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The chicken Calabacitas at Seeds is unbelievable. During lunch with friends at the brand new restaurant downtown, we all yummy-noised our way through the whole meal. In addition to how great the food is, Colorado Springs welcomes this community-focused restaurant with a mission to engage, help, and feed local people of all walks of life.

In the spot next to Josh and John’s downtown, Seeds serves lunch daily on a pay-as you-can basis. If you don’t have $8.50, an hour of work at the restaurant will put a meal in your stomach. “The cool thing is that it’s just an hour; you can schedule a time to come in and we’ll give you a meal at the end,” said Beth Alexander, the culinary connector of Seeds, who likes to greet guests at the door. Between playing hostess and supervising catering for events, she is able to shed light on the menu, the business model, and how it all works.

This particular restaurant has only been open two weeks, but is the 34th restaurant with this model, which originated in Salt Lake City in 2003 with Denise Cerreta’s restaurant. A small network of administrators maintains structure based on need: anyone can work, in jobs from register, to chef, to server. Gaining job experience in those areas is important for future employment, and Seeds acknowledges this fact in its mission to help better the community.

Using locally sourced produce from farms and community gardens, the food maintains sustainability beyond simply providing sustenance and by supporting local farms and businesses. Ivywild School, another local community-focused place to dine, works in concert with the folks at Seeds by sharing resources.

Community-oriented spaces like these draw a large and varied crowd through their missions and offerings, bringing people who have very little together with those who have some to spare. Upon ordering at the counter, you are asked what you’d like to pay for your meal. The base price is $8.50 for an entrée, soup or salad, and beverage. Customers are given the opportunity to volunteer for one hour to receive a free or reduced-price meal; they are also welcome to pay more than the price of the meal to cover costs of meals for others.

“Its a dignified way to get a meal. It’s a help up, not a hand out,” said Alexander. She shared an anecdote of a young man who came in, finished his hour of volunteer work and figured he would get merely scraps in return, he was shocked that he could sit down and choose an item from the menu.

Normalizing a system like this and working out fine details has taken up a lot of time for Alexander and Ami Heath, the restaurant manager, in weeks since opening. Before Seeds, Alexander ran a gift basket company. Ms. Heath was looking to downsize her commercial kitchen and move on to work of her own.

“It’s been great so far,” Alexander said. “We have hit some bumps along the way but no road blocks.” Since opening, both women have been working constantly, and they say it has been exciting for them to get a place going that holds a mission they agree with. When it comes time to order, they recommend their favorites.

“The Calabacitas are a staple and with the kale salad, it’s so good,” Heath said. From the Peaceful Pesto Pizza and kale salad to the gluten-free Calabacitas and stone soup, most everything is hearty and delicious. The restaurant’s chef spent time working in New Orleans under Emeril Lagasse for years before moving on to open fifty Olive Gardens around the country. He settled in Colorado Springs only to change his focus to social service and aid in the community. Seeds was a way to bridge those interests, bringing food and community service together in a local way. Pulling in people who also believe in this kind of service started things running smoothly and successfully.

Working in the Seeds kitchen for an hour in exchange for a locally sourced, healthy meal could help lighten the load for college students, or for those in more dire straights. It can also be just as easy, for those with a few extra bucks, to pay it forward when ordering your meal. So spread the word, go down and have a meal, or sign up to help out; if you feel like a nice lunch out, check this place out, and keep an eye on it as Seeds grows into its place in the community.

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Leeds Lily Mallinckrodt-Reese

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