After learning about “social impact business” in class, Western Michigan University graduate Patrick Mixis says he was inspired - so inspired that he opened Feed the World Cafe, a Kalamazoo restaurant that gives back to the community. For every meal sold or catered, one or more meals are provided back to the community.
Mixis studied food service administration at Western, where he learned about social impact business and the company Toms, which has a similar “one for one” concept: “I thought it’d be cool to help get rid of the hunger if there was a restaurant that had the similar concept of one for one so every meal sold one was provided back to the community to help feed the hungry,” he says.
Mixis worked with Professor John Mueller to develop the concept that became Feed the World Café. “He helped me develop a business plan, feasibility of the business, just to make sure it would all work, and yeah, helped me with the initial start. I never actually had him for a class but he was a mentor to me when he heard about the concept,” he says.
Mixis says he’s wanted to work in the restaurant business for a long time.
“Well in my later teens, I did want to go into the culinary arts and restaurant work, but the concept came from the social impact class. Learning the statistics around our community, the community I grew up in, how unfortunate it is, how many people and kids go without food.”
Mixis says Feed the World Cafe works with three groups to help give back to the community. “We work with the Food Bank of South Central Michigan and we provide them funds to buy more food to give to the community. And then Ministry with the Community and Loaves and Fishes and it’s the same similar thing, but the Food Bank of South Central Michigan also provides them with food,” he says.
Food Bank of South Central Michigan Executive Director Keith Williamson says Feed the World Cafe is the only place of its kind his organization partners with. “It’s a retail operation or a restaurant that’s actually raising money for us. Most of our other donations come through private sources, individuals, companies, grants, foundations, those kinds of things,” Williamson says.
The Food Bank of South Central Michigan provides food to eight counties in Michigan. Williamson says that every dollar it receives can provide up to six meals.
“And the power of the network we have, we’re part of Feeding America, a national network, so every dollar we can get in a donation we can provide up to six meals.”
Williamson says that hunger isn’t just a seasonal thing. It happens year round. And he says Mixis’ Feed the World Cafe helps raise awareness of the issue.
“People think about hunger at Christmas time, Thanksgiving time because food is what brings families together. I think when you go into the rest of the year people tend to forget about it. And through a restaurant such as Feed the World, where all year long they’re bringing attention to the fact that hunger exists, I think that just does wonders as far as raise awareness in the community,” he says.
Williamson adds that the face of poverty has changed over the years. “Now it’s different. People are working and they still can’t get by. The lower gas prices have been a relief of late, but I think people are still struggling. They may be getting by for five, six, seven months, then all of a sudden they got a thousand dollar car repair and they don’t know what to do. So food becomes the optional item and so our job is to fill that gap.”
Many people associate hunger with the homeless or people who are poorly educated. But Williamson says that’s not always the case.
“Probably 70 percent of what we serve are people that are working, they have jobs. Most families have at least one full time job or numerous part time jobs trying to get by. With the cost of health insurance, and housing and everything else that keeps adding up and the wages have not increased to keep up with all that over the years and that’s made people right on the edge,” he says.
For his part Patrick Mixis believes his Feed the World Cafe has had a positive impact on the community in the eight months it’s been open. “We’re right around 30,000 meals back to the community, trying to help eradicate the hunger in the community and at least drop the statistics greatly,” he says.
Mixis says his goal is to reach 100,000 meals given back to the community by the end of the business’s first year.