A Place at the Table

The counter and coffee bar in Raleigh restaurant "A Place at the Table" invites people of all economic backgrounds to a hot meal on Wednesday, Jan. 10. The diner invites customers to "pay it forward" so that someone less fortunate may be able to have a hot meal as well.

Maggie Kane, an NC State alumna, created A Place At The Table, a pay-what-you-can cafe located in Raleigh. Inspired by similar restaurants across the country, A Place At The Table allows customers to pay for their food based on how much they can afford. 

According to Kane, the mission of the restaurant is to fight food insecurity within the local Raleigh community and to provide good, dignified meals to those in need. The restaurant also partners with multiple food pantries and organizations across Raleigh, such as Feed the Pack at NC State, by giving out tokens that can be exchanged for free meals. 

Kane graduated from NC State in 2013. During her time at the University, she was involved in various organizations that have initiatives to assist those in poverty, such as the Presbyterian Campus Ministry and the sorority Alpha Phi Omega.

However, Kane came up with the idea of starting her own restaurant after having a conversation with a friend about the lack of choice within soup kitchens.

“[He] always wanted to go to Golden Corral, and he said ‘I have a choice,’” Kane said. “People living in poverty have people make every choice for [them], [from] what [they] need to where [they] sleep.

After this conversation, Kane realized how important choice is for people in poverty, as it helps them feel acknowledged and heard. Kane said she researched the F.A.R.M. Cafe in Boone, North Carolina, another pay-what-you-can restaurant, as a model for how to manage her restaurant.

Kane said the restaurant is a popular place to eat. However, she also said the pandemic greatly impacted the cafe.

“We got hit pretty hard; we saw a lot more people needing free meals, and so we gave away more free meals than we normally would,” Kane said.

Amelia Dalonzo-Baker, a second-year studying business administration, has volunteered at A Place At The Table Cafe for about three years. 

“When you volunteer at A Place At The Table, you’re essentially volunteering as a cleanup crew and waitstaff,” Dalonzo-Baker said. “I’d take all of their prepared food and clean up after them when they were finished. And then once the restaurant was closed down, I would help with all the closing activities. I clean the bathrooms; I clean the dishes, not just me but all the volunteers.”

Dalonzo-Baker said after a person has volunteered for a long period of time, they become a core volunteer. Core volunteers help train new volunteers and give them tasks.

Dalonzo-Baker also said they enjoy volunteering at A Place At The Table Cafe because they get to work with other people who are passionate about its cause. 

“It’s such a nice community because the people who come and volunteer, they genuinely care about other people,” Dalonzo-Baker said. “I have never seen an employee who genuinely hates what they do while they’re there.”

Kane said she enjoys managing the restaurant. Similar to Dalonzo-Baker, she said she likes getting to know the people who work and eat at the cafe.

“It’s just the coolest place to be,” Kane said. “We get to know so many folks experiencing poverty; we get to know so many different kinds of people. It’s one of the most welcoming, inclusive places in Raleigh. It’s truly a special cafe.”

The restaurant, located at 300 West Hargett Street, is open from 8 a.m. - 2 p.m and is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. A Place At The Table serves breakfast and lunch, and a menu can be found on the cafe’s website.

Currently, A Place At The Table is not accepting volunteers due to the pandemic.

Once the pandemic is over, people who are interested in volunteering can send an email to volunteer@tableraleigh.org. 

I am currently a third-year studying English. I am also a staff writer who reports for the news or complains about whatever I'm angry towards at the time.