At this Florida cafe, order what you want. Pay what you can. Or volunteer for an hour and get a meal for free.
This community-based eatery is the brainchild of Libbie Combee, a former drug addict who several years ago opened a ministry for substance abuse users in Bartow, Fla. Her new venture is not a soup kitchen or a hand-out. It’s a sit-down restaurant, an experience many who struggle to put food on their tables might seldom have.
Its menu options include pretty trendy fare, like kale slaw and a Banh Mi sandwich, but also classic home-style options like a rotisserie chicken meal with two sides. The items are priced, but these are only suggested donations.
Combee is also concerned with food waste. So she asks patrons to pick their portion size.
In a Facebook video, Combee explains that for years her ministry has fed people in the community who are homeless and struggle with addiction, but also the elderly on fixed incomes or low-income families living paycheck to paycheck.
The cafe allows them to have a more traditional dining experience, while also empowering them to pay a nominal fee or volunteer there or at the ministry.
She named the restaurant Mosaics Community Cafe, “because it represents a broken community but when you bring all the pieces together you create a beautiful masterpiece,” she says in the video.
The cafe, which gives patrons the opportunity to choose to sit at communal tables, hopes to forge social connections while eradicating food insecurities – the fear of not knowing if you’ll have the money for a next meal.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says 17.4 million U.S. households “were food insecure at some time during 2014.”
Mosaics is decorated in bright, eclectic, beachy decor. One wall is covered with a tree of life mural. It had its soft opening on Oct. 19, but opened officially Tuesday morning.
It’s also manned almost entirely by volunteers. Combee says she hopes to use it to also train people in culinary skills so they can find work in the food service industry.
Reviews on the cafe’s Facebook page are overwhelmingly positive, with commendations on the food and the concept.
“Amazing! That is all I can think of to say…I had the BBQ Chicken and Kale Salad for lunch and it was fantastic!” wrote one woman. Another wrote, “One of the greatest Blessings that God has given Bartow, FL!!!”
Combee’s pay-as-you-can dining experience is inspired by singer Jon Bon Jovi, who opened his community kitchen, JBJ Soul Kitchen, in New Jersey, in 2011.
“This is not a soup kitchen,” Bon Jovi told the Associated Press then. “You can come here with the dignity of linens and silver, and you’re served a healthy, nutritious meal. This is not burgers and fries.”
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