‘Pay What You Can’ Café Aims to End Hunger in Danville

Oct 13, 2015

Grace Cafe Founder Rochelle Bayless Prepares to Take an Order
Credit Stu Johnson / WEKU News


A restaurant offering a unique dining experience is attracting a crowd in Danville.  It’s called Grace Café and lunch there comes at a price, but how much of a cost is left up to the patron.  The restaurant’s founder says the objective is to reduce food insecurity in Boyle County.

Grace Café is located in downtown Danville.  On a large board beside the counter where customers place orders, there are suggested prices for each day’s selections.  The menu features local ingredients, made fresh with no preservatives.  Customers are asked to donate, pay what they can afford, or volunteer for a meal service.  Ellen Matthews is a volunteer server. She attends nearby Centre College.  “With a restaurant that is pay as you can, it involves all members of the community,” Matthews said. “Whether or not you can pay more than enough, whether you can pay the donated amount, or whether or not you are gonna volunteer for an hour, I think it brings in everyone to the table and that’s really important.”

Grace Café is the brainchild of Rochelle Bayless. After spending 30 years in New England, Bayless returned three years ago to her native central Kentucky.  With experience in the non-profit community and seminary schooling, she says her interest is in ending hunger and food insecurity in Boyle County.  

Grace Cafe is the first of its kind in Kentucky and Bayless admits not everyone understands the concept behind it. She recalls a man who came to the café to eat, became frustrated and turned to leave, saying he would try the dollar menu somewhere else.  Bayless said, “I stopped him and said, ‘just hold on a minute.’ The way that this works is pay what you can.  I want you to consider our menu a dollar menu and that clicked for him.”

Bayless says the man paid $3.00 for his lunch and returned the next day.  Many people who can afford the suggested prices frequent Grace Café.  Bayless says visitors often ask questions about the number of meals served or the number of people she’s helped.   “People keep asking me are you really serving the community of need or how many meals have you served?” said Bayless. “I can’t answer that question and the reason I can’t is inherent in our business model.”

That business model includes anonymous contributions. Customers leave their donations inside a large box that sits on the counter. Bayless says she doesn’t know how much money every person donates for each meal. She says gifts are also sought from businesses and organizations, which amounts to about 25 percent of the diner’s budget.

Stephanie Weber, along with her son and daughter, regularly volunteers at Grace Café.  She homeschools her kids and says working at the café is a great learning experience for them.  “I want them to be outside their comfort zone and being in a service position like this, puts them in a different situation where they have to interact with people maybe discuss the mission of the café,” she said.

Weber says she and her family feel comfortable, welcomed, and appreciated at the Danville diner.  Ethan Weber, 17, says he’s volunteered at Grace Café over a half dozen times.    “There’s so many people who don’t have enough and for this quality of food; the food here is like fantastic and it’s just a nice atmosphere” Ethan remarked.

It can take a minute or two to explain the menu and ordering procedure at the counter, but patrons seem supportive of the concept.  Having just finished their lunch, Chris and Lori Turner had good reviews.  Chris says the aim of the café is appealing.  “There’s other places you can eat in Danville, but when you come here the food is just as good if not better and you’re also helping to provide a meal for somebody; it’s just the best place to eat,” said Turner.

Lori Turner, who’s volunteered at the cafe, says it’s good for the community.  Bayless says 1,300 meals were served during the month of August.  Open currently only for lunch Wednesday through Sunday eleven a.m. until two, she says expanding to evening hours would go a long way in impacting food insecurity and hunger in Boyle County.  ​