SAME Cafe is inspiring a crop of new pay-what-you-can restaurants to take root

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Last week, we reported that Denver's groundbreaking pay-what-you-want SAME Cafe inspired national bakery and cafe chain Panera Bread to get into the non-profit biz itself.

Built on the model used by SAME and other community kitchens like Salt Lake City's One World Everybody Eats, Panera opened a pay-what-you-can cafe outside St. Louis a few weeks ago.

It turns out, SAME's community kitchen model has been inspiring a lot more folks than just Panera. In fact, a whopping three more pay-what-you-wish restaurants are in the works in the Denver area alone, two of which are slated to open their doors in June.

Comfort Cafe is set to debut on Tuesday, June 15 featuring a menu inspired by decades of recipe collecting. The restaurant is the brainchild of Jan Bezuidenhout, who, as the CEO of Namaste Hospice, has been accumulating family recipes from people receiving care for years, which she plans to incorporate into the restaurant's daily-changing menu.

"What I've noticed, and what I believe, is that people who couldn't talk about their grief in a more traditional setting could comfortably share recipes and foods," she says. "So I have been collecting recipes in memory of people who have passed for more than 20 years and stories to go along with them."

While the idea was gestating for years, Bezuidenhout was inspired to take action by a number of "burning bush" type moments, she says. The SAME Cafe was also an impetus. "I was so totally inspired by their model because in my hospice, one of the things that means the most to me is that we never ever turn somebody away."

Bezuidenhout is also a chef. She'll be assisted in the kitchen by Sandy Corlett and in the pay-what-you-can-afford model, supported by monthly fundraisers and community donations, Bezuidenhout says.

Comfort Cafe is at 3945 Tennyson Street. The restaurant will be open for breakfast and lunch Wednesdays through Sundays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The other newcomer is Cafe 180, slated to open its doors in mid-June at 3315 South Broadway in Englewood. Cathy Matthews became interested in the business model after hearing about SAME. She had formerly started up her own organic dough company but was looking for something more.

"I'm just interested in a café right now, and one of the reasons I thought I could do this is because I make really great pizza," Matthews explains.

She has joined forces with two other women -- Julie Mihevc and Rhonda Willcox -- to make the dream a reality. Cafe 180 will also employ a former Macaroni Grill chef. The menu will feature grilled pizzas, salads and soups, Matthews says, with an emphasis on local, seasonal and organic ingredients whenever available.

About the location, a former Spicy Pickle, she says, "It's a really interesting area where urban meets suburban, so there's just about every economic reality: the working poor, homeless, wealthy, middle class -- it's all here. So we thought this would be a great location."

Cafe 180 will serve lunch only from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. Tuesdays - Saturdays.

A third pay-what-you-want restaurant, reportedly in the more exploratory phase, is planned for Boulder.

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