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New Restaurant Lets Customers Pay-What-You-Can In An Effort To Build Community

By Jasmine Payoute

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- In a city where many residents seem to be overwhelmed by the expansion of universities into their neighborhoods, one school is working on a new project that aims to bring the community together.

Under a partnership with Drexel University's Dornsife School of Public Health Center for Hunger- Free Communities, the Vetri Community Partnership, and Drexel's Center for Hospitality and Sports Management, Philadelphia will soon have its first pay-what-you-can community restaurant.

(credit: Callie Perrone)

The restaurant, to be titled the EAT Café, will be located at the 3800 block of Lancaster Avenue. Only blocks away from Drexel University, the hub isn't much to look at now, but that's about to change.

According to chef and general manager Donnell Jones-Craven the restaurant will be like nothing you've ever seen here.

(credit: Callie Perrone)

"It will be a two story row house turned into a full-fledged restaurant. Inside, we want it to be reflective of the community. We'll have music, local artist portraits will be hung and for sale, open kitchen with bar area, two dining areas; one in the front and one in the back, and a backyard patio area."

The townhouse, as Jones-Craven describes it, doesn't exist just yet, but his ideas for its future are clear as day. And with those ideas come an already drawn out menu.

Craven says one of the restaurants goals is to provide nourishment to the community. He plans on doing that by providing vegetable-focused dishes as well as gluten free meals that are low in calories compared to fast food options. The menu will feature three course meals and will change daily.

The full service, sit-down restaurant won't be a well decorated kitchen.

So how will it work?

The restaurant which is new to Philadelphia, but old to more than 100 cities, will use a formula that will provide patrons with a bill at the end-- that comes with a catch. Customers can either pay more, pay less, or they can opt to pay nothing at all.

The idea is that patrons who pay more will be able to offset the price of customers who cannot afford to pay the required amount.

Sounds crazy right? While optimistic about the café's future, the company is still preparing for a rainy day.

Jones-Craven says the restaurant will have partners that will help monetarily. The project was started with support from the Leo and Peggy Pierce Family Foundation, and the cafe is currently looking for more partners to help with operations to stay current, as well as looking for annual contributions.

The idea came from the director of the Center for Hunger Free Communities, Mariana Chilton.

According to Jones-Craven, she had this idea of a community based restaurant that engages the community through educational based programming and unifies the community by the way of food. Her ultimate goal is to support greater community at the table, hence the name EAT; everyone at the table.

And Jones-Craven might just be the perfect person to put behind the spatula. Standing proudly outside of the soon to be Eat Café, he has had a history of strong community involvement. The chef was once a food service coordinator at the Berkley Emergency Food Project in California. There, the walk in diner fed about 200 people per day.

While that's not the capacity Jones-Craven is expecting at the café, he knows the power of a good meal, and is all geared up and ready to cook.

"This is a place for everyone to be at the table," said 22-year-old Callie Perrone.

Callie Perrone is the center's community engagement and communications fellow. She feels the restaurant, located in the center of seven different smaller communities, will be the perfect way to bring everyone together.

"The café in addition to serving food, the goal is to serve as a hub for the community. Job training, culinary training, poetry nights, and really try to engage the community."

And she insists that residents are already on board.

"A lot of people are excited that this is a space that is really meant to be for the community and with the community's support, we believe it will help support the revitalization of Lancaster Avenue."

Callie's job is to partake in community engagements for the café. A big part of her job is making sure that the café has the input, feedback, and support of the community they will be working in. With this in mind, Callie acknowledges that there are some naysayers.

"A lot of people see Drexel and feel that since its close by, it will simply be another hub for the university, but this is for the community," said Perrone.

Overall she sees the light at the end of the tunnel.

"We really think that it's going to be able to achieve some food security. I think it's going to be great. It's going to be really great."

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