There’s a new trend in dining-out across the U.S.: the Community Cafe, where the driving philosophy is a sustainable world where all may eat. Â One such eatery in Highland Park, New Jersey, A Better World Cafe (BWC), began serving sumptuous, healthy food in autumn of 2009. Housed in the Quilt Room of the Reformed Church of Highland Park, BWC serves lunch each weekday to a diverse crowd of diners.
Enter the back door of the sprawling church building and follow the hallway signs to the cafe. If you get there early enough you won’t have to wait on a long queue, but don’t fret if you do – the food is well worth it. The menu includes sandwiches, hot meals, salads, soups, and desserts made from locally sourced and often organic ingredients. There is always oneÂ â€œcommunity dishâ€ which you may enjoy for free, and plenty of vegetarian and vegan options. A friendly volunteer or staffer will serve your food cafeteria-style and, here’s the best part, you choose your portion, and pay accordingly, hence no wasted food. â€œSuper-size meâ€ is not the philosophy at BWC!
When you pay for your meal, the cashier will tell you the â€œsuggestedâ€ price. You can pay a little extra to help to feed someone who may not have the means that day. I usually round it up – seems fair as the meal is always reasonably priced. My typical lunch at BWC will cost about $6.00 for my perfect, not to mention delicious, portion.
My personal favorite dish is their signature Better World Salad, made from shredded cabbage and other seasonal veg, brown rice, cubes of tofu, sesame dressing, and topped with toasted slivered almonds. Another favorite is the toasted panini sandwich with cheddar cheese and garlicky greens – yum!
Better World Cafe is a social enterprise partnership between Elijah’s PromiseÂ and Who Is My Neighbor? Inc. Many of the folks working in BWC’s kitchen have been professionally trained at Promise Culinary SchoolÂ (also the source of BWC’s baked goods) while others volunteer their time either in exchange for a meal or just because they want to.
A few words with Chef Rachel
I caught up with Better World Cafe’s executive chef, Rachel Weston and asked her a few questions.
LE: How did you get involved with A Better World Cafe?
RW: I had made a career change and attended Promise Culinary School. When I graduated I became a member of the advisory board that was planning and organizing the soon-to-be-opened cafe. This role involved everything from selecting low VOC paints to testing recipes for the cafe’s menu. In August of 2009 I was hired to manage the cafe, which opened the following October.
LE: What’s on today’s menu?
RW: Vegan minestrone, turkey sandwich with pesto, portobello mushroom sandwich with goat cheese, Better World salad, quinoa salad, broccoli slaw, apple crisp, vegan chocolate coconut cookies, etc. Last Friday we had roasted eggplant boats stuffed with quinoa and tomorrow’s menu will include chicken pot pie.
LE: In what way does a “community cafe” aid the environment?
RW: In the case of BWC, it’s a green business. For example, all the “to go” materials are biodegradable, including the cutlery (corn-based plastic), we don’t sell bottled water, Â and we always offers vegetarian and vegan food choices [as evidenced in the menu above]. Because of the fact that customers choose their portions, Â there is very little wasted food and all the food waste is composted. Foods that are abundant in the summer (such as tomatoes and strawberries) are prepped and frozen for use in the winter.
Community Cafes across the U.S.
The community cafeÂ trend is on a definite upswing! A few others in the U.S. include:
- Ransom Community Cafe in Mobile, AL
- SAME (So All May Eat) CafeÂ in Denver, CO
- One World Cafe in Salt Lake City, Utah
- Soul Kitchen in Red Bank, NJ
- Credo Cafe in Orlando, FL and (and coming to Austin, TX)
A comprehensive list of both open and planned establishments can be found here.
Community cafes are popping up in England as well – I’ll be sure to visit one during my upcoming trip to London.
Finally, for a quick look inside BWC, check out this video from News for Good:
Does your neighborhood does have a community cafe? Tell us what you love about it!
Note: Most of the above photos are courtesy of Better World Cafe’s Facebook Fan Page.