give what you can Take what you need. That’s the thinking behind a new nonprofit restaurant opening in downtown Roanoke.
“We wanted to do something to basically create more joy and less misery,” said Ami Trowell, co-founder of Ursula’s cafe on the corner of Jefferson Street and Franklin Road. “…We wanted a welcoming and warm space with delicious, nutritious food that everyone could come to.”
Ursula’s Cafe, a volunteer-run 501©(3), operates on a donate-what-you-can system, allowing customers to contribute as much or as little as possible to the menu of soups, salads, and baked goodies pay.
Each item carries a suggested donation. Those willing to donate more to support the project’s mission are welcome to do so.
Anyone who cannot give at all is just as welcome.
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“We want you to eat something,” Trowell said. “…We really mean that. The food is here even if you can’t pay for it.”
The idea for Ursula’s Cafe — which Trowell and her husband Jordan Fallon began researching and working for in 2020 — was inspired by movements like that A world that everyone eats Campaign and like-minded restaurants like that Open house cafe in Wytheville.
The donate-what-you-can model resonated with the couple, who both teach at local colleges, because it invited people from all parts of the community without stigma or hostility toward those who are struggling or homeless.
It revolves around the idea of community building and neighbors helping neighbors. “It really offers an opportunity for people who might have a little more to provide something for people who don’t have enough,” Trowell said. “We support each other. It just seems like a better way to have a community.”
Ursula’s Café, open four days a week for lunch, offers a menu that includes a hearty vegan chili, a second soup that changes seasonally, an organic mixed green salad, and a baked goods selection that changes weekly.
Over time, volunteers hope to add sandwiches to this selection. The restaurant uses the shared kitchen that we run LEAP (Local Environmental Agriculture Project) to prepare his food. Other local groups including Urban farm in the morning and the Roanoke Co+ophelp establish the cafe’s seasonal menu by donating produce.
In addition to its restaurant, which opened in August, Ursula’s Cafe also hopes to become a community meeting place and art venue. Its roughly 1,600-square-foot space features clusters of cozy seating and board games for people to linger in.
Soul Sessions from Roanoke now hosts open mics in the cafe every Wednesday night. The space is available for other meetings and event bookings.
Since opening its doors, the cafe has seen the hoped-for mix of patrons who can donate and patrons who can’t, Trowell said. It has also seen the intangible thing it hoped to create – more joy.
“Really, it was absolutely amazing,” she said. “It was a deeply humbling experience to do so. More than we probably even really thought at first.”
Ursula’s Cafe at 511 Jefferson St. SW is open Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information about the cafe and ways to support it, visit ursulascafe.org online.