Milwaukee Pay-What-You-Can Cafe Aims to Feed the Hungry

Feb 16, 2017

Restaurants that allow you to pay what you think a meal is worth are popping up around the country.

The pay-what-you-want concept isn’t new. Now, some owners are using it as a way to help feed low-income people in their cities. 

For people living in poverty, going out to dinner is a luxury. Christie Melby-Gibbons thinks dining out should be available for low income people as well as those who can afford to pay. She recently opened the Tricklebee Café.

So far, around 95 percent of Tricklebee patrons have been able to pay something
Credit LaToya Dennis

“I have just always felt like everybody deserves to eat healthy, delicious, freshly made food,” Gibbons says.

The menu changes daily, but the food is locally sourced, typically vegetarian and consists of a soup, salad, sandwich and baked goods. The suggested price range is between $5 and $7, but people can pay what they want.

Tricklebee is one of about 50 pay-what-you-can café’s across the country dedicated to feeding low income people, according to the organization One World Everybody Eats.

It’s lunchtime on a cold winter day, and right now, the cafe is packed. A church pulpit serves as the checkout counter…

Melby-Gibbons lives in Sherman Park and says she wanted to help people in her neighborhood
Credit LaToya Dennis

Melby-Gibbons is a minister and believes this café can survive in an area full of fast food restaurants and boarded up storefronts. She says that on average, two people a day come in and have a meal without paying anything, and around 95 percent of her customers pay the suggested price or more. Luke Hansen says he and his family plan to give a bit extra.

“You come to a place like this and it really restores your faith in humanity. Just because someone doesn’t have a lot of money doesn’t mean they’re a lesser person.”

Cookie Taylor is also planning to pay at least the suggested price. She says it could benefit those who can’t.

“I think there are people here who would eat better if they could afford to eat better,” Taylor says.

For most pay what you can café’s across the country, fundraising is necessary. Melby-Gibbons says that in addition to the money made from the sale of food and beverages, she needs raise about $28,000 to keep the nonprofit café afloat next year.

She says that should be enough to not only pay the bills, but also her staff. She’s hired a couple of people from the community to work at the café and everyone, from the janitor to Melby-Gibbons is paid the same hourly wage—more than $14 an hour.