June 29, 2010; Source: Bend Bulletin | Earlier this week we reported how a restaurant outside St. Louis is planning to open more of its nonprofit units that let people pay what they want for their meals and then donates any profits to charity. Now comes news from Central Oregon that a nonprofit restaurant is taking over the former location of a fine-dining establishment.

But in a further twist of a growing trend toward more nonprofit restaurants, the Bend eatery will cater both to full paying customers and low-income and homeless community residents who receive vouchers that let them dine for free. Reflecting the mix and different income levels of patrons it wants to serve, the restaurant is appropriately named Common Table. The restaurant hopes that people will buy the vouchers, which will be sold at a discount and then give them to people on the street asking for handouts.

To live up to its requirements of operating as a nonprofit, the restaurant will sell the vouchers at a discount for their face value. For instance, a $10 voucher might sell for $8, but the person who uses it can apply the full face value toward the cost of a meal. Operators of the restaurant are also exploring whether other social service nonprofits might be interested in distributing dining vouchers to their clients.

To enable the restaurant to operate so that it can both charge some customers for their meals and subsidize meals for others, many staff will be volunteers, but cooks and some management positions will be paid. Its menu also will feature locally grown food, including produce from its own community garden.—Bruce Trachtenberg