Service With A Purpose
Aug 26, 2019 11:47AM
By Sara Locke
A cruciferous slaw with a parmesan balsamic vinaigrette. Green curry tofu soup. Brisket pizza. On a standard Tuesday, the fluid menu at Table Grace Café is a testament to the expert crafting behind every aspect of the establishment. The chef isn’t always sure what’s going to make the menu until the produce delivery arrives, but the staff is quick on their feet, and it’s going to be delicious.
While this level of attention to detail and the elevation of even the humblest entrée can be expected from most Omaha chefs, Table Grace’s novel approach to both sourcing and profit is what sets the exquisite food apart. The cost of the three-course feast listed above: whatever you can afford.
On any given afternoon, powerful business owners answering emails on their lunch break dine beside the unemployed applying for jobs online. Among the Table Grace workers are seasoned veterans of Omaha restaurants, unpaid volunteers, and those who opted to pay for their meal through service.
“The first question we ask every person who walks through the door is ‘would you like to volunteer today?’ No matter what they’re wearing, no matter what mood they’re presenting,” owner Matt Weber says. “This idea really only works if everyone participates. Healthy, delicious food is for everyone. Hard work is for everyone. Service is for everyone. If someone is wondering whether they would fit at Table Grace, the answer is absolutely yes. You belong here.”
Founded in 2008 by Matt and his wife Simone Weber, later joined by Chef Erin Schultz, the establishment is based on the principle that everyone deserves delicious food, dignity, and an opportunity to better their situation.
“We were in Nashville attending a retreat experience. I was looking for a potential career shift, and we were hoping to combine our three big passions of food, music, and ministry. Simone was attending some continuing education courses and we were both just hit with this moment of inspiration. The model is based on the structure and concept of SAME Café in Denver,” Weber explains. “It stands for So All May Eat.”
The restaurant manages to keep overhead low by working with donated and rescued foods from organizations such as Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue. This partnership not only keeps costs low for the restaurant, but prevents food waste, which keeps food costs lower for everyone.
Ruth Richter, manager of Green Bellevue, centers her life around finding opportunities to do more for the community in small ways. She says she enjoys frequenting Table Grace for more than the nourishing mouthful. “It’s a great place to have a date, a job interview, or a client meeting, because it gives you an opportunity to discuss values and social responsibility and pay it forward.”
Knowing that the food is donated and rescued might conjure up an image of refrigerator stew or mystery casserole. Not here. Instead, you’ll find from-scratch pizza crusts and slowly developed broths and stocks. Love—and good food—takes time, and the staff won’t rush perfection.
In addition to their pay-what-you-will policy, which makes healthy food attainable for those who may not be able to otherwise afford it, Table Grace creates employment opportunities for those who need it most. The restaurant offers a 10-day training program, with hands-on experience in several aspects of the restaurant industry. From dishwashers to food prep, serving is their mission.
While the brick and mortar at 1611 ½ Farnam St. keeps the menu focused on soup, salad, and pizza, the owners saw potential for more. Specifically, taking Grace on the road. Mobile Grace Café, launched as a food truck last year, keeps the menu burger-centric, with a variety of options. From a vegan and bun-less garbanzo-and-black-bean burger to a smoky, layered Moroccan style with caraway vinaigrette, the dishes are as rich and nourishing as the Webers’ mission.
With a firm grasp on their purpose in life, the staff at Table Grace seem tireless, maintaining catering gigs and a music career in tandem with their goodwill dining efforts.
While many places advertising a noble mission come with a side of “you’ll get what you get and you won’t get upset,” the staff at Table Grace understands that everyone deserves something they enjoy eating and shouldn’t have to worry that asking about potential allergens will be read as ungrateful. That’s why the establishment not only advertises possible allergens, but also offers gluten-sensitive items for diners with food allergies. The Webers believe in respect for each soul who enters their home away from home.
“We worked a lot from two books we found really insightful—Toxic Charity and When Helping Hurts. It’s hard for people to hear those words together, and most people feel like anything they do to volunteer is automatically good,” Weber explains. “It’s not automatically, and we wanted to make sure the good we were doing was really that. We wanted to be a blessing, and to have a positive impact on the whole community.”
Table Grace isn’t a soup kitchen; it is a gourmet kitchen with a mission. This is an opportunity for a full belly for anyone, from the upwardly mobile Old Market staffer to the down on their luck Old Market dweller. This is a chance to put something on a resume in both the education and employment sections, and a chance for someone to see clearly to the other side of a hard day.
And if their customers find themselves hungry for more than food, the Webers both serve as ministers. They offer regular fellowship and faith talks for those whose souls need nourishment as well.
Visit tablegracecafe.com for more information.This article was printed in the September 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.