The Special Way this Cafe Feeds its Community
Knead Community Cafe has created a space for people to eat, no matter their situation.
At one New Kensington restaurant, even if you can’t afford the suggested dollar amount, you can still partake in a good meal.
But if you’re picturing a soup kitchen or church basement, don’t. The dining space at Knead Community Cafe is open and welcoming, anchored by a farmhouse table under filament lights surrounded by smaller tables that look out to a comfortable outdoor seating area.
“Everyone deserves a nice place to eat a meal, and everyone deserves to eat a good quality meal,” says Mary Bode, who opened the New Kensington cafe with her husband, Kevin, in 2017.
The Bodes founded the cafe after researching the concept of a community cafe and its overarching organization One World Everybody Eats; they’re now one of about 50 cafes in the network. They had lived in the Allegheny-Kiski Valley for years and wanted a way to give back.
“We love our community,” she says. “We see the struggles.”
The cafe functions as a restaurant, community gathering space and nonprofit/ministry and aims to partner with patrons; those who can afford the suggested amount are encouraged to pay it forward. Those who can’t afford anything are encouraged to volunteer at the cafe for an hour. The menu includes beef or veggie burgers, sandwiches and wraps, and soups and salads made from local ingredients when possible. Lunch is served Tuesday through Friday and breakfast is added on Saturday.
“You’re able to just connect with one another and sit down with one another and learn about each other,” Bode says. “If you eat together, you chat together, you can’t be afraid of one another.”
The cafe is located in the former Sons of Italy building on Barnes Street. The Bodes have remodeled part of the space into a chic conference room as well as the adjoining banquet facility, where they host a monthly community outreach dinner for hundreds of people, families, seniors, volunteers or those simply seeking a meal.
Still visible on the building’s exterior brick wall is a large painting of a Pillsbury dough advertisement, which Bode says seemed serendipitous when they were searching for a location. The name they chose, Knead, is obviously a reference to bread and nourishment as well as serving a need, and it also references the Christian belief in Jesus as the “bread of life.”
The restaurant seats about 75, and decorations on the wall proclaim such messages as: “All We Knead Is Love.”
In the restaurant’s back hallway, there’s a Blessings Board. On the left-hand side, people are invited to record prayer requests. Once they’re answered, the scraps of paper move to the right side of the board.
One paper on the right contains the name Bonnie Spencer, a local woman who needed a kidney transplant. Bode says the cafe has long been invested in Spencer, hosting a blood drive and praying for her recovery. Anyone who donated blood received a token for a free breakfast. The first time Spencer met her kidney donor it was in Knead Community Cafe.
“We nourish through help, through hope, through prayer, whatever we can do,” Bode says. “We don’t proselytize, we just try to show the love of God through food, through serving.”
The restaurant’s operations depend mostly on volunteers; there’s a full time chef and restaurant manager on staff. Funding comes from donations, revenue from meals, corporate sponsorships and other fundraisers. As the monthly community dinners have become more popular, businesses and individual donors have sponsored them as well.
“As we grow and as we figure out how we can serve, the community has embraced it,” Bode says.
Taking over the farmhouse table one day in September was volunteer Cheryl Fondrk and her family. Several generations gathered as Fondrk’s brother was visiting from Los Angeles for his 50th high school class reunion.
“I think it’s beautiful,” she says of the cafe’s set up.
Fondrk says she heard of the cafe and its mission and decided to volunteer there about a year ago. She’s also recently widowed and says volunteering helps her as well.
“It gives me the opportunity to meet new people,” she says.
Volunteers come from all walks of life, and Bode says she particularly loves when someone who started out fulfilling court-mandated volunteer hours returns to serve on their own terms.
“We’re a little bit of everything for everyone,” Bode says. “Not only do we get to nourish the body through part of the mission, but also offer the love and hope and just loving on people where they are.”