For 10 Years, CAFÉ 180’s Pay-What-You-Can Model Has Made a Difference in Englewood

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At Englewood’s CAFÉ 180, the pay-what-you-can philosophy goes far beyond cash or card. Sarah Lesyinski — the executive director of nonprofit One Good Turn, which runs the café, and a previous manager of the restaurant — remembers customers who have wiped down the café’s tables, traded in fresh produce and even repaired the restaurant’s light fixtures in exchange for a healthy meal.

The Englewood café at 3315 S Broadway celebrated its 10-year anniversary in August 2020 and in the midst of the pandemic, the restaurant and its mission are still going strong. That mission, in short, is to feed all people regardless of their ability to pay as explained by Lesyinski.

“We say that our mission — it’s a little bit of a made-up word — is ‘dignification,’” she said. “The idea behind our whole nonprofit is realizing the inherent worth of all people. No matter where you’re coming from, you have something to give and also to receive.”

Founders Julie Mihevc and Catherine Clements were looking for a way to serve the Englewood area when they decided to establish the café in 2010. In a typical year, the café gives out around 7,000 meals. But it’s already given out more than 10,000 meals in 2020, even with a month left to go. Usually, about 30 to 35% of customers volunteer for their meals and another 20% make a donation of about $3 to $4 for a meal, which is lower than the cost to produce each meal. But because of the pandemic, those percentages have risen this year as well, Lesyinski said.

Now, with winter rolling in and COVID-19 cases back on the rise — bringing increased restrictions for restaurants in Englewood and other Colorado cities — the café has several plans brewing to keep up its outreach efforts.

CAFE 180

A CAFE 180 team member prepares meals for community members. Courtesy of CAFE 180.

First and foremost, CAFÉ 180 is still offering takeout and catering. The dining room is closed as per Level Red restrictions, but customers can still walk up to the front of the restaurant to place an order. They can also call ahead and pick a meal off the menu, which includes soups, salads and customer favorites like meatball sandwiches and grilled flatbread pizzas.

Because of restrictions, volunteer options for customers who cannot pay financially are limited; so, instead of asking customers to pay for their meal by volunteering at the restaurant in some way, Lesyinski said the café is offering meals in exchange for a promise that the customer will complete an act of kindness in the community.

Additionally, CAFÉ 180 is going to reboot an effort it enacted in the spring, when team members handed out free meals and PPE to those experiencing homelessness. This winter, the nonprofit will also distribute other helpful items like hand warmers.

And in yet another spin on the cafe’s mission, the restaurant also plans to offer a take-home meal kit called CAFÉ 180 @Home on a pay-what-you-can basis. Similar to products like Blue Apron or HelloFresh, the boxes will come with prepackaged and premeasured ingredients to make cooking simple and fun.

“(The concept) is a brainchild of COVID. The reason for it hasn’t been ideal, but we probably wouldn’t have slowed down enough to do it otherwise,” Lesyinski said. “Post-COVID, we are hoping it can just be an extra program that we have.”

These programs show just how much the nonprofit has become a part of the community over the past 10 years, Lesyinski reflected. And in the years to come, she hopes the nonprofit will keep playing a role in the community — and that the community will keep playing a role in the nonprofit.

“We need the people who are coming and paying $100 for their meal, but we also are here to serve the people who cannot do that,” Lesyinski said. “There are all walks of life in that two-mile radius right here, so that’s been a huge gift to us being able to see our mission come to light.”

CAFÉ 180 is located at 3315 S Broadway and is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The restaurant is currently closed for dine-in because of COVID-19 restrictions but is offering takeout and catering options. To learn more, call (303)761-4510 or visit cafe180.org.