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Will work for food? Try Harbor Dish Community Cafe in Safety Harbor

Harbor Dish Community Cafe is a restaurant where people can eat healthy foods for whatever price they can afford to pay. And they may leave with something more enriching than a good meal.

They'll feel themselves as part of a caring community.

"There is something for everyone at the cafe, not just food," says Christina Sauger, founder and director of the nonprofit Harbor Dish, Inc., and the community cafe at 123 4th Ave. South in Safety Harbor.

The cafe is awaiting approval from the city of Safety Harbor for its permit.  Sauger anticipates opening in late March or early April.

Harbor Dish will rely on volunteers, grants, donations and a handful of paid staff members including a chef, volunteer coordinator and cafe administrator. Patrons will dine buffet-style and pay the suggested discount price or whatever amount they can afford.

People also can "pay it forward" for another person. Or volunteer for one hour and get a meal voucher.

Not all of the volunteer work must be cafe-related. Educational programs and mentoring also are part of Sauger's broader goal of helping the working poor, seniors, people with disabilities, veterans and at-risk youth.

"Whatever skills people have they can share," says Sauger.

Harbor Dish already is holding "pop-up" events and working with other nonprofits and social agencies in the community.

A job training program, culinary training for disabled veterans, Bright Future scholarship hours, life skills for children aging out of foster care and gardening classes are among future enterprises that could be supported by Harbor Dish. An event stage and a community garden also will bring the community together for family-oriented activities.

The model for Harbor Dish is the national nonprofit, One World Everybody Eats community cafe movement. About 40 cafes are operating across the country with about 20 additional restaurants preparing to open, Sauger says.

The most well-known of the cafes is Soul Kitchen in New Jersey supported by the Jon Bon Jovi Foundation.

One World Everybody eats recently held its 2015 summit at the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa.

Sauger visited five community cafes in New Jersey, Tennessee and North Carolina before organizing in Safety Harbor. The cafe's location is the former home of her great-grandmother.

Renovations at the house began in October 2013. A new roof, paving stones, a stage and a fence are among donated items. Sauger is covering basic costs of mortgage and utilities but once the cafe is up and running, it is expected to become self-sustaining.

The cafe is in need of commercial kitchen appliances and capital funding. Sauger estimates about $10,000 to $15,000 is needed to open.

Sauger has two engineering degrees and worked as a real estate broker for 25 years. But her care giving began at age 15 when she brought homeless people home for her mother to feed. 

She carried that over into her adult life.

"I was feeding people out of my house because I saw there was a need," she says. She was particularly touched by the struggles grandparents have caring for their grandchildren.

"We wanted to take this to the next level," Sauger says. "We want to see what we can do in a bigger way."

Read more articles by Kathy Steele.

Kathy Steele is a feature writer and editor at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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