F.A.R.M. Café sprouts downtown
Is there any good approach for a new restaurant opening in a space previously occupied by a beloved community institution?
There may be one way.
The F.A.R.M. Café, which stands for “Feed All Regardless of Means,” is about to open in the location that, for 90 years, housed the restaurant at the downtown Boone Drug store on King Street.
This café is part of a national movement of not-for-profit restaurants, which address not only hunger, but also helping those with financial need maintain their dignity. Starting May 1, patrons can visit the café and either pay a suggested donation of $6 to $10 for a meal, or volunteer one hour of their time in exchange for their lunch.
Denise Cerreta is the founder of this nonprofit restaurant model, having started the One World Everybody Eats café in Salt Lake City in 2003.
“It was a ‘Field of Dreams’ experience,” Cerreta said about the Utah restaurant, describing her hope that if she built it, people would come. Come they did, and soon replications started cropping up all over the country.
Cerreta, who has started a foundation in order to assist others in opening pay-what-you-can cafes, visited Boone to assist with the opening of the F.A.R.M. Café. She estimates that the Boone restaurant is the 26th of its type to open in the United States.
Cerreta said that the centralized location of the Boone restaurant is one of its many positive factors. Regarding Boone’s F.A.R.M. Café, she said, “This is very well planned ... they have the community support. They couldn’t have come together more perfectly.”
“Most people have really embraced us,” said Linda Coutant, board member for the F.A.R.M. Café. She explained that many were sorry the grill at Boone Drug closed, but the store’s owners wanted to pass on the space to a worthy organization that would be a good neighbor to the drugstore. “We’re saving the space, too.”
Some physical elements of the Boone Drug café remain. The yellow counters still brighten the room, and the old model train will operate again above the heads of patrons. The same artists who donated pieces for the café’s decor collaborated on a new mural for the back wall of the interior. And many local residents have demonstrated their support through elbow grease.
“Some volunteers have come every day,” Coutant said, explaining that during the recent renovation process, most labor was donated.
In addition to members of the High Country United Church of Christ, which spearheaded the creation of the F.A.R.M. Café, help has come from Appalachian State University, Watauga High School, Mountain Alliance and many private individuals.
The café will be run largely by volunteers, although paid staff includes executive director and chef Renee Boughman, formerly of Westglow Resort and The Best Cellar, and also an assistant manager and a volunteer coordinator.
In addition to paying at the door or bartering their time directly for a meal, patrons can participate in a “wooden nickels” program. These tokens can be purchased for $10 each or obtained in exchange for one hour’s labor, and then used to pay for one meal at a later date. Coutant hopes that businesses might purchase these as gifts for clients and employees, parents of college students might provide them to their kids, and people who cannot afford to pay can use them after volunteering.
The creators of the wooden nickels intend for the system to help level the playing field, since no one can tell who has earned the meal token out of necessity, and who has purchased the coin. The anonymity of this system is part of the F.A.R.M Café mission, which is to help people in need maintain their dignity.
Coutant maintains that this restaurant, funded entirely through donations, is truly by and for the community. She said that volunteers and donors have been crucial to the process, explaining, “Without their support, we wouldn’t have gotten this far.”
This may be the beginning of a new Boone institution.
The F.A.R.M Café is located inside Boone Drug Downtown at 617 W. King Street in Boone. Hours are Monday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. To volunteer, donate, or check out the menu, visit http://www.farmcafe.org or call (828) 386-1000.
Got restaurant news? Email editor Frank Ruggiero at (email@example.com) or call (828) 264-6397.