Home Church community Crescent City Cafe serves hot breakfast and bottomless juice to New Orleans residents in need

Crescent City Cafe serves hot breakfast and bottomless juice to New Orleans residents in need

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In New Orleans, all roads lead to a restaurant. But the fact that a restaurant meal continues to be something nearly a quarter of New Orleans residents living in poverty don’t have access to is often obscured by mainstream awareness. New Orleans is one of the top food-insecure cities in the United States, a particularly stark contrast to its reputation as one of the world’s top foodie cities.

Many food banks, nonprofits, and community refrigerators provide food to food-insecure New Orleans residents (at the time of this writing, New Orleans Community Fridges operates at least 16 refrigerators). Yet these provide necessary goods and aim to achieve a basic human right, rather than an experience that most people want. Hence the inspiration behind Crescent City Cafe, a pop-up restaurant that gives food-insecure New Orleans residents the opportunity to dine with dignity in a full-service restaurant experience.

“When people come in, we don’t know their situation, but we serve them because they’re here,” says Adelle Bergman, executive director of Crescent City Cafe. “We empower people to belong, to matter, and to feel part of a community,” says Bergman.

A Saturday menu at Crescent City Cafe.
Hannah Hanegan Photography/Crescent City Cafe

The cafe, founded in 2009, serves breakfast on the first and third Saturday of every month at the Rayne Memorial Methodist Church on St. Charles Avenue. The church’s commercial kitchen and reception serve as a simulated restaurant run by volunteers, who take care of everything from preparing meals to welcoming and serving guests. It serves plates that would be expected at a favorite local breakfast spot – a recent menu included ranch grits with cheddar bacon and lemon pancakes. While the menu changes weekly, offering different sweet and savory breakfast options, one thing is constant: it’s always served on linen tables with a sweet flowerpot, silverware, bottomless juice and chocolate milk.

Volunteers don’t just fill cups or scramble eggs; they’re also here to help build community in pop-ups, connecting with guests, and fostering an inviting space. “Food insecurity is a temporary condition; it’s not part of someone’s identity,” Bergman says. “Our volunteers cycle and eat with the guests; this way we build friendships while educating volunteers that these are just people with different circumstances.

Breakfast is served at the Crescent City Cafe.
Hannah Hanegan Photography/Crescent City Cafe

The faces of food insecurity vary; it is not defined as a type of person or circumstance. The Crescent City Cafe seats up to 120 people on a Saturday morning. Guests include the elderly, students, families, homeless people, sheltered people, people who have had to choose between buying medicine or paying for food, and those who just want company. In some circumstances, guests have included neighbors who dropped in for a meal and left as donors, while other guests later found themselves in different circumstances and returned to the cafe as volunteers.

Bergman notes that food safety can affect anyone, which is part of why, after 13 years, Crescent City Cafe announced plans to expand into a pay-per-view restaurant with a permanent location. “Because we’re in a church, people assume there’s always a barrier to entry. People have to see for themselves that we are different from a soup kitchen.

A volunteer prepares pancakes and tacos for breakfast at the Crescent City Cafe.
Crescent City Cafe

The plan is to serve breakfast and lunch every day to customers, regardless of their ability to pay, in a space where non-paying customers dine alongside paying customers. The restaurant will be run by staff and volunteers, giving non-paying guests the opportunity to also serve as volunteers, which Bergman says many guests appreciate. It will join dozens of fee-paying community cafes across the United States, including Jon Bon Jovi Soul Kitchen in New Jersey, SAME Cafe (So All May Eat) in Denver, and FARM (Feed All Regardless of Means) in North Carolina. .

Expanding to the pay-as-you-can model will require fundraising – overhead cannot be sustained by just paying customers, as it is difficult to predict what people will pay. Bergman adds, however, that ultimately she doesn’t want the restaurant to break even with paying customers because it’s expected that people can walk in and pay nothing.

For the advocates and volunteers who power the Crescent City Cafe, meals – and the community bond that comes with them – are as much a necessity as the food itself. “Even though we’ve evolved a bit over the past 13 years, that mission has remained the same,” says Bergman. “We just want to share a meal, create community and connect – again, with dignity and love. Food is really just our excuse for creating community.

The Crescent City Café serves breakfast from 8:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. for those in need on the first and third Saturdays of each month at Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church. To learn more about volunteering or donating to Crescent City Cafe, visit https://crescentcitycafe.com.

The Crescent City Cafe claims to have served 19,000 meals to New Orleans in need in the summer of 2022.
Crescent City Cafe