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New 'pay what you can' restaurant opens in Johnson City

Published On: Dec 05 2013 04:37:03 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 04 2013 04:14:40 PM CST

There's a new restaurant open in Johnson City located in the heart of downtown, but when patrons pay their bill after their meal the check may surprise them.

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. -

For the first time Tuesday, lunch was served at One Acre Cafe on West Walnut Street in Johnson City. It's a new restaurant featuring soups, salads, sandwiches.

It has the makings of a typical restaurant, but the difference comes when people pay. "Someone might come in and say 'I don't have any money,' so we'd say to them 'Great, volunteer an hour of your time and we'll provide you with a meal,'" explained executive director Jan Orchard.

Orchard is a retired teacher and came up with the idea for the restaurant to help feed the community. "This cafe belongs to the people of the community, not to us. We were just the catalyst," she said.

People who come in to eat not only pick what they want to eat, but how much as well. Orchard says they have a system to prevent throwing away excess food -- small, medium and large portions are available. A small portion is $4, medium is $6, and large is $8.

Patrons can choose to pay for their meal with volunteer hours, with money, or they can pay for their meal and then donate extra, which the restaurant calls 'paying it forward'.

It’s a concept some East Tennessee State Univeristy students think will take off. "The portion size is a wonderful idea. I feel like so many people leave food on their plate, and being able to pay by portion I think eliminates that," said ETSU student Andrew Felty.

Others are also welcoming the new restaurant, including fellow restaurant owner Tom Seaton. He has been running the nearby Firehouse restaurant for more than three decades. "We think it's going to be great for our community. We're glad they're here," said Seaton.

For now One Acre Cafe is only serving up lunch Monday through Friday, but the group is hoping to expand as the restaurant gets off the ground.

At the end of Wednesday’s lunch 70 people were served by a staff of volunteers. The average price paid for lunch was $9.32.