When Brad and Libby Birky started SAME Cafe five years ago, people thought they were nuts. So did the Birkys, really. Even before they opened the doors to the restaurant -- the name stands for So All May Eat, and they'd adopted a pay-what-you-can model that had been tried in a couple of spots around the country -- they were running out of cash. "I can't believe we're going to throw all the money at this project and never even see anything come out of this," Libby Birky recalls saying. "We sunk all of our money into this, and we're not even going to get to try it."
Somehow they got the place open, though, and Westword writer Jared Jacang Maher was there on the first day: October 20, 2006. He liked the concept, but as he left, he told his then-girlfriend (now wife) that SAME wouldn't last six months.
But not only did the restaurant last, Maher won a James Beard award for his February 2009 profile of SAME Cafe.
SAME has racked up its own awards, and inspired other pay-what-you-can restaurants to open in the metro area, including Cafe 180 and Comfort Cafe. And today, SAME will celebrate its fifth anniversary with a major event promoting Hunger Free Colorado. The "Hungry for Change" campaign, which was launched October 7, is attempting to gather 10,000 signatures on paper plates over the next five months -- all to give a face and voice to hunger in Colorado.
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Hunger Free Colorado will host a plate-signing at SAME today from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Brad Birky will be on hand to talk about what it's actually meant to feed the hungry for the past five years. The SAME mission remains the same as it was when the restaurant opened five years ago:
It is the intent of SAME Café to build a healthy community by providing a basic need of food in a respectful and dignified manner to anyone who walks through the door. SAME Café is unique in the lack of set menu as well as set prices. Daily selections are made using fresh, organic ingredients, and funded by the donations of patrons. Instead of a cash register, a donation box is available for one to pay what they felt their meal was worth, or to leave a little more and help out someone less fortunate. If a diner does not have sufficient money to leave, they are encouraged to exchange an hour of service. Our philosophy is that everyone, regardless or economic status, deserves the chance to eat healthy food while being treated with dignity.
Happy anniversary, SAME. Many more.