Pay-as-you-feel dining concept Everybody Eats, which uses food that would otherwise go to waste, has found a permanent home in the Auckland suburb of Onehunga. Founder Nick Loosley explains how it’s about so much more than taking on food waste.
“We’re increasingly disconnected,” says Nick Loosley. “We don’t really gather as a community any more. The idea of Everybody Eats is to allow anyone and everyone to come together around what I feel is our common ground – food.”
It’s a simple premise, but after two-and-a-half years it still confuses people, says Loosley, who founded Everybody Eats after researching food waste and food poverty for his masters in economics for transition, also known as green economics, at Schumacher College in the UK. Everybody Eats is a pay-as-you-feel dining concept – anyone can come along and enjoy a three-course meal, prepared by chefs from food that would otherwise be wasted, in a restaurant setting. The cost? As much or as little as you can afford, even if that’s nothing.
“The most common misconception and the thing we try to combat the most is the attitude of wealthier people that if they dine at Everybody Eats they’re taking food away from a homeless person,” says Loosley. “But if we don’t have paying customers we can’t actually feed homeless people – it’s exactly the opposite of what they think.
“So we encourage people to look at it in a completely different way and understand it is for everyone, to realise we use the pay-as-you-feel model as it gives everyone the opportunity to come and feel comfortable with the amount they give or don’t give for the meal.”
Since mid 2017, Everybody Eats has operated as a Monday night pop-up at Gemmayze Street on Auckland’s Karangahape Road, but the plan was always to open something permanent. A trial run in Avondale, which operated for six months from late last year, went well, and now there’s a permanent home in the Onehunga shops, which opens five nights a week (Sunday to Thursday) and shares a space with daytime cafe Onehunga Neighbourhood Eatery.
“Gemmayze was a pilot – we always wanted to set up permanent restaurants,” explains Loosley. “But it’s still going strong two-and-a-half years later largely because it would just be too hard to close it – it’s the highlight of probably 200 people’s week, and that’s everyone from inner-city homeless to elderly to our volunteers.”
While the Gemmayze Street operation relies solely on volunteers – high-profile chefs from some of Auckland’s best restaurants often give their time – the Onehunga site has employed a head chef, Jamie Johnston, formerly of Judge Bao, and a restaurant manager, Amanda Butland, to manage a large team of volunteers.
“Having Jamie on board has changed my role quite a bit,” says Loosley. “The food he’s putting out in Onehunga with some incredible equipment just changes the game completely.”
The Onehunga restaurant, which opened two weeks ago, was funded by a PledgeMe campaign that raised $120,000 last year, and the refurbishment of the space relied on the generosity of businesses and individuals donating time and resources.
Everybody Eats began as an ordinary enterprise with no charitable status, but has been a registered charity since December 2018. “We’re very different to other charities in that we have a bread-and-butter revenue stream,” says Loosley. “So we rely a lot less on grants and funding than many charities.”
At least 90% of the food used is rescued – that is food that would otherwise go to waste. Everybody Eats works with raw ingredients, taking food from businesses that can’t use it. “It might be a bag of mandarins where one’s gone mouldy so a supermarket can’t sell it, or a yoghurt company that’s labelled something incorrectly, or something that might be a week out from its use-by date,” says Loosley.
The rescued food is turned into the likes of tomato soup with basil oil, followed by smoked chicken pie with buttered green beans, then banana bread pudding with coconut custard to finish, or Mexican carrot soup, spiced beef tacos with slaw, tomato salsa and avocado, and spiced coconut and banana cake with mango caramel sauce. There’s always a vegetarian option – citrus roasted pumpkin with cumin lentils and roasted brassicas, say, or a zucchini gratin with bubble and squeak – and Onehunga is fully plant-based on Monday nights.
It’s a restaurant experience – the minimalist, light-filled interior features stylish pale wood furniture and hanging greenery; tables are set and water glasses are topped up – and for some, that can be intimidating. It’s a problem that needs tackling each time they enter a new community, says Loosley. “Some people feel uncomfortable walking into what they consider a flash environment.”
The first night the Avondale pop-up opened, not a single member of the local homeless community came, he says – “they were all standing outside looking in”. Community worker Dayne Smith told him, “Nick, it’s too flash, they don’t want to come in”. So Loosley worked with Smith and got to know the locals and soon enough, they were there every night. “We need these sort of local ambassadors, people from the community to bring them into the space, make them recognise it’s nothing uncomfortable. After that, they come back,” he says.
“The one thing that will bring people together more than anything else is food. The reason Everybody Eats serves everyone the same meal is as soon as you give people the same meal and the same service, you break down all those barriers and it’s a level playing field. We see professionals in suits across from barefoot homeless people having a chat over a feed, and it’s really humbling for both.
“That’s kind of my hidden agenda, that social part of it.”
To learn more about Everybody Eats, check out this 2018 story from Simon Day as well as the new episode of Dietary Requirements, where Nick Loosley joins us in the studio. To listen, use the player below or download this episode (right click and save). Make sure to subscribe via iTunes, or via your favourite podcast client.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.