ROCHELLE, Ill. (WTVO) — Rochelle restaurant The Kitchen Table beat out dozens of others across the country to be named “Community Cafe of the Year” for its policy of allowing diners to pay what they can.
The award was be given out by the organization “One World, Everybody Eats.”
“Everybody deserves to go to Red Lobster. So this is Rochelle’s Red Lobster,” said owner Carolyn Brown. “Yeah, we make food like that, sometimes.”
Brown says she cares more about filling stomachs than the donation jar propped at the entrance of her small restaurant, located at 7034 S Klondike Road.
“We just want you to come eat. We want to feed you, and we want you to enjoy it,” she said.
The employees of The Kitchen Table are volunteers, and the customers set the menu price.
“It doesn’t matter to me what people pay,” Brown said. “I really like the ‘free will’ donation. Let people pay what they want and keep it as anonymous as we can, because it’s about dignity, too.”
Volunteer Marguerite Riveria says she’s known what it’s like to struggle for food. When she couldn’t afford three meals a day, she started washing dishes.
“I felt embarrassed,” Riveria said. “She told me, ‘don’t feel embarrassed.'”
Volunteers also act as servers, taking orders and delivering meals.
Some customers pay just a dollar. Others, $20. But no one knows what’s paid at the register.
Brown said, “People who still pay something, it’s about pride and dignity.”
“Someone didn’t have any money, so I got a couple of dollars I earned this afternoon, and I’m going to pay for their meals,” Riveria said.
Brown says she wants her customers to feel like they’re at a luxury restaurant, as she knows that’s not usually an option for folks with limited funds.
The Kitchen Table was also features on Mike Rowe’s “Returning the Favor” Facebook series.
They’ve received money to expand the restaurant, and expect construction to be completed soon.