Big Big Table Community Café: A Restaurant With A Mission
By Madeleine Kates
At Big Big Table Community Café on Buffalo’s Lower West Side, the goal is to feed everyone who walks through their doors. How you choose to ‘pay’ for your lunch is up to you. The menu is posted on social media, and changes frequently depending on what is available and in abundance. Many of the main dishes and sides are vegetarian or vegan, and the bakes are usually vegetarian as well.
Founding chef Mandy Bailey and her husband Trueman Muhrer-Irwin began working toward the goal of Big Big Table over nine years ago with the dream of helping their community, while keeping the environment in mind. Having worked in the catering industry, Bailey was struck by the amount of food waste left after an event. Much of the food available to consumers is strictly regulated not only for safety, but also for appearance, leaving funny-shaped produce off of store shelves and consumers’ plates.
Opened in October 2021, Big Big Table is a creative restaurant that works to solve the issue of food waste by using what they have, as well as rescuing perfectly edible produce and excess packaged goods to inspire inventive meals that are healthy and delicious—and look great! A donation wishlist, created by Chef and Kitchen Manager Theresa Dempster, is available on their website and social media. The wishlist evolves based on the needs of the kitchen in order to keep meals healthy and balanced. Donations of unexpired and usable goods such as packaged groceries are accepted, and extra produce from home or community gardens is always welcome.
What makes Big Big Table unique is how patrons choose to participate for their meal. By following a pay-as-you-can model, diners can pay a suggested price with cash as a traditional cafe, donate groceries or produce, or volunteer in the restaurant for 30 minutes. The pay-as-you-can model allows everyone to get what they need in exchange for what they’re able to give.
“Taking care of each other through food is our passion, and feeding the community is our joy,” says Heather McCarthy, Director of Operations and Community Engagement. The restaurant’s motto, “Everybody eats, everybody gives, and everybody matters,” embodies the message that everybody is welcome.
Those looking to support Big Big Table Community Café are encouraged to stop in for a great lunch and then spread the word. The restaurant is open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11 am to 2:30 pm at 272 Hudson Street, at the corner of West Avenue, on Buffalo’s Lower West Side. Call 716-381-8954 with questions, check out the current menu at facebook.com/BigBigTable, or learn more about how to become a volunteer by visiting https://www.bigbigtable.org/get-involved.
Madeleine Kates is a graduate of Niagara University with Majors in Life Science, Psychology, and Environmental Science.