Monday, December 5, 2016

SURGE Presents: 541 Eatery & Exchange--Social Entrepreneurship

Inside 541 Eatery & Exchange
As some of you may know, I have had the wonderful opportunity to work with a Mohawk College initiative, SURGE, for the past few months. SURGE is the entrepreneurship connection for students throughout Mohawk who have ideas about starting their own business or have a passion for learning about small businesses. Throughout the semester, we present workshops and Speaker Series events that are designed to motivate and inspire students. The best Speaker Series event that I attended this semester, was presented by the Executive Director for 541 Eatery & Exchange on Barton Street.

541 Eatery & Exchange Logo

For those who haven't heard about 541 Eatery & Exchange, let me introduce the concept to you. The restaurant is located in one of the lowest income neighborhoods in Hamilton that also happens to be in a "food desert" (an area with very little in the way of food around it). There was a great need for a warm place that people could enjoy a cup of coffee and a homemade meal in this area. The premise of the restaurant is that people can buy "button currency" and leave it in a jar by the cash register. This way, when less fortunate people come in, they can use "button currency" to pay for their food and drink (up to $5 a day). (If one of us went in and forgot our wallets, we could use "button currency too!) The vision for the Eatery & Exchange was to make an accessible place for everyone in the community while still encouraging a sense of dignity by the use of "button currency." Additionally, the Eatery & Exchange is a not-for-profit restaurant that has built awareness through social media and word-of-mouth solely. The restaurant also operates at a loss by keeping prices extremely low and using volunteers whenever possible.

New Location!
This year, 541 Eatery & Exchange secured a grant from McMaster University along with an opportunity to conduct a research questionnaire. By using the questionnaire, the Eatery & Exchange was able to identify the need for a space that would allow those living in a single room to heat-up food and to keep homemade food. By utilizing an economic development grant, the restaurant has secured a new space across the street which will allow them to open Phase 1 of their new concept. Phase 1 entails using half of the new space for catering contracts to provide meals to those less fortunate which will enable them to raise money for Phase 2. Phase 2 will enable the Eatery & Exchange to open the second half of the space up as a community kitchen where those less fortunate can create meal plans, learn how to prepare these meals, make the meals for themselves and store the meals in a freezer on the premises. As they would like to eat their meals, they can come to the community kitchen and heat them up. This space would also provide childcare and laundry. The ultimate goal is to also create a culinary school where those less fortunate can learn how to cook and will partner with local restaurants to provide jobs for those learning through the school.
Executive Director, Sue Carr

This entire lecture was a great lesson in social entrepreneurship and the wonderful things people do within our community. Coming from Vancouver, I found that as a whole we tended to hide poverty and mask it as a problem that needed to be solved but was never really addressed. I really appreciated the fresh take that 541 Eatery & Exchange had on this issue and how whole-heartedly most people seemed to accept the idea. The Executive Director also impressed one point upon me in particular-- you shouldn't worry about feeling underqualified, you just need to keep trying to adapt to your environment and you'll be OK.

Go visit and buy some buttons! (Watch the video below;))
541 Barton St. E.,
Hamilton, Ontario

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