Gather 55, the cafe at Hands on Hartford, opened in June and offers all-you-can-eat breakfast and lunch service. The move was intended to foster a sense of community by providing restaurant-quality meals to anyone in a space that was traditionally a soup kitchen.
On Wednesdays, offerings expand to include dinner four days a week. Every Wednesday through Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., 80% of diners will pay $42 for a three-course prix-fixe meal from a menu created by celebrity chef Tyler Anderson. The remaining 20% will receive that same meal for free.
It’s intentionally a different model than pay-per-view, but even breakfast and lunch have changed from that model, said Molly Reynolds, shared kitchen and coffee manager at Hands on Hartford.
As of October 1, anyone who wants lunch or breakfast can drop by anytime between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday at Gather 55, 55 Bartholomew Ave. The cost is $2 or half an hour of volunteer work: pouring coffee, waiting or serving tables, washing dishes, sweeping, helping with preparation in the kitchen, etc.
There are exceptions to this rule, Reynolds said, that have their roots in the location’s history as a haven for the city’s poor.
“If someone is clearly too exhausted to volunteer, if they’re having trouble, if we know they’re working on themselves, we’ll give them a meal voucher,” Reynolds said.
The pivot away from paying what you can was necessary, Reynolds said, to keep the community cafe concept afloat logistically and financially.
“In August, we served 7,200 meals,” she said. “What people have heard is that there is the best free food here. Buses are now also free. I saw the bus stop at Bartholomew and Park and 30 people were getting off and all heading here.
And the percentage of people who paid anything? “Almost 0%,” Reynolds said.
“We want to serve the community, but we don’t have a lot of capacity,” she said. “We were too popular. It was unbearable. It was chaotic. »
From this peak of approximately 240 meals per day on a rotating menu, Gather 55’s daily meal load is reduced by approximately half with this month’s implementation of the “participation model” and menu fixed. It works, Reynolds said.
“I like to think of it as a market correction,” she said. “We’re starting to see the mix we’ve always wanted and it’s financially viable. This allows people to give something to this entity.
Unlike breakfast and lunch, dinner service was never meant to be chargeable. “The intention with dinner is to make enough money to underwrite breakfast and lunch,” Reynolds said.
This fixed price of $42 is intended to attract people who like Anderson’s food from Millwright’s in Simsbury, at a relatively good price. Reservations can be made at gather55.com.
Tipping is not necessary. “We pay our staff well,” Reynolds said. Instead, a 20% service charge is added.
Those who want to be part of the 20% free diners must first email Hands on Hartford to introduce themselves.
“They have to say why they want to have dinner with us. Maybe they just lost their job and can’t afford to eat out. Maybe they’re artists and they don’t make a lot of money,” Reynolds said.
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Both groups will dine from the same menu. This week’s offerings, posted online, are, for entree, roasted squash, kale salad or pumpkin soup; as a second course, crispy half-chicken, apple-mustard glazed salmon or roasted mushrooms; and caramel pudding for dessert.
The bread comes from Small State Provisions in West Hartford and the coffee comes from Giv Coffee in Canton.
For an additional fee, diners can order foreign or domestic wine ($9 to $16 a glass or $36 to $60 a bottle) or craft beer ($6.50 to $8) from breweries such as Hog River of Hartford, Relic of Plainville and Bad Sons of Derby. .
To add to the ambience of the restaurant, someone donated a sound system to play music. For dinner, the dining room is upgraded to the more casual breakfast and lunch setup with premium table linens and crockery.
“We want dinner to be an array of diners,” she said. “We don’t want finances to be an obstacle.
Susan Dunne can be contacted at [email protected]