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The Table is a pay-what-you-can restaurant. | Photos by Caitlin Bowling

With few exceptions, Louisville’s Portland neighborhood doesn’t have quality sit-down restaurants.

The neighborhood has several locally owned restaurants, mostly take-out places, and a number of fast-food chains, but compared to neighborhoods outside of west Louisville, there is a dearth of food options.

A Portland nonprofit is helping change that with its sit-down lunch spot The Table, which serves up farm-to-table food at a reasonable price or for free labor. The Table is a pay-what-you-can concept that allows customers to pay the full suggested price, more than what is requested, or pay for their meal by volunteering their time at the restaurant.

Other farm-to-table restaurants “price out our neighbors,” said Larry Stoess, pastor at the Portland Promise Center, a church that operates separately from The Table in the same building. Stoess is a volunteer who helped get The Table off the ground.

Also, Stoess’ wife Kathie Stoess coordinates the restaurant’s volunteers. People can submit a short volunteer form online or visit Kathie Stoess at the restaurant.

“We always have something to do,” she said.

The Table officially opened last Thursday and served 150 guests that day, said John Howard, executive director of the nonprofit that runs The Table.

“The response was overwhelming, in a very good way,” he said.

Howard and the Stoesses created The Table as a gathering place for residents and as a way to combat hunger in the Portland neighborhood with healthy food.

“That is part of our mission to meet that food insecurity need,” Howard said.

The menu includes potato soup with bacon jam croutons, a country ham sandwich, Parmesan fries and a roasted root veggie salad. Menu prices range from $3 to $10.

The trio got the restaurant off the ground using individual donations they collected, though Howard declined to say how much the project cost.

“I don’t know that that’s important,” he said.

Before opening, Howard said they visited One Bistro, a pay-what-you-can restaurant that has operated in Miamisburg, Ohio, just south of Dayton, since 2012. One Bistro just opened a second location in Xenia, Ohio, this summer.

“They helped mentor us,” he said. “They were just a huge blessing.”

To be successful, The Table will need a blend of customers who pay with their time and those who pay with their wallets, Howard said.

“Now we are operating, so we have to be sustainable ourselves,” he said.

What could eventually help pay the bills is a roughly 500-square-foot empty space that they are looking to rent out to a possible retail tenant.

The Table employs two part-time workers, a front-of-house manager and chef Laura Rountree. The rest are volunteers.

Rountree said she heard about The Table from her friends who own McQuixote Books & Coffee in Portland.

In addition to about 40 seats in a front dining room, The Table also has a 20-person conference room that can be used for extra seating on a daily basis or as a private gathering space for groups. The room has a flat-screen television and wireless Internet.

The Table’s hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. However, next year, the restaurant could add a Saturday brunch.

“We are gonna see where that goes,” Howard said. “We are overwhelmed right now.”

Louisville native Caitlin Bowling has covered the local restaurant and retail scene since 2014. After graduating from the Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Caitlin got her start at a newspaper in the mountains of North Carolina where she won multiple state awards for her reporting. Since returning to Louisville, she’s written for Business First and Insider Louisville, winning awards for health and business reporting and becoming a go-to source for business news. In addition to restaurants and retail business, Caitlin covers real estate, economic development and tourism. Email Caitlin at [email protected]


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