“With love, beautiful things grow!’’

Denise Cerreta - Woman's World Magazine USA March 26 2018_Page_3.png

Denise Cerreta had an idea at her coffee shop: Why not allow diners to pay what they could afford? And today, she’s inspired others to put the same generosity and giving on their menus . . .

Denise Cerreta had an idea at her coffee shop: Why not allow diners to pay what they could afford? And today, she’s inspired others to put the same generosity and giving on their menus . . .

The moment they walked into her café, Denise Cerreta saw them: a skinny boy of about 12, his little brother and sister tagging along.

“We’re hungry,” he blurted. And though he admitted they didn’t have any money . . . “I can give you my watch! And can we do something for you so we can eat?” he offered, eyes pleading.

When she’d first opened Smoochy’s, the Salt Lake City, Utah, acupuncturist had just been looking to give her clients a comfortable place to relax and grab a cup of coffee. Now, seeing these children, Denise’s heart squeezed— and she was reminded that so many folks were in need in her community.

“Please. Just eat,” she told the children, making them sandwiches.

Served with love Suddenly,

a memory popped into Denise’s mind. She was about eight and was with her dad at a farmers’ market when she asked him to buy some strawberries.

“Sorry,” he’d said, unable to afford even one more thing. But as they returned to their car, a good Samaritan came over, holding a pint of berries.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I bought these for your daughter,” he’d said.

Recalling how touched she was by that gift, Denise now decided that kids would always eat for free at her café. But she longed to do more.

She couldn’t always just give food away, or she’d have nothing to give, she knew. Still, everyone deserves good meals. Everyone deserves to enjoy conversation and laughter with others. Everyone deserves the dignity of going to a real restaurant, not just a soup kitchen.

She could lower prices across the board. But the more she thought about it, the more it struck Denise: Why not eliminate prices and let people pay whatever they could afford? And if patrons couldn’t afford to pay anything, maybe they could help out in the café, like the kids had offered.

Changing the café’s name to One World, Denise explained to patrons that the food she’d be serving— curries and salads and lasagnas—would be on a “no menu, no prices” model. “But it is not a handout. It’s a hand up,” she made sure everyone knew. The One World Café quickly became a hot spot. Single moms who otherwise might have relied on food pantries stopped in. So did elderly folks, especially at the end of the month when their budgets couldn’t stretch any further. “This is delicious!” they’d beam, eating spicy peanut stew and pesto chicken.

Best of all, many customers who could afford to pay left extra to help cover meals for others. And when one businessman overheard Denise say she wished she could start an organic garden, he said, “I have some land you can use!”

“I’m a master gardener. I’ll tend it,” another patron chimed.

“Thank you!” Denise beamed, marveling at how many wanted to help feed others.

Spreading the generosity So

many people approached Denise about helping fight hunger that she created One World Everyone Eats (owee. org), a nonprofit providing mentorship to others wishing to adopt the “pay what you can” model in their communities.

Brad and Libby Birky of Denver both love to cook and had been searching for a way to give back. So when they heard about One World, they contacted Denise, who helped them set up SAME (“So All May Eat”) Café.

From opening day, it’s been a success: Customers who have no money pitch in, sweeping and doing dishes in exchange for seafood chowder and goat cheese pizza. And those who can pay, do. One man who ordered soup for lunch left a $50 bill next to his empty bowl!

“Use this however you can, for whomever needs it most,” he told Libby.

At EAT (“Everybody At the Table”) Café in Philadelphia, the receipts say: The total is only a suggested price. Please write the amount you wish to pay.

“It’s been really tough for me this year. But everyone at EAT is treated like they’re special, no matter what they could afford!” a young mom marveled.

And one homeless man visits his local pay-what-you-can café not just to dine, but whenever he finds a few extra bucks.

“I was blessed today. So I wanted to pass it on,” he says, plunking money on the counter.

Today, Denise has inspired more than 60 cafés across the nation— and even in England— and is assisting with opening dozens more.

“Combined we serve about 4,000 meals a day! I never would’ve imagined the evolution of One World Café would come so far,” Denise says. “There are lots of people who have the desire to help others in their hearts. I just provide the nurturing. And with love, beautiful things grow!”

— Kristin Higson-hughes