Field Trip Spotlight: This Pay-What-You-Can Cafe Makes Everyone Feel Welcome, Regardless of Income

There’s room for everyone at A Place at the Table, a pay-what-you-can cafe in Raleigh, North Carolina, that provides delicious, fresh and healthy meals and coffee drinks to customers regardless of their income.

Opened in January 2018, A Place at the Table is one of many social enterprises featured in the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Fall 2019 Social Entrepreneurship Field Trip to Raleigh. The field trip, which takes place Sept. 13-15, will take changemakers in the Sullivan network to a range of nonprofit and for-profit enterprises in the Raleigh-Durham region.

The deadline to register for the field trip is Friday, Sept. 6.

Maggie Kane, the café’s executive director, hit upon the idea for A Place at the Table several years ago after learning about pay-what-you-can concepts through the nonprofit One World Everybody Eats, according to She spent many hours at a similar operation, F.A.R.M. Café in Boone, N.C., to learn its ins and outs and consulted with successful restaurateurs in Raleigh for more guidance, all while rounding up financial support from local churches, faith-based organizations and businesses.

this photo shows the clientele at A Place at the Table

Customers can enjoy good conversation over a Cardamon Rose Latte at A Place at the Table.

“It took three years to spread the word, to tell people who we were, to have people support us,” Kane told Indyweek. “We then had to find a location. A lot of landlords turned us away. People turned us down because we weren’t a sexy restaurant they wanted to put in their space.”

But “sexy” isn’t really what A Place at the Table is about. “Wholesome” is a better word. It’s a café that specializes in delicious, healthy meals—breakfast and lunch—prepared with an artisanal touch. Menu items range from avocado toast, quiche and eggs, and yogurt and granola bowls to sandwiches like the Smokey Chipotle Pimento Cheese, the Caprese Panini and the Turkey Gouda Melt. Customers can also opt for soups and salads featuring local seasonal ingredients.

this photo shows how tasty the sandwiches look at A Place at the Table

The Ham and Cheddar Melt is one of many sandwiches, paninis and melts on the menu.

As for the prices on the menu, they’re perfectly reasonable—and merely suggestions. Customers can pay the full price or at least half of it, and if they can’t afford either, they can volunteer with the café. In that case, they’ll be assigned jobs that fit their abilities—from pulling kitchen duty to wiping tables or washing windows.

Customers who can afford to pay more than the suggested price are encouraged to do so, with the extra money going back into A Place at the Table’s overall operations. “Other (pay-what-you-can) cafes’ operations show that 80 percent of people need to be paying the suggested donation or paying more for their meal,” the café’s website states.

Customers can also purchase $10 tokens and give them out to others in need. After all, A Place at the Table is as much about bringing people together as it is about food. “We are a welcoming and inviting space that provides an opportunity for all people to come and experience conversation and community while enjoying an excellent, fresh and healthy meal,” the website states. “People long for a community, a place to fit in, a place to feel welcome, and a place to be a part of something bigger than just themselves.”

this photo illustrates how many people have been helped by A Place at the Table
A Place at the Table’s staff includes an executive chef, three sous-chefs and two baristas, among others. Kane grew up volunteering in soup kitchens and homeless shelters, and after dining in soup kitchens herself to get the full experience, she realized something was missing. “I hated not getting to choose what I wanted to eat, having a plate of food I didn’t like, and being rushed,” she told Indyweek. “You had to stand in line and then eat in five minutes. There was no community in that moment.”

Dining should be a communal experience, Kane believes, and a meal should never feel like a handout. That was her goal for A Place at the Table. As she told, “I think there is a dignity in getting to choose what you want versus being handed a plate, in being served, having someone bring it to you, filling your water glass for you, and getting to sit down and savor it.”

Sullivan Field Trip Offers Whirlwind Trip to At Least Seven Social Enterprises

Seven social-enterprise businesses have already been lined up for the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Social Entrepreneurship Field Trip to Raleigh, North Carolina, and more are in the works, according to organizer Harrison Wood.

The field trip takes place Sept. 13-15, 2019. For a rate of $119 per room, partner schools can use this link to book rooms for their attending students at the Holiday Inn Raleigh Downtown, located at 320 Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. To book by phone, they can call 855-914-1878 and reference Block ID “SUL.” Schools must book the group-block rooms by August 27.

Click here now to sign up for the field trip. The deadline to register is Sept. 2.

Students with an interest in social entrepreneurship will meet and learn from owners of a wide variety of businesses with a focus on social impact. Many of them are triple-bottom-line businesses – they generate a profit while also addressing a social need and benefiting the environment. These social enterprises include:

HQ Raleigh—Launched in 2012, this co-working community fosters entrepreneurship and collaboration. It has helped launch 500 start-ups in Raleigh, according to the company website. At its Warehouse District Location, HQ Raleigh creates a “collaborative environment that empowers high-impact, high-growth entrepreneurs to create purpose-driven businesses that leave the world better than they found it.”

Picture shows a selection of Reborn Clothing items for sale

Reborn Clothing creates an upcycling option for old clothes in your closet.

Reborn Clothing Co.—Emily Neville started Reborn Clothing as a sophomore at North Carolina State University to give consumers an upcycling option for their clothes and to reduce textile waste. The company takes used garments and repurposes them into new, useful items, including baby blankets, throw pillows, dog bandanas and more. Visitors to Reborn’s website can also purchase upcycled items made from scraps from the manufacturing process. These range from duffel bags and makeup cases to keychains, earrings and scrunchies.

CompostNow—This social business helps reduce waste by collecting food scraps from residents and businesses and turning it into compost for gardens. Customers receive a bin that can be filled up with any food scraps, pizza boxes, coffee grounds and paper products. CompostNow picks up the filled bin and replaces it with a clean one on each service day. Customers can use the resulting compost in their own gardens or donate it to farms and community gardens in the region. The company’s clients include individual households, restaurants and business offices.

this photo shows how young people are interested in composting

Volunteers spend some time creating compost for CompostNow.

A Place at the Table—This pay-what-you-can, breakfast-and-lunch café opened in downtown Raleigh in January 2018. A Place at the Table provides healthy food and community for anyone, regardless of their ability to pay. Payment options include paying the suggested price; paying at least half of the suggested price; or volunteering with the restaurant. Tips go to furthering A Place at the Table’s mission, and customers can also purchase $10 tokens to pass out in the community.

Carroll’s Kitchen—This foodservice social enterprise in Downtown Raleigh provides employment for women recovering from homelessness, incarceration, addiction and domestic violence. The Carroll’s Kitchen menu features contemporary comfort food in catering and grab-and-go services. Artisan items include mushroom toast and avocado toast for brunch, the Sausage & Roasted Pepper Quiche, seasonal soups, salads, and sandwiches such as the BBQ Meatloaf, the Pressed Roast Beef Wrap and the Turkey Brie, among others.

this photo shows the attractive GreenToGo packaging

GreenToGo containers can replace up to 1,000 single-use styrofoam boxes.

Don’t Waste Durham/GreenToGo—Crystal Dreisbach is leading a campaign to significantly reduce plastic and paper waste in Durham with these two operations. Through Don’t Waste Durham, she has proposed a new ordinance, recently endorsed by the city’s Environmental Affairs Board, that would impose a 10-cent fee on plastic and paper bags at retail stores, restaurants and grocery stores in Durham. She also founded GreenToGo, a reusable to-go container service for restaurant customers. GTG’s reusable carryout box has a spill-proof, durable design, and one box replaces at least 1,000 single-use Styrofoam boxes.

Bee Downtown—Founded by fourth-generation beekeeper Leigh-Kathryn Bonner, Bee Downtown installs and maintains beehives on corporate campuses in urban areas, helping to rebuild honey bee populations while providing turnkey, year-round employee engagement and leadership development programming to its partners. Clients have included AT&T, Chick-Fil-A and Delta Airlines.

this photo shows honey bees in action

Bee Downtown uses honey bees to teach leadership while also benefiting the environment.