Elmwood Café pledges to give half of profits to charity

February 14, 2011 8:05:16 AM PST
Charitable giving has taken a big hit during the economic downturn. But, one new East Bay business is not only pledging half its profits to charitable causes - it's letting customers help choose the charities.

Now here's a unique business model: take a dying neighborhood cafe and restore it -- outside and in and just when you start making money -- give a big chunk of it away.

"I was skeptical at first," said Elmwood Cafe owner Michael Pearce.

And it was his idea! But, when Michael Pearce bought the 90-year-old Elmwood Cafe he knew the place needed something different -- something that would grab people's attention. So not only did he pledge 50 percent of his profits to charity, he installed ballot boxes, so customers could vote on three handpicked non-profits and decide the winner.

"Charity can be quite archaic, like you send a check off to somebody and you don't really know what happened or what's going on. And we wanted to be much more something that you could really touch and feel," said Pearce.

It's helped attract patrons.

"We're very impressed and very supportive of that approach and would like to see more businesses think about doing that," said customer Nancy Talcott.

It even helped attract some of the staff. His general manager left Alice Waters' Cafe Fanny to come here.

"Michael's idea, his business plan to give back to the greater good in some way was something I had never seen at this level," said General Manager Kara Hammond.

The first beneficiary of Elmwood Cafe's giving spirit is a non-profit in Emeryville called "The Bread Project."

"We are a job training program, so we train people who have barriers to employment and have low income, or no income, to get the skills to get ready for jobs in the food industry," said Dagmar Schroeder-Huse of "The Bread Project."

The $2,000 grant will help pay for advanced certifications that will help 15 of the 30 students in the program become more employable.

"I think that's great because it gives us a way to give back too," said trainee Boumy Fumes.

Give back by helping them join the workforce, pay taxes, and stay out of trouble. Elmwood's current project is a South African woman -- who has turned her home into a make-shift orphanage for 28 kids whose parents have died from AIDS or other diseases. Her $2,000 is helping her build a garden to help feed those children.

Pearce admits what he's doing is not going to work for every business. But, it works for him.

"There's no money in it. It's going to be a lot of work, and there's the definite possibility that it will be a big disaster. But, it's an honorable cause and something to be proud of," said Pearce.

The restaurant business is tough, especially for new cafes. Elmwood hasn't always made a profit, so they can't promise a grant every month. That means patrons actually have two votes -- one at the ballot box, and another at the cash register.


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