From the outside, The Kitchen Table seems like a small local restaurant. But on the inside, volunteers are on a much bigger mission.
“It’s a place for anybody and everybody to come to have a decent meal. A good meal, a hot nutritious meal,” explained Founder and Executive Director Carolyn Brown.
And that meal comes at no cost to patrons. Brown says guests can donate if they’d like, but it isn’t required.
“We still run it just like a restaurant,” she said. “So people come in, take a seat, we have a drink server come and take their drink order, and then we have a waitress that comes and takes a food order. We do give them a ticket, but it just shows what food they ordered. We put no prices on there because…it’s a pay what you want, you pay what you can.”
Brown grew up in Tennessee cooking for a large family. She quickly realized she had a passion for donating any leftovers she had.
“When you cook, you make more than what you need. So I would just give it away.”
After moving to the Rochelle area, Brown was determined to expand that effort. She wanted to open a place where people could depend on a meal. Two years ago, Brown convinced her husband to let her open up shop in what used to be the Klondike Steakhouse.
“I kept saying, ‘Yeah, we should go look at the old Klondike building.’ And he’s like, ‘No!’,” she laughed.
“And I guess you won that one?” I asked her.
“I did, yup, I did,” she laughed in response.
Now, meals are served on Tuesdays and Thursdays. And brunch on the first Sunday of every month. Brown creates the menus for each day herself.
“We do a variety of stuff. We just did shrimp and grits. We’ve done jambalaya. We do pork roast and veggies, and that’s a really good night.”
Depending on what’s being served, The Kitchen Table will see crowds of anywhere from 50 to 100 people, each of them paying what they can, or volunteering their time as payment.
“I’m on social security, so I give them my money on the first of the month. And then if I’ve got a dollar or two, I give it to them,” said patron Cheryl Barnes.
Barnes comes to eat every week. She says she loves everything about the place.
“And it’s like southern cooking, southern people. The people are great, they’re very friendly. And the food is delicious. And they’re healthy. Really healthy,” she said.
None of the food goes to waste. Leftovers are donated to local men and women’s shelters.
Brown says the biggest compliment she gets, is exactly what you’d expect.
“They really like the food! And that’s one of the biggest things, because you always wanna put out good food. I said, you can never put out a bad meal because we’ll be done!” she laughed.