Robert Kubiniec
Executive Director, Boomtown Cafe, 513 Third Ave (downtown), 625-2989.

Boomtown Cafe is a nonprofit restaurant that provides healthy, low-cost meals to low-income and homeless customers. The staff's mission is particularly admirable because they care as much about the quality and presentation of their food as they do about the welfare and dignity of their customers. Typical menu items include homemade cinnamon granola, mushroom scrambles with roasted potatoes, veggie lasagna, and fresh salads. Boomtown serves 6,000 meals each month and provides another 12,000 to neighboring shelters.

How did Boomtown start?

"Me and my friends were all volunteering with organizations that served homeless people, and most of us also worked in the food industry. We groused about our jobs making good food for ungrateful folks who had plenty of resources, and how people staying in shelters had so few options. Residents of those shelters told us that they were told 'beggars can't be choosers' when they brought up concerns about food quality. So we got the idea that there [should be] dignity in the presentation of food choices. The restaurant grew out of that spirit."

Boomtown's barter option is great. How does that affect the overall operation?

"Our customer base is unusual in that they are extremely low-income and often homeless--but we are not a soup kitchen. Our customers take part in an exchange. Whether they are paying with cash, food stamps, or bartered labor, they have something of value, and they need to receive something of value in return. It holds us to a higher standard than if we were giving a handout. Our patrons are not beggars. We provide healthful, attractive, dignified meals in an atmosphere of respect."

So how exactly does the barter system work?

"Fifteen minutes of work equals one meal, and plenty of our customers work longer and build up a credit account. Customers will [also] buy meals for each other. I often overhear a customer saying with pride, 'I saw Mary outside and she didn't look well, so I bought her breakfast.' These are folks who don't have money to buy their own meal, [and here they have] the ability to [pick up] the check. It helps develop pride."

Does the general public eat at Boomtown?

"Everyone is welcome, and we encourage folks with more money in their pockets to drop some in our donation box. We figure it costs us $5 to put a meal on the table. I encourage people with means to come down and eat breakfast or lunch at Boomtown. Sit down with someone you don't know and chat. That's where real change happens!"

Interview by Hannah Levin

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