Seasonal, local artisanal fare can be found on the menus of many area restaurants, but Feed the World Café, in Oshtemo Township, serves up something else: the opportunity to feed hungry people in the community with the purchase of every meal.
Feed the World Café is a “social impact business” — a new breed of organization that earns profits but also addresses societal problems as part of its core purpose.
Chef Patrick Mixis is the 25-year-old entrepreneur who dreamed up Feed the World Café after learning about the acute problem of hunger worldwide and locally.
According to statistics compiled by the nonprofit food bank network Feeding America, more than 15 percent of Kalamazoo County’s population — and more than 18 percent of the county’s children — were food insecure in 2013, meaning they lacked reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.
When Mixis learned that nearly one in six children were going hungry in his community, at first he got angry and then he got inspired.
“He asked me, ‘Do you realize that while people are dining at fine restaurants downtown, just a few blocks away may be a family with no food?’” says Debra Mixis, his mother and investor in his restaurant.
He then described in detail to his mother the restaurant he wanted to open, down to the trademarked name. “I don’t think he even realized he laid out a business plan. He laid out a dream and a vision,” she says.
As opposed to other socially conscious restaurants that may donate excess food or give a percentage of their profits to food pantries, Feed the World Café operates on the “buy one/give one” concept. The concept is similar to the One for One program promoted by TOMS, in which the company helps a person in need with every purchase of its shoes, eyewear, handbags and other products. When Mixis could find no examples of restaurants doing a one-for-one program, he set out to discover what it would take to make his dream a reality.
Mixis, a 2013 graduate of Western Michigan University’s Food Service Administration program, which combines business and culinary curricula, says he did a study with Professor John Mueller that showed there were consumers in the area who would support the idea. “And then talking to Ministry with Community, Loaves and Fishes and the Food Bank of South Central Michigan, I realized it was totally possible — that it could be done, doing one-for-one at least,” Mixis says.
He developed a formula for the cost of providing a meal for one person through those local nonprofits, and Mueller helped him create a business plan that factored that cost into the restaurant’s budget.
“When you come in here with four friends and you have dinner, when you walk out of here you know you’ve made five meals possible in our community,” says Debra Mixis.
But in order for this business plan to work, her son has to be even more frugal than other restaurant managers, she says. “Patrick can’t have waste in his kitchen. He has to buy smart. He has to really look at his cost.”
Feed the World Café is located at 7000 Stadium Drive, in the space formerly occupied by the Blackeye Espresso Café. After remodeling the space and installing a full commercial kitchen, Patrick Mixis, his mother and a team of Patrick’s friends serving in various roles opened the 100-seat restaurant at the beginning of May.
Debra Mixis says that both parts of the café’s slogan, “Good Food, Good Cause,” are equally important. “It’s got to be first and foremost a good restaurant that people want to come to,” she says. “Then the charitable piece will follow.”
So far, so good. Earlier this fall the café reported that, since opening, it has donated more than 4,100 meals to the community. And the café is receiving raves from diners, too, says Debra Mixis, noting that early customer favorites include fish tacos and fresh key lime pie.
The restaurant’s menu has recently been expanded, and because Patrick Mixis likes to use fresh, local, seasonal ingredients, his specials change frequently. The café serves many Michigan beers as well as coffee from Higher Grounds Trading Co., a Traverse City-based social impact business. The restaurant also offers catering and has a private dining room.
In the future, Patrick Mixis would like to franchise Feed the World Café in other cities. For now, he is creating other products under the brand name, including organic dog treats whose proceeds support local animal rescue efforts. These treats are available in the restaurant’s pantry section along with products from other local businesses, such as Confections with Convictions, which hires people with barriers to employment.
Patrick Mixis is also planning joint projects with his nonprofit partners, such as special dinners that will have an even larger impact on the fight against hunger.
It’s a lot of hard work, he says, but every time “someone says how much they appreciate what we’re doing, it’s worth it. And I just know that if it is successful, it’ll change the world, so I’ll work as many hours as I have to, to help get hunger solved.”