NationSwell: The Restaurant Without a Cash Register

December 16, 2013
By Veronique Greenwood and Jacob Templin 

Fresh, locally sourced food? Check. Art on the walls? Check. Helping New York`s hungry? Check.

 

 

The phrase “soup kitchen” doesn’t exactly ooze comfort. Getting meals to the homeless or hungry is usually a bare-bones affair, involving the most inexpensive food and all the ambiance of a basement cafeteria. But walking into a soup kitchen run by Masbia, a group founded in 2005 and now operating four store fronts across Brooklyn and Queens, feels different. The food is fresh, cooked by chef Ruben Diaz and volunteers, and meals incorporate donations from city farmers’ markets and local CSAs. There’s art on the walls. The chairs don’t fold. It looks like a restaurant, and it is—one where nobody has to pick up the check themselves.

Masbia has served more than 400,000 meals since its founding. The food is kosher—the founders are Hasidic Jews, and the first store front opened in Boro Park, a primarily Orthodox Jewish neighborhood—but people of all creeds are welcome. Many of the volunteers preparing the food are patrons, who work a few hours and then take their meals with employees. But while volunteers help, private donations are what keep the doors open, making up much of the year’s $2 million operating budget.

When NationSwell video editor Jacob Templin visited Masbia recently, he found that almost everyone he spoke to said this was the only soup kitchen they had visited. And perhaps it’s not so surprising: Dignified surroundings, and healthy, comforting meals, raise Masbia above the standard, a welcome reminder that seeking help with food doesn’t have to be a gloomy affair.


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