The holiday season is the time for giving, but it's also one of the busiest times of the year. Fortunately, there are places around town where you can enjoy a good, fast meal -- while also doing good for others. Keep reading to learn about six of these special places.
6) SAME Café 2023 East Colfax Avenue 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Saturday
SAME Café, one of the first pay-what-you-can restaurants in the nation, opened in 2006 with the goal of giving everyone access to good food -- hence its official name, So-All-May-Eat Café. Monday through Saturday, founders Brad and Libby Birky and an army of volunteers serve lunch: two types of pizza, two soups and two salads, plus dessert. Guests can order two pizza slices and helpings of soup and/or salad, and pay what they can afford -- even if that's nothing.
"We wanted to make sure that our customers have a menu to order from, since people experiencing poverty don't often get the opportunity to make a choice in what they eat," says Brad Birky. "Instead, they are forced to eat whatever is cheapest, regardless of their dietary needs or personal preferences."
Most of the cafe's customers pay less than market value or volunteer in the cafe to cover their meal, he adds; a smaller percentage pay market value or more to help support the enterprise. Half of the cafe's funding comes from customers, the other half from fundraising, grants and individual donations. SAME Café closes for Thanksgiving, but posts a list of places serving free meals on its door.
Want to give thanks for this institution? You can always volunteer; running the cafe takes fifteen to twenty volunteer hours a day.
5) Cafe 180 3315 South Broadway, Englewood 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
Like SAME Café, Cafe 180 is a pay-what-you-can restaurant. Founder Cathy Matthews came up with some of her plans for this Englewood spot while eating in SAME Café; her menu is slightly more expansive, with a selection of sandwiches, wraps and pitas along with pizza, salad and soup choices.
Cafe 180 also serves food from a kiosk that was set up last year on the 16th Street Mall at Arapahoe. This spot has a more limited menu and set prices; it supports the pay-what-you-can eatery in Englewood. To help those who can't afford the full price, the staff is working on a program that will allow individuals to volunteer at a nonprofit in exchange for a meal card they can use at the Cafe 180 kiosk.
According to Sarah Lesyinski, Cafe 180's program manager, the restaurant has two employees and five volunteers working every day; usually another three to four individuals will come in to work an hour for a meal. "Those who can pay for lunch sit alongside those who exchange an hour of service for their meal," she says.
Cafe 180 will be open on Thanksgiving from noon to 2 p.m.: Footers Catering will provide a meal for anyone who walks in.
4) Pizza Fusion 571 East Colfax Avenue 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday
If pizza is your go-to emergency meal during the busy holiday season, call Pizza Fusion for a real slice of life. This pizza joint, which is run by the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, employs individuals who have experienced homelessness and are participating in one of the Coalition's programs. While they are being trained in food service, most employees are honing work skills that will lead to jobs both in and outside of the food industry, says Mary Putnam, the restaurant's general manager. Pizza Fusion has employed and transitioned 86 people since it opened in 2011; typically, employees are there from six to twelve months, and during that time will work with a team to meet their other job-related needs, like getting a GED or training for a commercial driver's license.
The pizza shop will be closed on Thanksgiving. "Everyone will be enjoying a wonderful Thanksgiving with family and friends," says Putman. But with carry-out, eat-in and delivery, Pizza Fusion is a great option for a fast meal through the rest of the holiday season.
Pizza Fusion's pizzas are made with all-organic ingredients and delivered in hybrid cars -- in accordance with its very green mission. The restaurant also serves salads and sandwiches, and has a fabulous happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with $3 draft beer, house wines and personal pizzas. There are a dozen Pizza Fusions across the country, but this is the only franchise that is a social enterprise.
3) Purple Door Coffee 2962 Welton Street 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday
You could walk into and out of Purple Door Coffee without having an inkling of its mission. From all outward appearances, this is your everyday urban coffee shop, serving such breakfast items as gourmet croissants and burritos, Noosa Yoghurt and, of course, coffee and tea. The cafe is cozy, with a couch and granite tables featuring old sewing machines.
But beneath the coffeehouse trappings is a down-to-earth program designed to help previously homeless youth. Started in 2013 by Madison Chandler and Mark Smesrud, Purple Door partners with Dry Bones Denver, which helps homeless youth improve their lives by providing jobs and more. The cafe's employees are required to have three weekly meetings: one with Smesrud or Chandler to go through a life-skills curriculum, one with a life coach, and another with either Purple Door or Dry Bones staff to address personal needs, like college applications or improvements to their work at the cafe. "We like the one-on-one ratio," says Smesrud. "We don't want to funnel them through a training course. It's about building a relationship."
A relationship that isn't necessarily apparent to customers. Smesrud says they don't emphasize the program because they don't want people coming in just to see homeless kids at work. "The employees are defined by who they are, not what they've done in the past," he explains.
The cafe has served seven employees since opening in April 2013, and most of them have gone on to other jobs. That number may seem small, but the cafe only employs two or three workers at a time -- and makes big changes in their lives.
Purple Door will be closed Thanksgiving through Saturday, but will be open regular hours earlier this week.
2) Café Options 1650 Curtis Street 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday
The employees at this downtown cafe are women and a few men who are getting their lives back on track. Cafe Options is a program of Work Options for Women, which provides culinary training for at-risk individuals and often provides them with jobs, too. "Most students have no income," explains WOW executive director Catherine Henry. "It's really for people that are limited or low-skilled, that perhaps don't have high school education, have been incarcerated, or had a problem with drugs or alcohol, to get culinary skills and take that out into the work force."
For about nine weeks, students train at WOW's kitchen in the Denver Human Services cafetaria, which is not open to the public but serves DHS staff. After the training, they can graduate and move into the work force, or stay with WOW for further training and employment. WOW offers a prep-cook certification and a two-year sous chef apprenticeship, and students in these programs work at Café Options or the new Café United (see below).
Café Options, which opened in April 2009, is not open for Thanksgiving, but it's a great option for breakfast and lunch on any regular workday, with pastries and coffee, hot and cold sandwiches, soups and salads, and a great mid-day combo: half sandwich, half salad or cup of soup.
1) Cafe United 711 Park Avenue West 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Friday
This cafe at the corner of California Avenue and Park Avenue West debuted with the opening of Mile High United Way's new building in October. Like Café Options, Café United, hires and trains individuals through WOW. But here the emphasis is on training students as supervisors, which expands their job opportunities.
Cafe United will not be open on Thanksgiving, but is a great place to fuel up before holiday shopping.
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