As they bid her goodbye the door closed quietly behind, and she walked away humbled, inspired and grateful.
FoCo Cafe is the first successful donation-based restaurant in Fort Collins. Customers are invited to pay what they would normally pay, what they are able to pay, pay it forward or to pay with their time and volunteer.
Cafe Executive Director Mallory Andrews is one of four employees, but there are just under 2,000 volunteers in the system. Volunteers prep and cook food, clean and help close, bus tables, administrative work, donation sorting, help host fundraisers and more.
"The mix of guests that we get is really one of our most important aspects," Andrews said. "It is important that we keep that client base to keep our mission alive." FoCo Cafe started feeding the community Thanksgiving Day of 2014. The entire kitchen was donated, and the staff all volunteers. Co-founders Jeff and Kathleen Baumgardner recently retired to Hawaii, where they are planning their next adventure. The two spent almost every day working at the cafe for three years, sometimes volunteering up to 80 hours a week.
Andrews and her fellow employees are excited to carry on the concept. Part of which includes minimizing waste.
"We've been told that we could possibly qualify as a no-waste restaurant," she said. "So we are looking into the capacity to do that." All compostable items (paper towels, coffee grounds, tea bags, leftover plate food, etc.) go into the compost. The better scraps are saved and fed to chickens in town. The rest is used for worm composting.
Trash is limited to non-compostable, non-recyclable items. "All of our trash is taken out once a week, and it's less trash than my household of three people."
You won't find a community like the one at FoCo Cafe anywhere else, but there are three other restaurants in CO that offer meals on a pay-what-you-can basis:
1. Cafe 180 - Soup and sandwich lunch spot south of Denver in Englewood.
2. SAME Cafe - Small plates and other lunch options in downtown Denver.
3. Seeds Community Cafe - Breakfast and lunch menu made with locally sourced ingredients in Colorado Springs.
Managing a profitable restaurant is a challenge, let alone a non-profit. Stop in today to help keep the mission alive, or sign up to volunteer!