Social consciousness helps cafe chain thrive

July 8, 2009 11:29:00 AM PDT
Maybe doing well in tough economic times is tied to doing good things in your community -- just call it karma as a business strategy. A local restaurant chain says profits are looking up since they decided to follow their social conscience.

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From grains slowly bubbling in their steamers to the raw organic vegetables, Cafe Gratitude has a social conscience to go along with its emphasis on raw foods.

"Cafe Gratitude is really a school of transformation, and how we pay the tuition of that school is serve raw, organic, vegan food," said owner Matthew Engelhart.

That transformative process wasn't going so well late last year when the sinking U.S. economy started pulling many businesses down with it.

"We had quite a severe loss in the last quarter of '08 and we did two things. We said, when things are tight, that's when it's time to give," said Engelhart..

That's right, when other businesses began pulling back, Cafe Gratitude began offering more. One example is a dish they call the "I am grateful bowl."

"It's this beautiful bowl of grains and greens and sauces and it has a retail value of $7, but when you order it, the server says 'how much would you like to pay for that?'" said Engelhart.

If you can afford the $7 great, if you can't they'll give it to you for free. So far, the average paid is $3.50. It's not the way most companies do business. It's also not the only thing that makes Cafe Gratitude unique.

Employees at all five restaurants have to go through a process called clearing with a supervisor before each shift -- unloading thoughts and troubles that might keep them from being totally in the moment. There's also a group clearing session. The Engelharts also host monthly workshops to spread their message and the benefits of a raw diet. These steps are not in any economics book, but it seems to be working for Cafe Gratitude.

"We've recouped the entire loss of the last quarter of '08 and are above and beyond that now," said owner Terces Engelhart.

Cafe Gratitude has locations in Berkeley, Oakland, the North Bay and they are about to open a new taqueria type restaurant in San Francisco.

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