SAME Cafe: Denver Couple Cooks For The Masses

04/01/2011 05:37 pm ET | Updated Jun 01, 2011
  • Sheri L. Thompson

You'll find Denver's SAME Café on a quaint little East Colfax sidewalk, offering made-from-scratch food created daily. And the prices? Well, that's up to you.

SAME is an acronym for "So All May Eat," and allows patrons to pay what they feel the meal is worth. Short on cash? An hour of volunteer service can be exchanged for a meal.

"We encourage people to work in exchange for their food at the time of eating, but people can make arrangements to come back later and volunteer," says Brad Birky, who co-owns the café with his wife, Libby.

Open now for five years, the couple conjured up the concept on a flight home from Austin. "We wanted to fix a problem we saw in the Denver community related to food dignity," says Birky. "We had done some work in soup kitchens and shelters and saw the quality of food was horrible and that a certain population of people weren't utilizing those services, but really needed help: college kids, single moms, elderly on fixed incomes, young artists and musicians, etc."

This isn't a soup kitchen by any stretch. Using only purchased -- not donated -- organic and locally sourced ingredients, a typical meal might include creamy mushroom soup, greens with pomegranate seeds and balsamic (pictured) or poppy seed dressing, and cheese or Canadian bacon pizza, served with iced tea.

"The menu changes based on what is in season and growing well from our providers ... Seasonality lowers our food costs and provides the freshest, best-tasting ingredients. We are foodies, so we cook what we would like to eat," says Birky, who is head chef and, along with Libby, works daily in the café.

As for their clientele, it's exactly as the couple had hoped: diverse. In addition to students, single parents and creative types, the café also often sees plenty of local business folks walk through the door.

"Homeless, jobless and just getting by, all the way to rich and wealthy," says Birky. "Our main goal is to get really good healthy food out to everyone -- 'Good food for the greater good.'"