So much can change in a month. At the beginning of March, the INDY had plans to chat with A Place at the Table’s Maggie Kane. It was the Raleigh pay-what-you-can cafe’s third year of operation, and there was a flurry of expansion plans in the works.
A few missed calls and a week later, and the coronavirus was in full swing in the United States.
Governor Roy Cooper had ordered the temporary closure of all restaurants across the state. Job-sites were closed, layoffs were beginning, and a recession was tunneling forward.
All across the state, people’s livelihood, health, and ability to put food on the table is facing increasing uncertainty—as is the restaurant industry at large.
This week, the INDY caught up with Kane to ask about A Place at the Table’s new normal.
Hey, Maggie. Can you walk me through a day in the organization?
We are closed Monday and Tuesday, we made that adjustment during this time. So we are open, Wednesday through Sunday. We have a limited menu so people are coming in, or calling. So we still have paying customers who are calling, placing their order, coming and doing curbside like you would any other takeout restaurant right now, or walking up. We’ve got cones laid out, we’ve got all the protocols put in place. From 8-2 we’re pretty much nonstop doing meal service.
How many free meals are you serving a day?
We’re serving about 250 a day. On Black Friday we served 300. On top of that, a lot of people are paying what they can, so it’s not just free meals—it’s people that are pay five, six, two dollars. We’re seeing both sides of it.
I know that you’re serving at a distance, but are you getting a sense of what people’s lives are like right now?
Yeah, even in just the one minute of people placing their order—we have people who say, I just lost my job. Or I don’t know where to eat right now. Or I don’t think I’m going to be able to pay rent this month. We’re see lot’s of people who are experiencing homelessness, but also lots of people living in low-income housing that are taking the bus.
How are y’all sustaining this increase?
We’re fortunate because people are paying for their meal and paying it forward. People are paying online and giving us donations. We’ve had corporations reach out to see how they can help; we just had an insurance company sponsor a whole day worth of meals, so he wrote us a check for $2500. People are being great and super supportive, but we’ll need that to continue, you know what I mean? Especially if these numbers keep going up.
Yeah. How are you staying sane?
Oh, I’m not. It’s funny—I missed your call because Mondays and Tuesdays when we’re closed, or after hours, I do workouts at the Table. I do the stairs. I look for what I can find. Right before you called, I was bicep-curling a big thing of mustard.
I bet that’s heavy!
It’s pretty heavy! I don’t know how much it weighs…but if you do a lot of reps with it! I’m trying to somehow keep sane by going active and going on walks and supporting my staff. That’s the thing, my staff are so great and they’re willing to show up and they want to be here. They see how we’re needed, how many people we’re feeding. [But] I said to them, the moment you start feeling uncomfortable, we’ll close. They’re a priority.
Anything else you want people to know about A Place at the Table?
Just come and buy a meal! We have all the protocols in place, we’re not even going to reach in your car. The way people are paying is by a text app and nobody knows how much people are paying. You text that number and pay what you can, it’s super dignified.
But also just, come get a latte if you want to get out of the house. Come get ten cinnamon buns and drop them off at your friends house because she needs a pick-me-up. But come order from us because whether you’re paying the full price, paying less, paying a little bit more—you’re helping us stay open and survive.
Contact deputy arts and culture editor Sarah Edwards at email@example.com.
DEAR READERS, WE NEED YOUR HELP NOW MORE THAN EVER. Support independent local journalism by joining the INDY Press Club today. Your contributions will keep our fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle, coronavirus be damned.