Room for All

Raleigh’s new pay-what-you-can restaurant

by Catherine Currin

photographs by Madeline Gray

“We want a place where all people can come together to have a good meal,” says Raleigh native Maggie Kane. After years of experience working with homeless communities, both through local nonprofits and her own volunteer efforts, Kane wanted to think beyond shelters and soup kitchens. In January, she opened A Place at the Table, Raleigh’s first-ever pay-what-you-can restaurant on Hargett Street downtown.

The cheery spot offers straightforward breakfast and lunch options, like quiche, granola bowls, and salads. At face value, it’s similar to other downtown restaurants catering to the workaday crowd: except, here, customers can purchase a token for $10 in addition to his or her own meal. Anyone in need may take a token and exchange it for any menu item. “We really want to give people a hand up, rather than a hand out,” Kane says. In that vein, token-users will volunteer an hour of their time to the restaurant once they finish their meal.

A Place at the Table has been three years in the making. After looking to other pay-what-you-can restaurant concepts for inspiration, including F.A.R.M. Cafe in Boone, North Carolina, Kane began hosting monthly pop-up meals in Raleigh, including at NOFO @ the Pig, so•ca, and bu•ku. The pop-ups raised money to end homelessness; and their popularity proved the need for a brick-and-mortar, Kane says. “We realized that we needed to be a restaurant that is also a nonprofit, not a nonprofit that is also a restaurant.” She searched for more than a year to find the space off of Nash Square, formerly Café de los Muertos coffee shop.

Already, Kane has clearly built a fan base in downtown Raleigh. She’s at the cafe most days, usually exchanging hugs with familiar restaurant-goers and volunteers alike – over 100 volunteers come through the doors monthly. She says she’s thrilled to see the vision materialize: community tables filled with people from different walks of life. “We all have one thing in common: food.”