RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) — It’s probably not something they teach at the nation’s elite business schools: open a cafe, let people pay what they can and give away tens of thousands of meals, each year. But it’s working for Maggie Kane.

“We’ve been here for 5-and-a-half years, which is wild,” says Kane about her cafe, A Place at the Table, on Hargett Street in downtown Raleigh. “Am I surprised? I’m surprised, every single day, by just how beautiful this place is.  I’m surprised that it’s worked, that it’s continued to work and I’m grateful.” 

A large percentage of restaurants close, each year, even in relatively good times so when the pandemic came and closed everything in North Carolina under government order, Maggie didn’t know what they’d do, at first.

“We actually became a serving line out here, so we just passed out meals, everything was free, we had a line upwards of 450 people, every single day,” she says. And when asked how they could afford that, she replies, “Whew!  A lot of amazing people in this community.”

That’s referring to people who donate, generally, but you can also donate each time you eat there.

“We run like any normal restaurant would,” says Maggie. “You walk in and you’ll see in a minute, looks and feels like a normal restaurant. You wouldn’t know until you walk up to the register and you see suggested pricing, you see some folks with volunteer name tags.”

We profiled Maggie’s project soon after it opened on Jan. 28, 2018.

“When y’all first came, we were a small café. We had maybe 100 people coming in here, every single day, right?” she says. “So, pandemic happens, we go to 400, 450 people every single day.  We actually hired a security guard to come in here and really just do crowd control. With that many people, you need someone to manage it.”

They then hired a de-escalation expert to handle the crowds because so many of the people who find their only sustenance here can make it, in Maggie’s words, “A beautifully chaotic place,” at times. But to Nate Blackmon, it’s home. Nate was homeless for 5 years but found affirmation here and is doing well, now, and A Place at the Table has been key to that. 

“One reason is, everyone here loves you and you can feel the love,” says Nate. “I feel good whenever I leave here. I come here just about every day – like, I woke up late, this morning, had a lot of stuff to do, said well, I’m going to go by Place at the Table and still go by because I feel good the rest of the day.”

See the cafe in action in this edition of The Buckley Report.