Gathering Around a Common Table – A New Kind of Restaurant

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“Eat good. Do good. Make good happen.”

That’s the slogan for a new and unique restaurant called Common Table, opening in late August, 2010, in Bend, OR. Like most restaurants, Common Table will feed hungry people, but in this case, the people will not only be paying customers, they will include those who cannot pay.

Common Table is the latest entry in the current wave of social entrepreneurship – using entrepreneurial methods to create social change – happening around the country.  The new eatery will serve breakfast and lunch to paying customers, and in turn use profits to feed hungry and homeless in Central Oregon.

“We look at the whole restaurant as a service to the community, “ said Bob Pearson, chairman of Common Table’s board of directors. “It’s a different example of how to be a community, and how to be a business.”

Common Table will feature meals created from organic, sustainable produce and meats from local farmers in a high-end setting.  The restaurant’s workers will also harvest fruits and vegetables from its own community garden plot in Bend.

The centerpiece of the restaurant will be a 20-foot long dining table topped with a solid piece of old-growth walnut, where people will be encouraged to eat in community with others, Pearson said. Smaller tables will be available throughout the 2,500-square-foot establishment.

At the center of the entire enterprise is a plan to provide meals for the hungry and homeless. Pearson said other similar restaurants around the country usually ask for people to pay what they can. At Common Table, customers will be asked to pay the suggested full menu price. The restaurant will in turn use profits to pay for free meals. He said they expect to give away about 30 percent of the meals to those in need.

To distribute the food the restaurant will primarily use a system of wooden tokens. The tokens will be given to local charities that in turn will give them to clients. Those using the tokens can either eat in the restaurant, or receive a boxed meal. Customers can also buy tokens as a tax deductable donation to give away themselves.

According to a recent report on the Oregon Food Bank website, 700,000 Oregonians received food stamps in April, 2010, or one in five residents. Oregon has experienced higher unemployment numbers than the rest of the nation, and has a higher percentage of people receiving assistance.

Pearson said community reaction to the restaurant is mostly positive, although there are some who fear it could create problems for downtown Bend.

“People who think we are going to be a restaurant serving quality, farm-to-table food are excited. People who think we’re going to be a soup kitchen are worried it will be a nuisance. We’re trying to be a new kind of thing,” Pearson said. “People will have to see it to really understand it.”

In addition to helping feed hungry in the community, the restaurant will provide paying jobs, opportunities for local culinary students to intern, and job training for employment program clients. Volunteers will help with simple jobs around the restaurant to keep costs down.

Another unique aspect of Common Table is that at night the 70-seat restaurant will become a community gathering spot. Plans include speakers, town hall meetings, films, music and other activities. Pearson said one idea is to bring together people from opposing points of view on local, national and international issues to talk – not argue – and discover what they have in common.

An explanation of the restaurant’s motto in Common Table’s brochure sums up the idea of the restaurant.

“Eat good. We eat delicious food from farmers and sources we know and trust. Do good. We impact our community through creative and collaborative service. Make good happen. We pursue social change through awareness of self, others, and the earth.”

Donations and volunteers are welcome. Go to www.commontable.net, or call 541-408-1380 or 970-347-7457.