Colorado ‘pay-what-you-can’ cafe at risk of shutting down: ‘It kind of snuck up on us.’

FoCo Café in Fort Collins, Colorado, is a nonprofit that operates under a “pay-what-you-can” model, meaning customers make a donation of whatever they can afford under an honor system.
But the restaurant and food pantry has fallen on hard times and is making a plea to the community to help keep it afloat.

What’s the situation?

FoCo opened on Thanksgiving Day 2014 and was at first run entirely by volunteers. Now the eatery has four paid employees, which is affecting overhead — including a spike in health insurance costs and workers compensation premiums. According to KCNC-TV, the cafe is also required to pay sales tax whether or not a patron pays for their meal.
Executive Director Mallory Garneau told the Coloradoan that FoCo will shut down in the next month if they don’t receive additional funds.
“It kind of snuck up on us a little bit,” she said. “It has been a tough situation.”
Donations for meals have also declined, contributing further to FoCo’s woes. No menu prices are set for the all-you-can-eat meals, but the operation suggests a donation of $10 for those able to afford it.
The average customer contributed $6.50 for a meal in 2017, but this year’s average has dropped to $4.96, and only $3.83 for the month of August. The cafe is now operating at a loss of nearly $550 per day.
Garneau suggested, “I don’t think people are taking advantage of us. But maybe it is more of a misunderstanding of how it works.”

What’s next?

In their efforts to raise $50,000 by Halloween, FoCo has launched a sustaining membership campaign to raise funds, asking for supporters to pledge a monthly donation to help defer operating costs.
“We have seen a decline in awareness and excitement of the café from the general public,” Garneau said. “As we hope to enter year four, we need to reawaken the conversation around our mission and what it is we really do for the community.”
Since its opening, FoCo has served lunch six days a week, totaling roughly 80,000 meals. They also operate a food pantry, a summer kids breakfast program, a small garden, and a year-round “hydration station.”

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