Grace Café making changes in 2019

In an effort to increase Grace Café’s ability to fulfill its mission to end hunger in Danville for decades to come, the nonprofit, pay-what-you can restaurant will be making some changes in 2019.

When Grace Cafe reopens on Jan. 6, following a holiday break, a new donation system approved by its board of directors will take affect; a new menu structure; a “pay-it-forward” token system will be put into use; and all children ages 12 and younger will be able to eat for free. Also a director of development will be hired.

The new menu structure will include items with lower suggested donation amounts, and combo meal options with a suggested donation amount that will be less expensive than if each item were ordered separately.

These changes are intended to help reduce food waste, provide appropriate portions, and give customers more affordable choices, Bayless said.

Photo by Nick Lacy
Grace Cafe will reopen after a holiday break on Jan. 6 with new donation options, a restructured menu, and all children under age 12 can eat free. The “Birdbox” where cafe patrons used to make anonymous donations in exchange for their meal, will be replaced by a traditional register system. The Birdbox will be taken to several locations throughout the year to help Grace Cafe collection donations to further their mission.

In the past, patrons of Grace Café used the Birdhouse, a colorful, over-sized wooden box that sat on the counter, to place their anonymous cash donations in exchange for a meal.

Beginning Sunday, all patrons will make their donation for meals with cash, credit or debit card at a register as in all other restaurants. “You can still pay what you can, you just can’t do it anonymously,” said Rachelle Bayless, founder and executive director of Grace Café.

Board member Rev. Joey Pusateri said, “We’ve come to believe that an anonymous donation system sends the wrong message that falling on hard financial times is something to be ashamed of.

The dignity of our customers is affirmed when we are all participating in the same open system that you would find in any other restaurant. … And this will allow us to better track and employ our resources so that the mission remains sustainable.”

But the Birdhouse will still be used to help raise money for the café and keep its mission in the public eye. “We’re going to make the Birdhouse a celebrity,” Bayless said.

During 2019, the Grace Café Birdhouse will be sent out to churches and businesses throughout the community, Bayless said. Information fliers about Grace Café’s mission will accompany the Birdhouse so people will know their donations go directly to the cafe.

“There will be fun promotions around it,” using social media sites, Bayless added.

Another visible change will be a pay-it-forward token system. In addition to adding a pay-it-forward donation above the suggested amount when ordering a meal, customers will now be able to purchase a token that can be redeemed for an entire meal or a hot cup of coffee.

“Many other community cafés do this,” Bayless said. “The purchased tokens will be stored in a jar on the counter and used to ‘pay’ for someone’s meal. For example, if someone is too disabled to work, or just having a really hard time, we can tell them that someone has already paid for their meal. It’s very uplifting to see this in action,” Bayless said.

Coffee will also be its own menu item, with a $2 suggested donation for a “bottomless cup.”

The ability to allow children to eat for free is made possible by a sponsorship from Danville Pediatric Dentistry.

To date, Grace Café has served 62,316 meals and invested $80,358 in local agriculture. Because the café is dedicated to buying the best quality ingredients from local growers, a large portion of their budget goes directly into the food they serve. An average ticket order is $13.04, and the average amount being donated for a meal is $9.41. That leaves a gap of $3.63 for each meal the café serves.

“This is our mission at work. The numbers show that people are indeed paying-what-they-can and/or volunteering for their meal. This also means we need to work creatively to close the gap in other ways,” Bayless said.

Grace Cafe board of directors estimate they will need to raise $200,000 above the meal donations that patrons give, in order to close that gap this year, Bayless said. That is $53,000 more than last year’s goal, she added.

In order to help achieve the lofty goal, Grace Café will be hiring a director of development for the first time. The person to be hired will be in charge of fundraising initiatives and events, grant writing, and running annual giving and major sponsorship campaigns.

“I need help with that. I really want to be around for the long haul, for decades,” Bayless said.

“I’ve been a one woman show for a long time.”

According to the news release, Pusateri said, “The challenges we face are extremely complex especially with such a new and innovative approach to hunger charity. We are in uncharted territory and must think strategically and explore new options so we can persevere toward the ultimate goal – a hunger free community. I am looking forward to the new, creative ways Grace Café continues to express its deep love and compassion for the dignity of every human being, and I am confident we will do so.”