Photos by Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press
In advance of next week’s grand opening of Johnson City’s new nonprofit One ACRE Cafe, the West Walnut Street restaurant opened Thursday and Friday for couple of trial runs.
On Thanksgiving Day, the cafe where everyone will eat regardless of their ability to pay hosted a traditional holiday dinner for the men of The Manna House transitional shelter for veterans and other men who are working to overcome issues that contribute to homelessness. It also hosted the women of The River, the First Presbyterian Church downtown resource center for women and children in need.
And on Friday, the cafe invited in the many volunteers and contributors whose donations of labor, financial support and in-kind gifts have made its opening a reality for a free soft-opening lunch to put its all-volunteer staff to the test.
Cafe Manager Michelle Watts said between 75 and 80 guests attended the holiday dinner. And when it became apparent the food would go much farther than anticipated, the cafe’s almost all-volunteer staff put a “Free Lunch” message up on the marquee that brought in several more happily surprised diners.
“It was good. It went really well,” Watts said. “I am just thankful to be a part of this.”
In keeping with the cafe’s close work with the city and its nonprofit community, Turkey Trot organizers brought bananas and bagels from the city’s Thanksgiving morning 5K run to the cafe, which in turn sent its leftover holiday meals to the Salvation Army. And in keeping with the cafe’s focus on avoiding food waste, some of the holiday’s leftover turkey also went into the turkey tetrazinni that led the menu for Friday’s free lunch for the contributors.
Beverly Jenkins is a One ACRE Cafe board member who, with her husband Herman, has dedicated many hours of work in the nearly two years it has taken for the cafe to reach its opening. She said of the cafe’s contributors, “Your donations help us feed your community.”
“Our volunteers have done a good job.” Jan Orchard, executive director of the nonprofit cafe, said near the close of Friday’s lunch. “Everyone seems happy with our food.”
The cafe will open to the public Wednesday and will operate daily from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. “It will just be lunch initially,” Watts said. “We’ll also have some special evening events.”
Menus will change daily, featuring locally grown products whenever possible and offering all plates in three portion-controlled sizes priced accordingly for suggested donation of $4, $6 or $8, including a beverage and dessert.
In addition to the turkey, mushroom and cream sauce tetrazinni on Friday’s menu, featured items included ham, swiss and cranberry mustard sandwiches on honey wheat bread and roast beef and cheddar on toasted Asiago ciabatta with roasted garlic aioli, each served with a choice of one side: turkey noodle soup; tomato basil soup; turkey Cobb salad; red potato salad with bacon and mustard; Mediterranean pesto pasta salad with bell pepper and olives; and chocolate chip cookies and apple and pumpkin pie for dessert.
Following the nonprofit One World Everybody Eats restaurant model, the cafe will be staffed almost entirely by volunteers with Watts and Executive Chef Matt Clark as its only full-time employees.
Dinners may contribute more than the suggested donation if they are so inclined, or nothing at all if they cannot pay and are willing to work one volunteer hour under cafe and state health state health department guidelines. And for those in need of work experience, training in all aspects of restaurant operations will be available.
The “Volunteer Interest Form” available at the door answers the question of how is One ACRE Cafe different? “Our goal is not only to serve really good food but to help relieve hunger in the area by offering patrons the opportunity to pay how they can or to volunteer in exchange for their food. We also build community and save costs by utilizing volunteers for much of the work,” the form said.
More information about the cafe can be found online at www.onecrecafe.org or by calling 483-0517.