Guest Post: Chelsea Eddy's Reflections on Fork & Spoon
I joined Fork & Spoon in summer of 2016 when it was still the Community Café, back when we had covered booths in the dining room and our menu changed every night. I immediately fell in love with the restaurant and its unique pay what you can concept, but more so, I fell in love with the people. I met a new Bozeman.
I had the wonderful opportunity to lead a ten person volunteer team every night from all different parts of the community, including churches, companies, and philanthropic groups of friends who wanted to be part of something bigger than themselves. In watching the same people show up month after month to wash dishes, sweep our floors, and take out the trash, simply because they believed in the easy truth that everyone deserves a meal, I witnessed a whole new level of what it means to give back to your community.
As an Evening Lead, I developed deep relationships with our regular customer base, many of whom were experiencing homelessness, food insecurity, or financial vulnerability and relied heavily on Fork & Spoon. I met patrons who had full time jobs but made so little (often being paid minimum wage), that they couldn’t afford to save up a security deposit and first and last months’ rent to get an apartment. I met patrons who had suffered severe medical injuries and were burdened with crippling hospital bills. I met patrons who had young children and were grateful for a safe space where their kids could eat, even if their refrigerators were empty. Just as I cared about our patrons’ lives and providing a small amount of relief, even if it was just through a nightly meal, our patrons cared about me as well. When I had ACL surgery in June of 2018 and came back to work hobbling in crutches and a brace, I was flooded with concern and well wishes for a happy healing. To this day (I’m now a year of out surgery), Fork & Spoon patrons and volunteers continually check up on me to see how my recovery is going.
I was incredibly lucky in spring of 2017 to receive a full time position at the then-still Community Café as the Front of House Manager. At that time, the Café was experiencing the beginnings of what would be a monumental shift in our operations. By that fall, our complete renovation and rebrand were in full swing. We closed in October 2017 and opened two weeks later with almost everything brand new, except our most important and identifying aspect – our pay what you can model and commitment to ensuring everyone in Bozeman has access to a delicious meal, regardless of their ability to pay.
Our rebrand and renovation rocked Fork & Spoon’s staff, volunteers, patrons, and community – though in the most wonderful, positive way. Our new name, Fork & Spoon Homestyle Kitchen, was just the beginning of an enormous and innovative shift in thinking. We rejected the idea that just because someone is low income, suffering homelessness, or just wants an affordable meal, they have to be eating in a space that is less dignified. Our new dining room was upgraded to reflect the interior of any other bright, cheery restaurant in town. We changed our ordering system to be similar to other fast-casual restaurants in Bozeman, the only difference being that the patron gets to choose how much they will pay. We started offering menu options every night, healthy kids meals, and running our menu on a weekly schedule so families and individuals would know what we were serving before they arrived. Our goal was to ensure everyone in our community could dine with dignity.
Our remodel also aimed to invite and entice paying customers to enjoy Fork & Spoon as well. As a pay what you can restaurant, our model is only successful if we have customers dining with us every night who can pay to help offset the cost of our patrons who are unable to contribute towards their meal. Without paying customers, our model collapses. We needed to position ourselves as a competitive restaurant in the Bozeman food scene so folks would choose to dine with us not only because of our fantastic social mission, but also because they loved our food, our atmosphere, and our customer service.
This shift was exciting and exhilarating, but nerve-wracking. When we unveiled our new model to the community, we braced for the response – and were met (unsurprisingly) with unconditional support. Our volunteers hopped on board and began supporting us not only by continuing to donate their time, but by inviting their friends and family to dine at Fork & Spoon on their volunteer nights, by eating at Fork & Spoon on evenings they weren’t volunteering, and donating. Our regular patrons were excited to have menu options, a fresh dining room, and a space that was welcoming and dignifying.
Fork & Spoon is truly Bozeman’s community restaurant. We feed on the energy and support of the entire community. We, of course, have our volunteers – who keep us afloat by serving dinner and washing the copious amounts of dishes our kitchen generates. But we also see support in so many other, often more nuanced, ways.
Community members choose to eat dinner at Fork & Spoon and pay it forward to help cover the meal costs of those who can’t contribute. Service providers will help us out with electric, lighting, and plumbing needs and never send us an invoice. The local restaurant and chef community supports us over and over again, hosting Guest Chef Nights, specialty cooking classes, and donating a portion of their profits to Fork & Spoon during our annual Dine to Donate fundraiser. They donate their time, their staff’s time, and often the food, to make these events a success. Community members and businesses respond to our calls for in-kind donations, dropping off new computer monitors, TVs, kitchen equipment, and any other miscellaneous items we need to keep running smoothly. Our partners, including companies, individuals, families, churches, and civic groups, support us financially by Picking Up The Tab – helping to cover the $500 worth of food we provide nightly to individuals who dine with us but cannot pay. Local food suppliers, growers, and ranchers donate endless amounts of product to help us prepare delicious, locally sourced meals. The multitude of ways Bozeman supports our work is expansive and all-encompassing, and this list is by no means exhaustive.
As Fork & Spoon continues to grow, we strive to expand the ways we can support Bozeman in return. We are committed to preparing our meals with as much local food as possible to support our local growers and ranchers and offer fresh, local food to everyone in our community, irrespective of their socio-economic status. We rent our commissary kitchen to budding entrepreneurs, supporting those who are trying to get new catering businesses off the ground or sell a product at the farmers markets. We have expanded our workforce drastically, providing jobs to many young, local Bozeman residents. We are committed to specifically employing individuals struggling to succeed in the traditional workforce due to challenges in their lives, such as homelessness, addiction, or incarceration, providing them a safe and supportive work environment where they can get on their feet and prepare for their next role.
Fork & Spoon is the kind of place that truly changes and affects everyone who engages with its work. When I joined Fork & Spoon, I was excited to join the HRDC and gain experience working for a social service nonprofit. Through my years here, I’ve gained so much more than “nonprofit experience” (though I’ve been lucky enough to gain that, too!). I have developed empathy about what it means to be homeless and food insecure – that it’s a situation, not someone’s identity or describing characteristic. I’ve been blown away by the incredible generosity and support from the Bozeman community. From major donors to kids donating their allowances, chefs who spend weeks planning a special dinner to serve at our restaurant, and our incredibly dedicated and passionate volunteer base, Bozeman shows up.
I’ve seen the value in treating everyone with dignity and learned the humanization of greeting people by name and asking about who they are as people, not just about their current situation. I’ve benefited from being part of an organization, both Fork & Spoon and the larger HRDC community, that truly cares about creating a better life for everyone in our community. The level of compassion and courage that is needed to work in the social service sector is monumental, and the team at Fork & Spoon and the HRDC carry those traits with abundance.
I feel lucky to have been given the chance to work at Fork & Spoon and develop such valuable relationships with my coworkers, our volunteers, and our patrons. My request to you is to continue to support Fork & Spoon however you can best. Volunteer with us one night, join us for dinner and bring a friend, or choose Fork & Spoon to cater your next event. Your support, passion, and energy is what keeps Fork & Spoon thriving and makes it possible to do what we do best: feed people.
Chelsea Eddy was the Front of House Manager at Fork & Spoon for two years, helping it transition from its old Community Café model to its current operation. Prior to joining the team full time, she was an Evening Shift Lead for about 8 months, helping to run Fork & Spoon’s evening dinner service. Chelsea’s favorite parts about working at Fork & Spoon were the people - the volunteers, the patrons, and the staff - and of course, the delicious food!