Fork and Spoon

Marketing and fundraising coordinator Kate Wiggins poses for a photo Wednesday at the Fork and Spoon Homestyle Kitchen.

Bozeman’s café that lets people decide how much to pay for a meal was never designed to make money. But the nonprofit that runs the restaurant said it needs to begin breaking even.

The Human Resource Development Council runs Fork and Spoon Homestyle Kitchen as a place for people to eat — those who can pay full price and those who otherwise may not get a meal.

HRDC President and CEO Heather Grenier said that strategy hasn’t worked since Fork and Spoon opened as the first of its kind in Montana in 2012.

Each day, Fork and Spoon serves nearly $870 worth of food on average. Out of that, the café collects roughly $110.

“It’s a space where there aren’t socio-economic barriers. You can go in and dine and have no idea who’s paying and who’s not paying and it doesn’t matter,” Grenier said. “We tried really hard when we started to market ourselves as a pay-what-you-can café. No matter what, it still got branded as a soup kitchen.”

There are some regulars who can pay the full price.

“We just need more,” Grenier said.

The goal is to break even by the end of next June. If that doesn’t happen, Grenier said HRDC will have to look at options like cutting days for the kitchen.

The main way HRDC hopes to get more revenue is through a campaign called Pick up the Tab, where people pay for a night ($500) or week ($3,000) of food at the kitchen.

Fork and Spoon has survived through donations that came to HRDC that weren’t tied to a specific program. The nonprofit has also gone back to supporters for more money.

As the nonprofit looks for land to build Bozeman’s first year-round shelter, Grenier said it won’t be possible to push that money toward the kitchen.

“What makes us continue over and over again is we believe strongly food is a basic need. You can’t focus on your housing, your employment, any of those other things that are necessary in life without basic nutrition,” she said. “But this needs to be a sustainable program.”

Grenier talked from her office the same week Heart of Butte Community Café announced it would close. It’s the only other restaurant in the state Grenier knows of that works off a model similar to Fork and Spoon. She said because it’s a hard program to afford, closing is a reality HRDC has talked about “over and over again.”

The Bozeman restaurant is open Sunday through Friday from 5 p.m to 7 p.m. Grenier said that time is limited, but expanding hours takes money. In recent years, the program dropped Saturdays to save money.

Kate Wiggins, the Fork & Spoon fundraising coordinator, said to bring in more people capable of paying, Fork and Spoon began offering take-out, revamped its catering program and remodeled its space.

“In shifting that proportion, I by no means mean that we want to serve fewer people who cannot pay. They are why we’re here,” Wiggins said.

Some of the changes are helping.

Local art hangs on the restaurant’s walls with an artist’s reception scheduled before Bozeman’s downtown art walk on June 14. Roughly 12% of the people who come for a meal put something down for its cost, up from roughly 5% in Fork and Spoon’s early years.

On Monday, the restaurant’s guest chef night brought a crowd with customers who paid $919 out of the $1,915 worth of food Fork and Spoon served.

“This model has been proven to work at restaurants around the country,” Wiggins said. “We just have to build up our base so that the people who can pay are making what we do possible for the people who can’t.”

For more information on Fork and Spoon, visit www.forkandspoonkitchen.org.

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought.

Katheryn Houghton is the city government and health reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

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