If you are enjoying a delicious meal with flexible pricing and one of your chefs is “that blonde chick with the walker who wears too much yellow,” you have probably found yourself at Big Big Table Community Café in the company of Co-Owner and Chef Mandy Bailey. The Café is a part of the organization One World Everybody Eats (OWEE), a network of cafés which follow the pay-as-you-can community café model. We caught up with Mandy Bailey and Big Big Table Board President, Stephanie Smith, to discover just what this new restaurant is all about.
What inspired Big Big Table?
It all began with a providential friendship.
Stephanie: Several years ago, someone introduced Mandy to Cathy Riley-Goddard, and the two became fast friends. Cathy later read an article about OWEE which described how Bon Jovi helped to spread this restaurant model and said she heard “Mandy Bailey” wherever the article said “Jon Bon Jovi.” She shared her vision with Mandy.
Mandy: It was like the heavens opened, and I knew this is what I was meant to do!
How does it work?
It is a nonprofit restaurant which serves quality food for which patrons pay what they can.
Stephanie: This model has worked in several other cities throughout the country. We will have suggested menu pricing, and whether you pay $0.20 or $20, you will have the same high-quality meal. Food rescue is also very important, and we accept damaged, “ugly,” and excess goods with shelf life left. We take the foods we have readily available and that are in season, and we create dishes from them. We plan to open five days a week for an extended lunch and serve a soup of the day, a salad of the day, a pizza of the day, rice and grain bowls and more.
Mandy: I look around and say, “What do we have?” to decide what we are making. That's what I call home cooking!
Sounds like Mandy is passionate about feeding others. How did that start?
Mandy grew up with fond memories of cooking in her dad’s kitchen and once partnered to run a catering service and “cakery” before moving to Buffalo for work.
Stephanie: Mandy has tattoos of large serving utensils right from her dad’s kitchen drawers, the very ones she grew up learning to cook with. After moving to Buffalo for a corporate food job, she realized she didn’t really jive with the job culture at her core. A lot of food was going to waste, and she wondered how she could make sure that food was going to people instead. That was when Cathy came in with her community café inspiration.
Mandy: Our mantra is “Everybody eats. Everybody gives. Everybody matters.”
When do you plan to open?
The Café hopes to open at the end of the summer, but a date has not yet been set.
Stephanie: COVID made our journey take a little longer. We did fundraise, and we organized a crowd funding campaign. We didn’t know what to expect given the pandemic difficulties, but we were blown away by how very responsive and willing to support Big Big Table people were. We exceeded our goal and were able to purchase our equipment and sign our lease. We are preparing the space and getting ready to hire our first two staff members as we look forward to our grand opening.
Mandy: People are giving us their energy and momentum. One day, we hope to have a literal big, big table for our guests to sit next to each other even if they didn’t come in together.
What are some ways people can support the café?
Volunteers will make up the majority of those working at the café. Hospitality training and other workforce development opportunities are being planned, as well.
Stephanie: We are so excited to be able to bring this vision to life and to welcome people to the table to contribute in whatever way they are able. Chefs are volunteering to cook as guests in our kitchen. Businesses plan to send us their excess products; some of them and others sponsor us financially. Still others donate goods to us to use in our popup events. Anyone can contribute, and we can help stop food from going to waste. We look forward to both serving the community and having the community join us in serving.
Mandy: All I have to say is, “Go, Team!”