CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- You're going to eat lunch, anyway, so why not eat someplace where the profit goes to someone in need, rather than to an owner?
That's the philosophy behind Delish, West Virginia's first nonprofit restaurant, owned by Janessa Spence.
"It's a movement that could really change lives," Spence said. "You take a self-sustaining restaurant and use it to raise awareness and money for charity."
Spence, who is a special education teacher at Chandler Elementary School, contacted restaurateur Virgil Sadorra last winter after she read a Gazette article about his plans to convert his downtown restaurant Cilantro's into a nonprofit restaurant. All profits, after expenses, would go to local, underfunded charities, which would also benefit from the increased awareness created through the restaurant's publicity.
In her second job as a service coordinator with West Virginia Birth to Three program, Spence refers clients in need to local charities such as Gabriel Project. She sees firsthand how invaluable programs such as those are to people who have nowhere else to turn.
"When I read that Virgil was pioneering the first nonprofit restaurant in West Virginia, I thought it was an amazing opportunity to help these people," she said.
Spence and Sadorra completed the details for Spence to buy the restaurant. She secured a loan, painted the interior and opened Delish May 17 as a nonprofit restaurant with Virgil as business consultant and, perhaps more important to the customers, as the chef.
They hope to establish a business model other restaurant owners could use to go nonprofit. It will be called Practically Delish, a reference to Sadorra's first restaurant, the original Delish.
Recently, the Panera Bread restaurant chain opened a pay-what-you-wish restaurant in Clayton, Mo. Customers in the flush pay full price, or more, and the poor pay less, or even get their meal free. Customers are on the honor system. The restaurant made $100,000 in its first month of operation.
Delish's nonprofit status is pending, which means the restaurant cannot receive tax-exempt benefits. Spence's accountant is working on initial sales figures, but startup and overhead costs will cut into profits, as they do with any new restaurant. She hopes to contribute 10 percent of initial sales to the Gabriel Project and eventually raise the percentage of sales given to charity to 20 percent or 30 percent.
The Gabriel Project is an ecumenical group that provides practical support for pregnant women and families with infants and young children. They gather diapers, cribs, clothes, car seats and other infant supplies for families in need.
"As a Birth to Three coordinator, my job is to find resources for people who have hit rock bottom. These people are in desperate times," she said. "It's nice to be on this side, helping to provide some relief. It's a great feeling to know we've really made a difference."
Profits will benefit Manna Meal through August, then go to Secret Santa in September. Spence is considering other charities. Administrators should contact Spence to fill out an application.
One charity is literally in their backyard -- Gabriel Project's office backs up to Delish.