Take Root Cafe: Giving Back Despite the Odds

The outside of Take Root Cafe is quite unassuming. Three words have been stuck on the window: People. Planet. Community. From the outside of the building potted patrons can see potted plants on the inside. After walking in, the vastness and beauty of the cafe can be seen immediately. Painted on the wall to the right side is a mural of a tree. The tree has circular pieces of wood hanging from it. To the left is a place with toys for children to play. There are decorations and pictures hanging from the wall. The bar of the cafe is a slightly raised platform with a handrail. Toward the back is a set of stairs leading to a balcony. The balcony has a few tables, a fireplace, a couch and lounge chairs, and a bookcase.

Very recently, Take Root Cafe opened in the Pickler’s Famous building on the square.

Take Root Cafe, Kirksville’s first and only pay what you can cafe opened in late November. One of the goals of the cafe is to serve good, healthy, local food to everyone in the Kirksville area, regardless of where they stand economically.

Take Root Cafe has been in the works for quite some time, and finally opened in late November of 2016. The cafe is doing well so far, and the people of Kirksville seem quite pleased with the addition to the downtown.

Take Root Cafe started with Jessica Parker and her family. Jessica says when their son was born, she and her husband sold all of their belongings and travelled for about a year and a half. They visited Peru, and many places in the United States before renting land on another family’s farm in La Plata.

While in La Plata, they tried their hand at homesteading. While the homesteading lifestyle aligned with values their family values, they were too social to really enjoy it.

They knew they wanted to give back to the community, and played around with the idea of opening a local foods restaurants. Looking at the cost of running a restaurant, they decided it was too high to do while also keeping in mind the values they wanted to keep.

Jessica says she then thought of opening a pay-what-you-can cafe and took the idea to a local businessperson, who told her the model would never work.

She says she had just given up on the idea when she ran across the One World Everybody Eats Foundation. OWEEF is a national network of pay-what-you-can cafes that pay staff a living wage and uses local food.

The economics of the store are very simple. 90% of the revenue comes from meal donations. The prices on the menu are suggested, and customers can pay that price, more, or less. If they pay more, the extra money goes toward a meal token, which will be hung on the Giving Tree.

“People, when given the opportunity to do something good and support something in line with their values they’re giving more. It’s amazing seeing that day in and day out.”

If a customer cannot pay for their meal, they can volunteer for an hour or take a meal token from the Giving Tree.

The other 10% comes from bigger donations, grants, and fundraisers.

The money earned goes, in part, to buying food from local farmers and pay staff a living wage, utilities, and marketing.

Jessica Parker has some high hopes for what the cafe can do for the Kirksville community.

“Typical economics tell you that this model wouldn’t work because typical economics will tell you that people are greedy and that they will do whatever they can to financially get ahead or do what’s best for them. In that case you would think that there’s a lot of people who are paying nothing and taking advantage of what we’re offering. But what we’re finding is actually quite the opposite.”

She is not the only person who really respects and admires all of the things the cafe can do for the community.

Hailey Thomas is a night manager at Take Root Cafe. She was hired in November before the cafe opened.. She admires how easily she gets along with the staff and likes having conversations with volunteers at the cafe and the customers.

She says, “The fact that [the cafe] is working out so well and we’re getting so many donations every day is surprising a lot of people in a really good way. It’s like they’re having their faith restored in Kirksville.”

Customers are pleased with the cafe as well. An unnamed customer passing through Kirksville says he was happy a small community such as this was doing such great things and caring for the people in the community.