At the recent 2017 James Beard Awards ceremony
- Denise Cerreta, founder of One World Everybody Eats, was presented with the Humanitarian of the Year Award on behalf of her organization.
One World Everybody Eats
is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt, non-profit organization and has a network of 65 pay-what-you-can community cafes across the country and that serve over 1.3 million meals per year. OWEE continually supports the cafes with consultation and networking opportunities. Cerreta is considered a “superhero” among those trying to improve the lives of others.
Cerreta didn't initially set out to open restaurants to feed the less fortunate. In 1996, she opened an acupuncture clinic in her hometown of Salt Lake City. After feeling she needed to do something more and make a difference, she opened her first One World Everybody Eats Café in 2003. It was a for-profit restaurant with a non-profit vision of helping those in need. After realizing many of her patrons were struggling financially, she decided to change the format to “no set prices” and let customers pay what they could for their chosen portion size. In each establishment, basically the customers who can afford to pay full price, cover the cost for those that are not able to.
Many of her loyal diners volunteered both their time and money to support Cerreta’s vision. Her supporters frequently ate at the restaurant and some were very generous to donate such items as furniture, restaurant equipment and even a car. But even with all of her assistance, the first café failed. She claims that she opened the café without knowing enough. Because Cerreta was traveling more to help open new cafes in other states, she just wasn’t involved enough in the day-to-day café operations. Add to that, the economy was beginning to take a dive.
After much financial struggle, she realized all of the things that were done wrong. It was a good idea, but without the right infrastructure, the café was doomed. But it was all a learning experience. The cafes in other cities work with the basic model of the very first, but each one operates a little different in order to meet their communities’ needs.
Because of Cerreta’s vision, there are many pay-what-you-can restaurants around the country, and that’s the most important point. This culinary honor is very well deserved, as Cerreta has changed the landscape with regard to how the less fortunate can have the freedom to choose what they’d like to eat rather than just being served the "food of the day" at soup kitchens.