Is LI Ready for a Pay-What-You-Can Cafe?

Updated: Jul 10, 2019

What do you think?

If you are one of the many residents on Long Island struggling to make ends meet, you are not alone! The data show that many of your neighbors are also persistently struggling to keep their finances afloat, just as you are.

A nonprofit community café is designed for those who may be struggling to keep food on the table, and for those that want to give back to their community. This nonprofit model is for all income levels, that is what makes this model very different from other nonprofits. All people can and should dine at the café. The checkout experience is designed so that no one knows what others are paying for a meal. This means no stigma is attached if someone can’t afford a meal. Being in need is already hard enough without being in the spotlight.

We understand not everyone in the community can afford to give a donation for a meal. We trust that enough people who can afford a meal will be drawn to the community café and will pay more than the suggested donation. This will balance the shortfall for those who pay less. This model needs the support of those who can afford to pay the suggested donation; if not, this model will not be successful, socially or financially.

While this type of business model for a community café is not new, the nonprofit model, as developed by One World Everybody Eats Foundation, represents an innovative approach. 

There are over 60 cafés like this across the United States, though this would be the first on Long Island. These cafes are a full-service restaurant, they look and operate, and have the same expenses just like for profit restaurants. We know this is a bold model, but it is time for change, the status quo just isn’t working. We need to create a place that inspires and uplifts people and in turn that will create a much happier and healthier community for us all!

This Is How Harmony Café Works

Harmony Café is a Nonprofit, Pay-What-You-Can Community Café. We want to demonstrate compassion and acceptance for every single person who comes through our doors! It is our concomitant duty to treat each person with dignity and respect, regardless of a guest’s ability to pay for a meal. In our café all people have a meal and no one is ever turned away because of lack of funds. 

Guests can dine, pay the suggested donation and pay it forward by chipping in to pay for a guest in need of a meal. However, they may choose to pay what they can. Some may pay less, and some may pay by volunteering at the café for exchange for their meal. We welcome all!

 The Harmony Café vision is to have a fully functioning café in the Patchogue or surrounding area. The café would be open five days a week for lunch and dinner. We will serve fresh healthy meals. We will also develop a Job Training Program as well as hiring people that have barriers to employment.

For the past two years, we have used our local VFW hall to host monthly luncheons.

Here are highlights of past community events:

·        Our volunteers offer a genuine and warm welcome (we are all volunteers).

·        All events had live music, designed to add ambience and fun to the event.

·        Our menu changed each month based on what was donated by local restaurants.

·        Our chef cooked fresh dishes at each event.

·        We brought over 1000 people together to dine with an average of 55 guests at each event.

·        Our guests came from a wide and diverse population.

·        The average number of guests in need were about 50% and the other 50% came to support the event.

·        Average donation given was $7 and we broke even at most of the events.

·        We used a donation box and placed discreetly to protect guest’s privacy and dignity.

·        The events were never designed to raise money, they were intended to serve the community and to introduce the model. However, at a few events, we did have offer raffles to raise funds to support our lunch events.

·        Our suggested donation was $10 for a three-course meal including drinks.

·        We conducted surveys at over half the events.

·        We received a lot positive feedback and comments from the community. 

·        Based on the surveys, the three main reasons guests came to our events was:

1.      Affordable, healthy food was being offered.

2.      Social setting-to make new friends and to connect to others.

3.      Support our mission.

The near future of Harmony Café

We are planning to expand our model into a real restaurant setting in September. We have taken a break from our monthly lunches to regroup and to strategize a new direction. There are a few reasons: (1) Many people still think we are operating a type of soup kitchen. We believe people may think this because we are a nonprofit organization people just assume we must be only helping people that are in need of a meal. (2) If we are not in a real restaurant setting, people will not really grasp the concept of this model and dine with us. (3)  We are going to try this and test it , if it doesn't work , we will go back to our monthly meal events at the VFW hall.

How you can help!

·        Get involved by volunteering. Positions are on our website at

·        Follow us on our social media sites and share our posts

·        Attend our lunch events as well as fundraisers

·        Support our mission by giving a donation at

·        Restaurant or event venue owners can open your restaurant to us and allow us to host an event (we have a proposal).

·        Community leaders can donate with grants or other funding as well as become supporters.

·        Professional services-grant writer-attorney-nonprofit management. (Pro Bono)

·        Professional Chefs -donate your time and skills.

·        Musicians that want to give back to the community.

·        Local farms can donate food to be used at our lunch events.

·        Business owners can sponsor our café in order to support of our lunches or mission.

·        Business owners can donate in-kind donations such as marketing-printing-food donations.

·        Press and media outlets, we need your support to share our mission.

·        Other nonprofit organization can work together with us and collaborate with our services.

·        Donation of a building in need of renovation/Owner of building that wants to give to charity.

·        Angel Investor or Philanthropist.

·        Real Estate Investor that wants to give to charity to create change and do good.

Please get involved it takes the community to create!

Donations to Harmony Cafe, Inc., a tax-exempt corporation under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.

Watch for the next article-Why the Founder has such passion for this café and why she doesn’t give up.

Thank you, for taking the time to read this article!

If you have any questions, please contact me at or 631-372-0227

Rosemarie Mccarthy


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