BY EMILY INNES – STAFF WRITER
Grace Café opened in July 2015 as a mission-focused restaurant aimed to combat food insecurity in the Danville community and surrounding area.
Owner Rochelle Bayless first learned about the “pay what you can” restaurant model after seeing Jon Bon Jovi discuss his New Jersey café on an episode of Oprah. Bon Jovi’s café was an extension of The One World Everybody Eats Foundation, a national network of community cafés that use the same nonprofit business model to work together to end hunger and food insecurity. Bayless liked the concept and found it compatible with her career experience with non-profit organizations.
Bayless moved to Danville in 2012 and was finishing up her masters’ degree thesis titled “A Theology of Food: Seeing Food as Acts of Grace.” She began working with the local food kitchen, Harvesting Hope, and when it became known that it would soon close, Bayless decided to pursue the establishment of a nonprofit restaurant to fill the void in Danville.
“I saw the incredible need here in this community and it all kind of came together for me,” she said.
She did not know what to expect, but felt confident in her undertaking because of its potential to help so many people. After nineteen months and one hundred thousand dollars, Grace Café officially began its mission to help solve the social problem of food insecurity by providing accessible and sustainable nutrition.
“Due to a lack of understanding as to how this new concept would work, there was a lot of trepidation on the part of the community,” Bayless said.
However, after over a year and half, the community is pleasantly surprised with the success of the mission. Grace Café has recently been able to open seven days a week, which was one of the original goals because Bayless believes everyone should be able to eat every day of the week. Grace Café has served 23,515 meals since opening, with 9,888 of those served to-date in 2016. On average, 54 meals are served per day in 2016, with the record being 125 meals in one day.
The restaurant is currently continuing to work towards long-term sustainability and being able to ensure that it raises enough money to keep going and generate some fund reserves.
Grace Café’s first partnership was with the Boyle County Farmers Market and then expanded through connections with other market participants. Grace Café began getting to know farmers in central Kentucky, not just Boyle County, and now purchase as far as Winchester.
“Farmers are always looking for quality places to sell their products, and there’s such an abundance of locally grown food here that is not really taken advantage of,” Bayless said, “A more sustainable and healthy way to eat is to keep it as local as possible.”
Grace Café is also supported by 289 individual donors, as well as nine local faith communities and 14 national, state, and local corporate partners and funders. The Café is currently 62.5% self-sustainable, which means that that portion of the annual budget is generated by in-Café donations and the raining 37.5% from individuals, sponsors, funders, and special events. The financial objective is to achieve 75% self-sustaining.
Volunteers also greatly contribute to the development and success of Grace Café. To-date, 302 individual volunteers have worked a total of 2,346.75 hours, with 96 of those individuals working 872 hours in exchange for meals. Volunteering at Grace Café is popular among Centre students, as it is a local organization benefiting the immediate community, and allows students to understand the non-profit business on a more personal level.
Senior Hayley Sinnott frequently volunteers at Grace Café and finds it to be a wonderful experience. She is grateful for the opportunity to not only witness the mission of the Café unfold, but to make connections with other volunteers and patrons.
“Not only was the staff nice and willing to help, but also the diners there were always willing to chat,” she said.
Sinnott mainly clears tables and delivers food when volunteering, and always feels welcomed by the staff and other volunteers. Volunteering at Grace Café allows her to meet people from all walks of life and experience first-hand the positive impact of a non-profit organization on a community.
“I really value the experience because it is a good connection to the Danville community that I would not have had otherwise,” she said, “and I enjoy the friendly atmosphere created by the staff and diners.”
Grace Café is open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m., Saturday dinner from 5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m., and Sunday brunch from 11:00 a.m.- 2:00 p.m.