Innovation in the name of charity

March 17, 2011 | by Darrel Suderman
Innovation in the name of charity

What do the Love Kitchen, Panera Bread, and Cafe 180 all have in common? They provide affordable food to those who can’t regularly pay full price for a meal.

A week ago, the Oprah Winfrey show came on the overhead TV in front of me during my workout at 24 Hour Fitness – and what followed brought tears to my eyes.

The Love Kitchen in Knoxville, Tenn.

The show featured two sisters, Helen Ashe and Ellen Turner, who are 82-year-old twins. They operate the Love Kitchen in Knoxville, Tenn., which prepares and distributes warm prepared meals to those who cannot afford it. The amount of food that is available for donation is directly related to the generous donations of individuals that support the kitchen ( Flying under the radar since 1984, these two women have built a foodservice business based on the following principles and the biblical verse in Matthew 25:35-40.

1. Never take the last piece of bread. Someone may come by in need of it.

2. There is only one race, the human race.

3. There is only one Father and that is the Father in Heaven.

However, their little known work became widely publicized when Oprah Winfrey introduced them on her show along with Dani Johnson. Dani Johnson's story is also terrific because she once needed a free meal early in her life before she built a million dollar business from her car.

She worked undercover at The Love Kitchen for the Secret Millionaireshow. Dani was so touched by Helen and Ellen that she donated $30,000, and Kroger kicked in a food supply for a full year. This story and the two that follow are labeled as innovation in acts of charity.

Café 180, Denver, Colo.

CAFE 180 ( is located in Denver, Colo., and represents one of three “pay what you can” restaurants in the Denver area. In fact, no other U.S. city has three of these restaurants. Café 180’s motto is: “Recognizing our universal appetite for delicious, nourishing food and social connectedness is dedicated to eliminating hunger and social barriers associated with food by feeding all people regardless of their ability to pay, in a dignified and respectful manner."

In addition to enabling people to eat at this restaurant at affordable prices, Café 180 has a unique focus on natural and organic foods across its menu. The signature soups and salads consist mostly of organic, seasonal, fresh produce. The ingredients are purchased or donated from local distributors and Colorado farms to ensure that the food you are eating is as fresh and flavorful as possible. And freshly milled flour is the secret to the grilled pizza’s healthy benefits and fresh taste. Also, Café 180's wheat, spelt and gluten-free pizzas are made with freshly milled flours, maintaining the essential vitamins and minerals of the whole grain.  

Panera Bread

Ron Shaich, chairman of Panera Bread, has also brought charity innovation to the foodservice industry. He started another pay what they can restaurant in St Louis with the theme “Take what you need, leave your fair share.” Patrons who can’t pay are asked to volunteer their time.

The café operates as a nonprofit, has cashiers who provide receipts with suggested prices and directs customers to the store’s five donation boxes. The menu is the same as Panera Bread's, except for the day-old baked goods brought in from sister stores in the area.

“I’m trying to find out what human nature is all about,” Shaichtold USA Today.“My hope is that we can eventually do this in every community where there’s a Panera.”

All three concepts represent the best of human charity to help those that need food at an affordable price.

But what new charity innovation may come next? Maybe, just maybe a “Pay What You Can Retail Grocery Store”

Please contact me at or follow the Food Innovation Institute website ( for more information on our 2011 Food Innovation Workshops.




Topics: Customer Service / Experience, Equipment & Supplies, Food & Beverage, Independent Operation, Operations Management

Darrel Suderman
Darrel Suderman, Ph.D., is president of Food Technical Consulting and founder of Food Innovation Institute. He has held senior R&D/QA leadership positions at KFC, Boston Market, Church's Chicken and Quiznos and led KFC’s development team of “Popcorn Chicken”, now a $1B international product –invented by Gene Gagliardi. wwwView Darrel Suderman's profile on LinkedIn

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