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So All May Eat

Strengthening Community Through Nourishment at Denver’s SAME Café

It can often be the small things that we take for granted, like taking the time to take a break for a simple, healthy lunch on a bustling day. While some of us scramble to find a moment in our busy schedules to nourish ourselves, others in need are struggling to find the means to eat anything at all.

Being the first non-profit restaurant of its kind in the U.S., SAME (So All May Eat) Café on East Colfax in Denver has been serving wholesome and nutritious meals with the intent to feed anyone in need, regardless of their ability to pay, since 2006.

On a recent Friday afternoon visit, I was able to speak to Carrie Shores, SAME’s Executive Director, and witness first-hand the warmth and hospitality that the team at SAME brings to all who walk through their doors. From my perspective at the long community table that anchors the cozy dining room, the outside temperature was creeping into the 30s at lunchtime. The previous frigid day didn’t reach double digits, and that night was well into the negatives.

I arrived behind a group of hungry patrons, some carrying their heavy blankets with them, presumably having to bear those bitterly dangerous temperatures on the street the night before. They were all greeted promptly, the counter staff taking ample time with each one of them to go over the menu that changes daily according to what local businesses, farms and guests have donated from their home gardens.

The lunch patrons are an eclectic mix: the hungry group I walked in with, a table full of University of Denver students wrapping up their meal after a morning of volunteering in the kitchen, two different tables that look like they could be taking a business lunch and a couple of solo diners that are presumably neighborhood regulars. All of the guests are smiling and connecting with each other over their lunches, and the crew knows many by name.

Carrie describes to me all the moving parts that make up the 17 years of success and longevity of SAME Café. The concept of the café isn’t just one of charity but of active participation. Guests have the ability to pay what they can, donate goods and produce or volunteer onsite for a half hour in exchange for a meal. While neighboring organizations and shelters admirably feed those in need with no caveats, SAME’s participation model allows their guests to instill a sense of dignity and pride in actively volunteering before or after their meal in order to be a part of a team and achieve a strong sense of community. Many other similar concepts have sprung up over the U.S. using SAME as their model, often visiting and consulting with SAME’s founders and board members.

Local farms and restaurants participate by donating goods and produce to SAME that may otherwise go to waste. While I’m talking to Carrie, a peer chef from a nearby restaurant, Tocabe, drops off several cases of kale that went unused for a recent event, and then he’s on his way with a brief goodbye and a hug. Local kale is prevalent on the menu in the height of winter.

The daily offerings are always hearty, yet healthy, and portions are substantial. The crew always offers vegan and vegetarian options and meat-based dishes. Carrie alludes to the “Iron Chef” style task of her crew coming up with a new menu every day based on what’s readily available in the walk-in cooler.

SAME recently opened a second café location in Toledo, Ohio's main library and is serving more meals than they ever imagined to this underserved community. SAME also has a Denver-based food truck and offers catering services with the same pay-what-you-can model as the original café. Their SAME Table Annual Celebration is their largest fundraising event and offers patrons the option to pay for a full-price ticket or volunteer or donate to attend this lively event.

SAME’s philosophy that everyone deserves to eat healthy food while being treated with dignity is evident in the experiences and nourishment they provide to their community and beyond through their innovation and influence.