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Berkeley diner provides free meals to anyone who's hungry, no questions asked

Berkeley diner provides free meals to anyone who's hungry
Berkeley diner provides free meals to anyone who's hungry 03:11

BERKELEY -- Classic American diners make money serving up hearty meals for a fair price but one East Bay establishment has built its business giving away food for free.  

It all started a few years ago when Collin Doran, owner of the Homemade Cafe in southwest Berkeley, decided to do something rather unusual in the restaurant business: offer anyone who is hungry a free breakfast, no questions asked.  

"We would have people who would come by and they would usually panhandle or ask customers for extra food and my reaction was: 'Hey, if you guys are hungry or in need of food, we will feed you,'" Doran said.

When the pandemic hit and food insecurity exploded, the need grew so much that Doran decided to make his unusual policy official, calling it the "Everybody Eats Program."  

Collin Doran
Collin Doran, owner of the Homemade Cafe in  Berkeley, serves free meals to the hungry and homeless.  KPIX

"The typical Everybody Eats meal is a basic two-eggs breakfast: two eggs cooked however the customer likes it. You get a side of our delicious home fries and toast," he said.

To qualify, one merely needs to grab a coupon from the diner bulletin board and find a seat. The only payment required is a thank you.  

Samantha Akens, a neighborhood resident, has been relying on food assistance programs to get by. Being able to eat at the cafe free of charge is a godsend.  

"I have to budget," she said. "I have to find the people that can help out with little things financially and this is obviously a program that helps. Isn't that amazing?" 

Paying customers can help by adding $5 to their bill, something many of his regulars, like Suzanne Skrivanich, are more than happy to do.  

"That just touches me in my heart," she said. "I truly believe it's part of human respect." 

Duran's program has become so popular, he's now giving away about 200 meals a month.  

"There was a small concern in the back of my mind that, if it got well known, it would be difficult to deal with a high volume of meals or keep up with everything," he said. "But, I figured, if I'm going to get myself into trouble I'm going to get into good trouble." 

Not only did he not get into "good trouble" but his business grew by 15 percent -- a significant increase for any restaurant.  

"Customers have reacted positively," he said. "They're contributing and helping us and, even if they don't always contribute, they like the fact that we do it and they choose to come here more often."

Now he hopes other businesses will follow suit.  

"Doing it in a way that is socially responsible and trying to make the world a little better place," he said.

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