There’s a new place in Uptown Butte to get hearty burgers, sandwiches, soups and chili during the day with no set price for anything on the menu board.
The Community Café at 116 W. Park St. is Butte’s first “pay as you can” eatery and only the second one in Montana, with donations for its daytime meals helping to feed the homeless and other people in need in the early evenings.
It opened April 30 through efforts of the Heart of Butte, a group of volunteers from churches and local organizations that formed when the Butte Rescue Mission closed its homeless shelter because of fire-safety concerns in April 2017.
With food donated by St. James Healthcare, the group served free meals at the Leggat Apartments and Homeward Bound, the temporary shelter that opened last November and is set to close at the end of this month.
The new café aims to be self-supporting by serving food on a donation basis from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with a buffet-style dinner from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. primarily for the homeless or others in need. It is closed Sundays.
D.J. Savage, Dan Hunter, Randy Paul and Kristen Ryan have played key roles in getting the eatery off the ground, and it is staffed entirely by volunteers like themselves.
St. James has “graciously provided the food” for evening meals at the eatery and local businesses have given discounts on the food and drinks the café prepares for daytime choices, said Hunter, volunteer coordinator for the Heart of Butte.
The businesses include Butte Produce, Terminal Meats, Franz Bakery and Mile High Beverages.
The ultimate aim is to make enough money on daytime meal donations to pay for everything, including the evening buffets, the rent and the utilities.
“The lunch is slowly building — people will come in and tell a friend and they will tell a friend,” Hunter said. “Our burgers are excellent. We get a lot of compliments on them.”
They recommend a donation of $10 for a combo lunch meal, which includes a burger or sandwich, fries, a soft drink and a giant cookie. But there are no set prices.
“If people donate $10 for a meal, that’s great,” said Paul. “If they can only afford to pay $5, then that’s great too. Some people only have a buck and some people don’t have anything. It doesn’t matter to us.”
It works both ways, of course.
In the first few days, four people came in together, paid $60 collectively for their lunches and gave another $200 on top of that, Paul said. A couple did the same thing — paid for their lunch and donated $200 more.
A similar café has operated in Bozeman for several years and is now called the Fork and Spoon.
Clarisa Hogart, a member of the Heart of Butte, said the organization had to decide months ago what direction to take in light of the mission’s shelter closing.
“Some people wanted to open up a whole new mission, but the other half thought we should focus on food,” said Hogart. “We decided to focus on the food.”
Hogart is also a member of the multi-agency We Deliver program that gives out sack lunches at various spots in Butte on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The Knights of Columbus provides lunch meals for the needy on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Hogart said the Continuum of Care, a coalition of organizations and agencies that addresses homeless issues in Butte, suggested the Heart of Butte look into the community café concept. They visited the one in Bozeman, she said, and there are others throughout the U.S. and abroad.
Savage said he talked to the owner of the building at 116 W. Park, which was home to Best Burger before it closed a few months ago, and was able to get a year lease with an option to buy after that.
The evening crowd has ranged from about 40 a night to 100, he said. The lunch clientele is growing but there is still confusion in the public about what the eatery is.
“They think we are a soup kitchen when we are actually a diner,” he said.