Comfort Food

This is Day 6 in a month of posts about how I came to own a pay-what-you-can vegan lunch café in the middle of meat-and-potatoes Midwest America. If you’d like to learn more about the café, I invite you to visit the website or find us on Facebook

The café serves one thing each day.

It might be a rice bowl with some fruit for dessert, pizza and salad, roasted vegetables on quinoa, chickpea patties on rice. It changes every day, but on any given day, there’s exactly one thing on offer.

Take it or leave it.

Sorta like when you were growing up, if you grew up anything like me: your family sat around the table and had dinner. Everyone ate the same thing, more or less. Your brother might have pushed his peas to the side, your dad may have insisted on his stack of sliced bread and butter on a plate beside his plate. (Did anyone else’s dad do the stack of sliced bread and butter thing? I’m talking Wonder Bread slices, not some nice French loaf. A tower of Wonder Bread on a pink Melmac plate. But I digress.)

At my previous café, I did what every other restaurant did: I served from a fixed menu. I had three or four salads, offered a couple different sandwiches, a daily soup, people came in and ordered what they wanted, like people did at every other place in town.

At Common Ground we don’t offer that kind of choice. If you don’t want what we’re having that day, you probably ought not come.

It’s different, but kinda comforting, right? One less decision you have to make. Our customers check our menu (we post it on the website, on Facebook, or they get it emailed to them), and if what we’re making that day sounds good, they show up.

We didn’t come up with the idea. It’s something Wendy and Matt did, and we just kept doing it when we took over, like pay-what-you-can (which I think I’ll get into tomorrow, because it’s another key thing, along with being wholly plant-based, that sets us apart here.)

Anyway, the menu. Yes, It limits our pool of potential customers to those who want that one thing. And limiting your customers in any way at all seems anathema to the American Way of Doing Business, right? Surely you want as many customers as you can get, so you can grow and grow. And surely you want to offer them all the options, so they don’t go elsewhere, right?

All I can say is, within the scope of what we’re trying to do, this works. It worked for Wendy and Matt, and it works for us.

It might not work someplace else.  So?

I think it’s okay to limit your customers to those who really want what you’re offering.

We have people who come daily, no matter what’s on the menu. We have customers who don’t even look at the menu, they just show up. “What’s for lunch?”

They do that because they trust us. Imagine that.

I suspect nobody really thinks of vegan food as comfort food. But serving it the way we do, it says you’re family, and you’ll eat what the rest of us are eating. If that’s not comfort I don’t know what is.