what they would for a typical meal. But in addition to paying for their meal monetarily they can also volunteer and those with more means can opt to pay beyond the suggested price to help offset the cost for someone who cannot afford to pay or they can purchase meal tokens to give to others. Some diners pay the full price, some pay more, some pay for as little as half their meal, and some may volunteer for their meal with an hour of work in the restaurant.
Of course the most important thing, and the reason we are here, is that many of our diners will use a token to pay for their meal.
What about your menu, what can a first-time patron expect when they visit you?
Our chef Andrew Gravens is amazing! He and his culinary team create an awesome menu. We basically offer straightforward breakfast and lunch options. Breakfast might include quiche, bowls, toasts, waffles and a full coffee bar, while lunch offerings might consist of salads, sandwiches, and some other creative dishes. We also offer vegan, gluten free, and vegetarian options.
Maggie, how did you ever come up with the vision and inspiration for this venture that was missing for so long and is now so important in the community?
Well I grew up volunteering with a youth group at my church. We regularly helped at the Good Shepherd Soup Kitchen downtown. I remember thinking I am this kid who is serving people who look just like me across the line and why do I seem so privileged while they are not. I got to know several of them and started eating with them in other soup kitchens and I found out that I could not choose what I wanted to eat, and I was being rushed. You had to stand in line and then eat in five minutes. I realized how important food was to bringing people together and maybe I could do something about it.
Can you explain in more detail how your operation is different than a soup kitchen?
Sure. We feed all people a healthy, dignified meal with a community of folks who support them. Soup kitchens are needed and provide a basic necessity: food. But, we believe that all people deserve to walk in, feel welcome, have choice of what they want to eat, and dine in dignity. We encourage people to eat together and enjoy their meals together. Community is what makes life so great. We all deserve that.
And what does having a community table really mean to you?
A Place at the Table believes in the power of community. We believe that food can and will bring us together because we all have to eat and we all love to eat. We will have one communal table that people from all walks of life and backgrounds can sit at together. We encourage people to sit here and begin conversation.
Was there anything in college that further reinforced your vision to one day make a difference in the community?
I pursued a degree from N.C. State in international studies and Italian studies and thought I would teach English abroad or perhaps work for the American embassy in Italy. But I also volunteered and interned with the nonprofit Love Wins Ministries while in college, working with people experiencing homelessness. Soon, it seemed like I was spending more time there than in class, and when I graduated in 2013, I was hired to run its day shelter.
Maggie, we know that you are sometimes away seeking new sponsors and partners, but on days when you are at the restaurant what might we see you doing?
I am actually there most days. You might find me doing just about anything that needs to be done. After all, when I am there I am just a member of the staff and a volunteer or some combination of both. I love greeting and exchanging hugs with familiar restaurant-goers and volunteers alike. I sometimes like to just stand there seeing my vision materialize: community tables filled with people from different walks of life. We all have one thing in common: food.
But is there one specific thing or occurrence that you treasure the most?
You know, we serve everyone. We believe all people deserve dignity to eat in a restaurant and deserve dignity towards a healthy, affordable meal. Wherever you come from, you are welcome to dine with us. And when I look around me I see Moms help toddlers pour syrup over waffles and friends tuck into turkey-bacon-avocado club sandwiches around a six-top. But above all I recognize that some of whom we serve almost daily will afterwards be heading back to a homeless shelter or even worse and there is nothing I can probably do to change that!
At the end of every day, I take home people’s stories, which is the biggest thing someone can give you. I get to listen to people’s life stories all day. I get to go home every day and know were able to create this authentic and real community that doesn’t exist in a lot of places.
What kind of help and support do you get from the community?
Well we have a board of directors comprised of local business leaders, non-profit veterans and restaurant industry lifers and I credit much of the cafe’s direction and success to them. We also have ten employees: an executive chef, cafe manager, executive director, a part-time volunteer coordinator, two baristas, and four sous-chefs.
Our volunteers are very important and we could not continue operations without them. All volunteers are doing the same thing, whether they are volunteering for their meal or scheduled to volunteer. They may be working in the kitchen, some may be working outside, and some may be doing things like washing windows and dishes and wiping tables. We also have core volunteers who we set a schedule for each week and are trained to do almost anything in the restaurant.
And of course helping us financially with our operations is a big help too. When you purchase a token, pay more than the suggested price, or provide a monetary donation you are helping us continue our work and see that those in real need get a helping hand at the table.
You mentioned make a monetary donation. What do those who can afford to give need to know?
A Place at the Table is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Those that are financially able can provide a monetary donation by going to www.tableraleigh.org/donate.
Donors can also join our Monthly Sustainer Program – for ten or fifteen dollars a month, your dependable monthly support helps us sustain a community where friends can come for a meal and a friendly chat, help pay a living wage to our amazing staff, and help support a vision of a steadily growing cafe and community.Maggie, we want to thank you for the time you have spent with us today and have one last but important question.
If you are able to continue getting the kind of support you need from the community what is your vision for the near future of the Place at the Table?
We are expanding into next door’s space! We are building a bigger kitchen, so we can expand and welcome more people in. We are extremely excited. I just can’t wait to see how many more people we can bring into the community, people without means and people with.
Maggie estimates that, to date, A Place at the Table has served thirty-four thousand people, given out sixty-seven hundred meals, counted twenty-two thousand “pay it forward” transactions equaling $110,000, and racked up nineteen thousand volunteer hours. A Place at the Table is proud to serve alongside the more than 60 other pay-what-you-can restaurants in the global One World Everybody Eats network.
A Place at the Table is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit located at 300 W Hargett St in Raleigh.
A Place at the Table is open for breakfast and lunch:
Tuesday to Friday - 7 AM to 2 PM Sat & Sun - 8 AM - 2 PM Closed Mondays