This Philly Restaurant Charges Whatever People Can Afford

Photo courtesy of Sam Gamberg
Photo courtesy of Sam Gamberg / Photo courtesy of Sam Gamberg

Upscale restaurants in major cities like New York and Chicago often charge hundreds of dollars for their high-end cuisine, with waiting lists weeks or months out. It’s a far cry from the opposite end of the dining spectrum, where lower-income families can often struggle to arrange even the simplest meals.

Thanks to one nonprofit organizer in Philadelphia, quality dining doesn’t have to be an exclusive experience.

EAT (Everyone at the Table) Café recently opened in West Philadelphia, and the concept is simple. Diners can pay a suggested $15 for a three-course meal. If they’d like to pay more, the business certainly won’t refuse. But if they’re only able to pay less—or nothing at all—that’s OK, too.

EAT is the brainchild of Mariana Chilton, the director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities and the Café’s owner. Chilton told Huffington Post in May that the idea came to her five years ago, when she noticed a huge disconnect between the long lines for trendy new dining spots and similarly long lines for soup kitchens.

Working with food donors and a modest budget ($750 weekly) for ingredients, Chilton and her staff have been able to serve a variety of nutritious meals for both their paying and non-paying customers. Because the menu changes according to their food supply, there’s no set meal selection. Recently, the Café offered chicken gumbo, linguine with clam sauce, and an Oreo sundae.

Other restaurants following a similar business model suggest that EAT could eventually turn a profit if upward of 80 percent of customers pay (and over-pay) to help subsidize the 20 percent that aren’t able to meet their bill. Chilton, however, seems less concerned with balancing the books than making sure people have a dignified dining experience. Unlike some of the affordable take-out places, EAT’s patrons are able to enjoy their food in a nicely-decorated dining area.

The Café is currently open Wednesday through Friday from 4:30 to 8 p.m. If you’re intrigued by EAT’s charitable model but can’t make it to Philly, you can still make an online donation to the cause.