Thursday, July 02, 2009

Ordinary Hero: Denise Cerreta

Denise greeting customers
Denise Cerreta wants to eliminate world hunger. She started in her own neighborhood, Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2003, when she opened One World Cafe, serving delicious, in-season organic food. Her vision was to provide a living wage to each of her employees, turn no one away for lack of money, and care for the planet by minimizing waste.

One more thing. Patrons would pay what they felt their meal was worth--in cash or in a work exchange.

  • We are dedicated to eliminating world hunger.
  • We are dedicated to serving organic unprocessed food.
  • We are dedicated to feeding and including all members of our community.
  • We are dedicated to eliminating waste in the food industry.
  • We believe that we can trust our customers to be inspired, honest and fair in their exchange of money and/or work for the fresh, gourmet, organic food we prepare both mindfully and in a heartfelt way each day.
  • We will keep believing.

One World Everybody Eats vision statement

One of Cerreta's chief concerns in opening One World Cafe was the tremendous food waste from commercial kitchens. American restaurants are particularly notorious for serving enormous portions. How many times does your order arrive at the table piled high enough to serve a family of four? Do you ask for a box and bag to take the leftovers home? How often do you (or your dog) actually eat them? Or do they languish in the refrigerator, pushed ever further back, until one day you open them to find something that looks like a science experiment gone awry?

Patrons would pay what they felt their meal was worth--in cash or in a work exchange.

Denise greeting customersWhen Cerreta's guests choose their prices and their portions, she says they tend to take only what they will eat, eliminating much of the food waste we see so often in traditional establishments.

Serving those less fortunate, and helping them retain their dignity, is another of Cerreta's objectives. One hour's work in the restaurant earns a voucher for one meal. Out of work parent? If your children are under eight, they eat free on the same one-meal voucher. If you have neither money nor time, there is always at least one staple dish, such as rice and lentils or rice and dahl, available to the hungry with no strings attached.

In 2006, spurred by requests from all over the country for help establishing similar ventures, Cerreta filed for non-profit 501(3)c status and founded the One World Everybody Eats Foundation. Since then, she has referred to the cafe as a community kitchen. The foundation explains the change this way.

Since our beginning, we have recognized the spontaneous community building that happens as a result of our venue, which we now call a "community kitchen" rather than a "cafe". We also believe that nothing will further our vision better than having the strength of community behind us.

Denise Cerreta in "Message from Founder Denise Cerreta"

One World Organic GardenEventually, Cerreta established gardens to support another of their founding principles: To serve wholesome, nutritious, organically grown foods. Much of the organic produce used in the kitchen comes from the garden in this image. Some also comes from kindly gardeners who produce far more than they can eat, preserve and give away.

These values and principles are among those that make Denise Cerreta a fine candidate for the Ordinary Heroes Award.

The reason our heroes are so important to us is because they do extraordinary things. They take risks, venturing into untraveled territory, often with inadequate preparation. High risk almost guarantees some failure. Mistakes will be made.

It's not easy launching a restaurant which expects its patrons to set the price they're willing to pay for their food. Keeping the cafe going for six years borders on the miraculous. There have been less-than miraculous bumps along the way. Cerreta herself has said more than once that she was ill-prepared for the venture.

In October 2008, she and the foundation's board reportedly fired its "long-time" manager, which in turn spurred the entire staff to walk out, alleging bounced paychecks and disrespectful treatment.

The One World Everybody Eats web site does not address the staff allegations directly, though you will find mention of it in some of the articles posted on their newsroom page. While I hope Cerreta will confront the allegations head on at some point, her initial vision to serve the hungry as well as the affluent, and expect each to pay as they are able for the bounty they receive, along with the courage and stamina she has shown in keeping faith with her vision, are heroic acts at a time in which we hear so much of rampant greed and outright swindling (Bernie Madoff, anyone?).

Despite the near loss of the One World venue, as Cerreta calls it, she and One World Everybody Eats are back on track in 2009 and continue to inspire others. There are now five similar kitchens in the United States, in Denver, CO, Spokane, WA, Charleston, SC, Durham, NC, and a brand new one in Arlington, TX.

Cerreta plans to focus more and more on helping others found community kitchens with no menu and no prices. "Our goal is to continue to move the One World Everybody Eats vision to larger audiences," she says in a personal message. She continues:

We see that mentoring and networking fledgling efforts around the country is where our energy can be best spent. And we are working to connect those people and efforts. Because by letting everyone who is striving to establish their own effort in their own community see they are not alone, we think it may help the establishment of successful endeavors nationwide even faster. And we relish the role and opportunity to help the no-menu, no-prices community building model to fruition everywhere.

To that end, Cerreta travels wherever she is needed to assist in establishing a new community kitchen. She has volunteered as much as a month of her time, working the counter in new kitchens. She and the foundation provide a free online how-to, "Spirit in Business: A Guide for Starting a Community Kitchen," (pdf format) which they are planning to expand to a full book.

Ordinary Heroes Award Badge

For visioning a world free of hunger, for trusting her patrons to pay a fair price for the food she serves, for assuring no one who enters her doors leaves hungry whatever their circumstances, for setting the standard of serving wholesome, organically grown, nutritious foods, for encouraging other food purveyors to consider the no menu-no price model, for working diligently to eliminate food waste and for making a commitment to pay employees a living wage, this week's Ordinary Hero Award is humbly and gratefully offered to Denise Cerreta.

Content spacer graphicImages of the One World community kitchen and garden courtesy One World Everybody Eats newsroom.


  1. I've heard of Denise's program. It is a wonderful idea.

  2. Anonymous12:55 AM

    such a noble idea. I wish to start this in India where there's a lot imbalance between poor and rich.

    Sumit Joshi, New Delhi, India


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