Lexington Food Justice Podcast #17

Grace Cafe is a Fresh Approach

The USDA defines food insecurity as the lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.

During our September shows, we examined the complexities of food insecurity as a vast, wide-ranging issue that doesn't exist in isolation. But rather, a product of multiple, overlapping issues affecting the ability to meet basic needs (e.g., affordable housing, social isolation, mental or physical health problems, medical costs, low wages, etc). Any combination of which increases the risk of food insecurity. Such that effective responses need to address these overlapping challenges.

Grace Cafe (Danville, KY) is an innovative and progressive approach to resolving food insecurity. And is the first of its kind -- nonprofit, pay-what-you-can community restaurant -- here in KY. Grace Cafe serves deliciously fresh, locally-sourced, and highly-nutritious food for everyone in the community regardless of ability to pay!!

We had a fantastic time interviewing Rochelle Bayless (Executive Director) to discuss this remarkable concept and learn more about its Mission, Vision, & Philosophy.  We also had the opportunity to speak with Everett Worthington (an employee), Shadona Smith (a volunteer), and James (Grace Cafe patron) -- about the positive impact this community restaurant has played in their lives. AND even interviewed a group of Centre College students who presented Rochelle with the proceeds (over $300!) of their recent fundraiser.

Not to mention that Ben & I enjoyed a fabulously delicious lunch. YUM!!

All of this great content couldn't fit within our typical one-hour time slot. But we felt it important to share our entire experience. So we took the unprecedented step to split our interviews into 2 terrific shows to nourish your soul! đź‘‡đźŹ˝ 

Listen to Part 1 of our Podcast (11-24-17)

Listen to Part 2 of our Podcast (12-01-17)

Here's a Recap

Rochelle Bayless (Executive Director)

Executive Director Rochelle Bayless

Executive Director Rochelle Bayless

  • Rochelle is an 8th generation Kentuckian with more than 25 years of experience in the non-profit sectors of the arts, museum, historic preservation, and human services fields.
  • Received an MA from Hartford Seminary (Hartford, CT) and a BFA from Lyme Academy of Fine Art (Old Lyme, CT).
  • As a non-denominational interfaith chaplain -- served the spiritual needs of incarcerated women at York Correctional Institution Niantic, CT for many years.
  • Rochelle's Master's thesis: "A Theology of Food: Seeing Food as Acts of Grace" (Hartford Seminary 2013) was the basis and inspiration for Grace CafĂ©.

What A Beautiful Ethos!

  • Mission: To end hunger in Danville and Boyle County by providing healthy and delicious food security to all who walk through our door -- welcoming and serving patrons in a respectful and dignified manner, regardless of ability to pay.
  • Philosophy: Everyone, regardless of economic status, deserves the chance to eat healthy food while being treated with dignity.
  • Vision: To create a more vibrant, healthy, and economically strong community where nobody has to go hungry.

First of its kind in KY

  • Years ago, Rochelle was inspired by an Oprah Winfrey interview of Jon Bon Jovi discussing Soul Kitchen. A pay-what-you-can community restaurant run by the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation.
  • This nonprofit "pay-what-you-can" restaurant model was developed by the One World Everybody Eats Foundation (OWEE). And organization that received the 2017 James Beard Humanitarian of the Year Award. CONGRATULATIONS!!
  • This model is an progressive approach to solving hunger and food insecurity by giving everybody in community access to locally sourced, fresh, healthy meal.
  • This model is supported by “in-CafĂ© donations”, fundraising, and volunteerism to offer folks in need a hand up not a hand out by inviting the community to participate in the Cafe's mission however each one can.

General Concept

Anonymous cash donations are dropped in this birdhouse.

Anonymous cash donations are dropped in this birdhouse.

  • Daily changing menu. No set prices -- but suggested donations for each item.
  • “Pay and pay-it-forward” OR “pay-what-you-can”, OR volunteer for 30 minutes in exchange for a meal.
  • Cash donations (i.e., payment for meals) are made anonymously. Preserving the dignity of folks who may not have enough.
  • Patrons can also pay via credit or debit cards.
  • Donations of $20 over suggested amount will cover the cost of 7 additional meals! So please pay-it-forward if you can.
  • Rochelle greets new patrons with a quick "spiel" (which you'll hear on our podcast) to explain how the restaurant operates).


  • Grace Cafe's commitment to seasonal, fresh, local food is clearly on display on its menu that changes daily based on what’s available.
  • Also ensures very little, if any, food waste!
  • Daily selections include choice of two fresh soups, salads, sandwiches, and entrĂ©es.
  • Menu caters to a familiar “southern home cooking” palate.
  • To ensure freshest and healthiest foods, Grace Cafe builds relationships with local farmers and actively pursues CSA shares and memberships.
  • Breads are sourced from local bakers.
  • Beverages include “water infusions” (water infused with fruit, vegetables and herbs), iced tea, and locally-roasted coffee.
  • Soda is not an option! Nor is processed or foods containing preservatives!!!
  • Customers choose their own portion size to eliminate food waste. And gives a greater sense of control over what and how they eat.

Core Values

  • Trusting patrons to be inspired, honest, and fair in their exchange of money and/or time for food prepared both mindfully and in a heartfelt way each day.
  • Ending hunger by building human capacity and not encouraging dependency. Welcoming all members of our community.
  • Serving local, organic-when-possible, and unprocessed fresh food. This promotes good health, supports community farmers, and promotes environmental sustainability.
  • Paying for food at market value with the exception of donations of first-rate, high-quality food from local sources.
  • Eliminating waste in the food industry.
  • Practicing green, sustainable, & compassionate business operations.
  • Providing living wages for employees & job-training skills for those who want to move into other areas of the food industry.
  • Giving people the opportunity to give back to the community and CafĂ© through volunteerism.
  • Implementing best practices for nonprofit orgs & restaurant operations.

Community Impact*

* The following information was posted on Grace Cafe's website at the time of this interview on November 17, 2017.

  • 36,543 meals served since opening in July of 2015.
  • 14,723 meals served to-date in 2017
  • 15,403 meals served in 2016.
  • In 2016, an average of 57 meals served per day. The record is 144 meals served in one day.
  • To-date in 2017, 524 unduplicated volunteers worked 3,940 hours. Of those, 236 individuals worked 732 hours in exchange for meals.
  • Volunteers worked 1,246 of required community service hours. 1,960 voluntary community service hours.
  • In 2016, 449 unduplicated volunteers worked 3,422 hours. Of those, 160 individuals have worked a total of 1,036 hours in exchange for meals.
  • To-date, average amount paid/donated for a meal: $9.94. Average ticket order is $12.91. So GAP of $2.97 between suggested donation/price and what is actually being donated/paid.
  • Currently, 67% of the Café’s annual budget comes from what people are donating/paying for meals. Every year, must raise remaining 33% from individual donors, corporate sponsors, local, state, and national funders, and special events.
  • Since opening, Grace CafĂ© has invested $55,714.20 (amount posted on the website) in local agriculture by buying direct from local farmers, growers, and artisan producers.
  • During our interview, Rochelle offered an updated this amount to $65,000 in 2017 from 25 different local farmers throughout the year!

Learn More

Stay in touch with Grace Cafe:

Up Next (December 8th)

Many THANKS again to Rochelle Bayless and everyone at Grace Cafe! And continued best wishes for success.

Please tune in to our next show on December 8th, 10 - 11 am, 93.9 FM WLXU Lexington Community Radio.

We'll welcome Dan Wu -- Owner of Atomic Ramen (new restaurant located at The Summit at Fritz Farm and Specializing in Japanese-style Ramen). Also a local celebrity chef who cooks, eats, writes & podcasts (as the Culinary Evangelist) about the burgeoning local food scene. We’ll talk about this new venture – including the challenges of introducing this culinary concept to our community. And how Dan merges his culinary skills with community service.

This will be a very special show! Hope you will join us.