by Ana Haugseon and Jennifer Iamele Savage
Destiny Community Café is a nonprofit, pay-what-you-can community café that provides high-quality and delicious meals produced from local sources when available, served in a restaurant where everybody eats, regardless of means.
It may be hard to believe, but there are no prices on the menu; customers donate what they can to pay for their meal. Patrons can volunteer to earn their meal, pay the suggested price ($10) or less, or they can pay it forward for a future patron’s meal. Everyone is welcome to give their time, as well as money.
Destiny Community Café is a proud member of the nonprofit One World Everybody Eats (OWEE) movement that includes more than 30 Community Cafés around the country and persists through the efforts of numerous individuals, businesses and communities dedicated to increasing food security and building community through its pay-what-you-can restaurant model. It supports more than 60 existing and dozens of start-up Cafés in its network with expert consultation, best practices and networking opportunities.
Founded by the Scott family, who has been all about feeding the neighborhood for as long as RaGina Scott Saunders can recall, Destiny Community Café aims to continue to reach the community’s heart through their stomach. Saunders recalls, “I remember Grandma always had a pot of something on the stove and anyone who was hungry could come and eat,” she said. Saunders, the owner of North Charleston's Scott's Grand Banquet and Reception Center and founder of the Soul Food Alliance, has carried on the family tradition in a big way. In 2015, she discovered the One World Everybody Eats program and immediately saw a way to extend her mission. She opened Destiny Community Café, the only pay-what-you-can café in South Carolina, in April 2015.
The Community Café movement began in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2003, when Denise Cerreta, the owner of the One World Cafe, decided to change her business model. Instead of charging a set amount for a set portion, she started inviting her customers to pay what they could and what they thought the meal was worth. Cerreta eventually started OWEE and dedicated herself full-time to spreading the community cafe movement across the country.
Destiny Community Outreach runs the Café, and their mission is to make sure that everyone in the community, regardless of circumstances, has an opportunity to eat a hot, nutritious meal in a comfortable, welcoming environment. The emphasis in Saunders’ kitchen is on fresh and healthy foods. “We always serve up salads and vegetables,” she says. “We’re really strict on food donations. No dairy and no canned food if we can avoid it. We work with the Park Circle farmers’ market, Future Fresh Farms and get vegetables from Johns Island." The goal is to serve the underserved what everyone else has access to: locally grown, delicious meals.
"The area is in need," Saunders says of her Dorchester Road neighborhood. "There is a huge lower income area across the street and behind our building. A lot of our neighbors are on fixed incomes and everything they get is used to keep the roof over their head. There is nothing left to put anything in their refrigerators."
For a significant number of Americans, putting food on the table is a daily struggle. When it comes to fresh, high-quality, nutrient-dense food, the struggle is even more daunting. Saunders is quick to quote the alarming statistics: 16 million kids—one in five—do not have enough to eat each day, and lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 17 million households are considered food insecure.
The Scott family believes that it is their destiny to serve their community in any way that they can. Their website reads, “Destiny is about honoring the humanity in each other, that which binds us to each other. We are about inclusion, regardless of status, education or religious beliefs. It is about dignity and allowing those who cannot afford to pay for a meal the opportunity to volunteer in exchange for it. We never turn away a hungry person.”
Ragina Saunders notes, “We are doing what we can to make a difference. We rely on volunteers and donations to keep serving. We need volunteers to help us spread the word, to help in the kitchen and in many other ways. One constant is that we always need donations. We appreciate checks and cash, obviously, but things like napkins, cleaning supplies, trash bags and take-out boxes are greatly needed, too.”
Destiny Community Café is located in Scott’s Grand Banquet Center at 5060 Dorchester Rd., St. 320, in Charleston. Advance notice of parties of 10 or more is appreciated. For more information or donations, call 1-888-415-2224, est. 2, or visit DestinyCommunityCafe.wordpress.com.