Edible Omaha

CULTIVATORS: Table Grace Café

CULTIVATORS: Table Grace Café

pizza

Table Grace Café
Offers a Slice of Hope
By Emily Brocker, Photography by Sarah Kay Bryan

Whether you’re down on your luck, between jobs or just on lunch break from one of Omaha’s many downtown businesses, you are welcome to eat a healthy, freshly made lunch at Table Grace Café. There are no prices in evidence.  Instead, this nonprofit café displays a donation box on the counter where patrons order. If you have no money in your pocket, you can pay for your meal by volunteering at the café. But Table Grace is about more than welcoming all to a good meal. “It’s about building community and getting the word out about hunger,” said founder Matt Weber.

Table Grace Café’s mission is “to foster a healthy community by offering great food prepared and served in a graceful manner to anyone who walks through the door.” The commitment to great food is no accident. Owner and Chef Weber received his training at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts in New York City. He has a true commitment to serving healthy, fresh and nutrient-dense food to all who dine at Table Grace. The menu features gourmet soup, salad and pizza, with a vegetarian alternative to each dish featured daily. The pizza crust is made with whole wheat and semolina flours and flax. The salad dressing is made with olive oil, fresh garlic and balsamic vinegar. Whenever possible, foods are made with organic ingredients.

Nebraska natives Matt and Simone Weber founded Table Grace Café in 2011 because they wanted to make a difference in their community and wanted to bring awareness to the hunger problem, here at home and across the country.

Both Matt and Simone are active in Nebraska’s Evangelical Lutheran Church community, which is where much of Table Grace Café’s financial backing comes from. Prior to starting Table Grace, Matt worked at Carol Joy Holling Camp in Ashland, Nebraska.  Simone is the director of Music Ministry at Omaha’s First Lutheran Church.

The Webers started their venture by offering personal chef services for single parents in their church. While this helped achieve their goal of easing hunger on a small scale, it wasn’t a sustainable business model. Matt wanted to pursue a business based on social entrepreneurship concepts—something that looked like a traditional business but helped the community at the same time. This is when Table Grace Ministries, a registered 501© (3) nonprofit organization, was formed.

Matt knew the next step was to open a restaurant, similar to one he had visited in Denver called the SAME (So All May Eat) Café. So he began looking for a space to lease. To do the most good and be sustainable, the restaurant needed to be in a diverse socioeconomic area. He considered Midtown Omaha but ultimately decided on the downtown location due to the proximity to the 16th Street bus stop transfer station, the nearness of Omaha’s homeless population and the large number of businesses located within walking distance.  Matt struck an agreement with the Omaha Housing Authority for his location at 1611-½ Farnam Street, and Table Grace Café opened its doors in April 2011.

“When we first opened, we were serving about 20 customers a day,” he said. “We’ve seen that increase to about 40 customers today.  Ideally, we hope to serve 60 people a day by the end of this year.” While Table Grace has its regulars, the majority of those are patrons who aren’t able to pay much for their meals. To meet the goal of serving 60 people a day, long-term, Table Grace needs more paying patrons.

But attracting a more socioeconomically diverse clientele isn’t just about the money. “It’s about creating a sense of community and bringing awareness to hunger issues,” Matt said. One of Table Grace’s unwritten goals is to unite the community to find viable, long-lasting solutions for Omaha’s hunger problem.

Just as crucial to helping solve hunger issues is Table Grace’s two-week restaurant internship program. Individuals who are down on their luck, looking for a job in the food service industry or hoping to develop some new skills are able to apply for the internship program. If accepted, interns learn a variety of food-service techniques, including food handling, sanitation, dishwashing, food preparation and food safety. At the conclusion of the two weeks, Matt provides the interns with a letter of recommendation, assistance with their résumé and advice on job hunting. A number of interns through Table Grace’s internship program have gone on to find jobs in restaurants around town thanks to the training and new beginning Table Grace offered them.

Matt has big plans for the future. “My hope is to develop relationships with organizations throughout Omaha that can help these interns find and keep jobs,” he said. “We want to become more than a charity.”

Emily Brocker is a writer and a self-confessed “live to eat” type of person. Coming from a long line of Idaho potato farmers, she has a passion for real, fresh food prepared and shared with love. In her free time, Emily exercises her sweet tooth through baking.

Table Grace Café
1611-½ Farnam St., Omaha
Open Monday–Saturday, 11am–2pm
Dinner by reservation only


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