The place where Everybody Eats
There is such thing as a free meal – and a delicious, three-course meal, at that.
It is early on a Monday afternoon and I find myself in the small kitchen of Gemmayze St restaurant in St Kevin’s Arcade, on Karangahape Road. I am no chef, yet I am here to volunteer my time to help cook a meal.
But this is no ordinary meal. This is ‘Everybody Eats’ – a pay as you feel restaurant aimed at feeding people in need, with food that otherwise would have gone to waste.
Almost all of the food on the menu has been rescued – meaning that it was excess food that was on the verge of being dumped. Things like limp lettuce, brown bananas, day old bread, expired tins of tuna. It is collected from food rescue charity Kiwi Harvest and straight from a local supermarket.
The random quantities and assortment of food received poses a big challenge in creating a three-course meal to feed over 100 people, but Everybody Eats founder Nick Loosley says that’s all part of the fun.
“It’s exciting and challenging. We’ve got a little bit of money so that we can buy bits and pieces and it makes it less stressful because you know you will be able to put something on the table,” said Loosley.
Loosley uses some of the donations from the previous week’s dinner to purchase additional items needed to turn the meals into something a little special – things like cream for the soup, eggs to make desserts and ice cream to accompany it.
In addition to the food, the other big challenge is getting people to cook it. On the day I am volunteering in the kitchen, there are two chefs who work together at Waiheke’s Mudbrick Winery, another man who has kitchen experience and myself, a home cook. In the past teams from Bird on a Wire, The Cult Project and Mudbrick have turned up to cook. This is the ideal scenario for Loosley – being able to hand over the running of the kitchen to other professionals.
Together we wash, chop, peel, grate, sauté, boil and mix for four hours straight until we have a three course meal ready to feed 160 people.
On the menu is cream of broccoli soup with bread, two pasta choices – a tuna tomato pasta, puttanesca style, and a creamy vegetarian pasta bake, each served with a garden salad. The highlight is dessert, a banana split made with roasted bananas and ice cream topped with grated chocolate, crumbled peanut praline and meringues.
Come 6pm, when service starts, the dozen tables are already full. This is no ordinary soup kitchen. Patrons are served the three courses at their table, with 15 volunteers acting as wait staff.
The food flies off the pass, with a lack of bowls the only hold up. For the next two hours we are on continual rotation of scooping soup, plating pasta and dishing out dessert. For a kitchen novice like me, it is exhilarating.
So is this a free meal? If you can’t afford to pay, then yes, it is. The whole idea is that it runs on a ‘pay as you feel’ system – which basically means, give what you want, if you can afford to give.
“The whole idea of the paying system is that we don’t know who is paying or how much they are paying – and we want to keep it like that,” said Loosley.
“We want people to feel really comfortable with not-paying, if they can’t pay, or putting lots of money in, if that’s what they want to do. We don’t want people to feel like they are being watched.”
Loosley estimates that about 30% of people are paying.
“We think there is about an 80/20 split. 80% are homeless or “in need”, and 20% are people not in need. The 20% of people who aren’t in need are all paying, and I think they are generally putting in $10 or $20. There are stories of in-need people rustling together some money to put in – so we think about 10% of in need people are paying something.”
While the restaurant is open to anyone, and Nick encourages anyone to come, its main raison-d’etre is to feed those who are struggling financially.
“It’s quite a challenging concept for people to get, because they think it is not for them. They think it is for homeless people and if they go there then I am eating a homeless person’s food. This isn’t what we want. We want people to realise that it is available for everyone and we do need everyone to come because we need donations.”
The restaurant has only been up and running for six weeks, but it is already close to capacity.
“It’s definitely growing but it can’t grow that much more. At the moment we are seating about 95 people, and we wouldn’t really be able to do more than two seatings at night. So the maximum we could really do is 190 people. We’re close to capacity. And it is quite a lot of pressure in terms of food prep in order to get that many people through.”
Having too many people keen to eat is a good problem to have, and Nick is already plotting for the future, with the hope that a permanent space could be on the cards sometime soon.
As 8pm rolls around the tables start to clear, the dishwasher is working at full steam and the leftovers are being packed up. The volunteers who serve the food come back week after week – the job is manageable and rewarding. For those, like myself who help out in the kitchen, it’s an experience like no other.
For Loosley, there’s the satisfaction of knowing his vision and hard work have fed another 160 people. He just has to make a trip to the Auckland City Mission to deliver the leftovers before he can call it a night.
Everybody Eats takes place between 6-8pm, every Monday evening at Gemmayze St restaurant, St Kevins Arcade, 183 Karangahape Road. Everyone is welcome to attend. Follow Everybody Eats on Facebook.
Everybody Eats is run by volunteers. In particular, there is a need for volunteer chefs and cooks to help with the preparation and serving of food. If you are a chef who is keen to volunteer, please email [email protected]