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Conscious Eatery sits on the corner of a nondescript office park in Seattle. Once inside, it's a rustic and comfortable lunch spot with a mouth-watering menu and lively staff. But look a bit deeper and you'll find the owners' story of passion — for food, community and each other.
"We're not here to be millionaires and billionaires," co-owner Cierra Laub explained. "We're here for the sole purpose of helping the community and bringing everyone together."
Laub experienced homelessness in her family after her parents divorced. Her fellow owner and fiance Chaz Rowlan's family also briefly lived out of their car when his mother was pregnant with him. Today, their restaurant has donated more than 30,000 meals to those in need. It was over business plans and philanthropic ideologies that they also fell in love.
"When we started dating, she was doing a lot of nonprofit work and I was on the board of directors for a nonprofit," Rowlan said. "We figured, 'Hey, let's make something happen for each other and for the community.'"
Their restaurant opened three years ago in Seattle's Georgetown neighborhood, providing a much-needed breakfast and lunch spot in a mostly industrial area without many eateries. In addition to dishing out everything from Cuban sandwiches with hand-pulled pork to tuna quinoa with house-made dill vinaigrette, they also serve a much bigger mission. For almost every meal rung up at Conscious Eatery, the restaurant gives one meal away, either directly to the homeless or to their nonprofit partners.
"We try as often as we can to go down to the streets of Seattle and hand out meals to the people that are suffering from homelessness directly," Rowlan explained. That also affords a chance to inform those in need about shelters, food banks and other resources available to them, he added.
So how exactly does it work? It's a phrase you'll hear over and over at Conscious Eatery's cash register: "Want to make it a meal?" Each guest has the opportunity to choose an entree. If he or she decides to add either two sides or a soup to the entree, that "makes it a meal." And in turn, the restaurant then donates a dinner.
Customers know that by adding a bit more to their purchase, they're not only getting more food on their plate but also supporting a good cause. The slightly higher profit margins of "making it a meal" versus simply buying an entree are what incentivize both customers and the owners. Those few extra cents on each purchase go directly toward Conscious Eatery's charitable donations. That breeds an enthusiastic and loyal clientele who come back day in and day out.
Now, Laub and Rowlan are setting their sights on opening more Conscious Eateries on the West Coast to expand both their business and humanitarian efforts. He often works seven days a week at the restaurant, and she was recently named as one of Seattle's "30 Under 30" entrepreneurs to keep an eye on.
"I am a totally proud social justice warrior," Laub said emphatically, as Rowlan nodded in agreement. "If something's going on, I am going to be the first one to call it out. It's all about the community, it's about the hungry people and that's what we're here for."
Not to be lost in their inspiring business story is their equally inspiring love story. Last summer, Rowlan proposed on their third anniversary. Next year, they'll be married. A big, happy family including two dogs named Zander and Zelle. For now, at least.
"I really want our children to be very proud and want to follow in our footsteps," Rowlan said. "As well as understand what it takes to not only make a business run but change the community in front of you."