The Portland community of Louisville is a neighborhood that regularly gets a bad reputation and known as a blue collar, lower income community since it’s establishment in the 1820s. The Great Flood of 1927 severely damaged the community. Characterized by low economic opportunities and poor education, Portland has remained somewhat stagnant in recent years. One of the greatest problems facing the community are drugs and the overall ‘drug economics’.
However, within the Portland community, small flecks of improvement are springing up. Parts of Portland are slowly beginning to change. However, much of the Portland community that runs along the “West Louisville” side, has yet to see much change. Drug use, food insecurity and lack of education (close to 50% of the neighborhood doesn’t have a high school education) are frequent problems. Working to address these issues in the neighborhood is The Table.
A New Spin on Food Programs
The Table is a restaurant that focuses on local sourced products. In fact, Habitat for Humanity in Louisville runs a community garden with the people they work with. That garden provides some of the basil, zucchini and other vegetables that the Table uses in their dishes.
The Table isn’t an ordinary restaurant however. Being successful as a restaurant is a secondary goal to building bridges in a community that has experienced a lot of hurt and disadvantage. The restaurant strives to meet people where they are. Whether they are struggling from addiction, food insecurity or homelessness, the Table is open for them.
The Table is a new style of feeding program. The owners wanted to establish feeding program in the community to meet the needs of food insecurity. But, they didn’t want to be another soup kitchen. They wanted to provide a place that gave dignity to the people they were serving. Enter the Table. The restaurant provides wholesome meals at a low cost. If you can’t pay with money, guests are able to pay with their time. The restaurant has a weighted system for paying with time. Guests can pay back for their food by cleaning menus, helping tend the gardens, washing dishes, or any other task around the restaurant. Guests that can pay, can pay a little extra to help pay it forward. The staff uses this “pay it forward” funds to help cover the meal expenses for those who cannot pay.
The table also only has 4 paid employees, 3 full time and 1 part time. The waitstaff are all on a volunteer basis, whether locals seeking a meal or people wanting to give back to the community and people. When volunteer or working at the Table, it’s not about getting in and out of the shift. Their focus is on community. Stopping and speaking to everyone and making everyone feel welcome regardless of their situation.
Anyone can do locally sourced food, really. The challenge lies in providing a locally sourced dishes that work and taste good. Locally sourced ingredients can, at times, be expensive. The Table also prides itself on being able to keep costs low. The menu changes seasonally in accordance to what produce is available.
The last time I went I got a sweet tea to drink. When back home in Kentucky, I can never pass a good sweet tea. I couldn’t decide between the salad or sandwich, so I got both. You can transition the salad to be a side portion. So, I went with the pulled ham sandwich, an autumn salad and sweet potato fries. Everything was amazing and the sweet potatoes came with a surprisingly awesome molasses mustard dipping sauce.
Discovering The Table was one of my favorite things while visiting home. It pairs two of my favorite things: sustainable, good programs meeting a need and delicious food. If you’re ever in Louisville, whether for the Derby, going to the St. James Art Fair or for any other reason, make sure you’re stopping at The Table.
Note: To volunteer at The Table, just fill out this form
Have you ever seen an organization or feeding program organized like this (this is the first I’ve ever seen)? Let me know where they are in the comments!