By Michelle Stein
KENTON — Imagine a place that serves wholesome, restaurant-quality food and welcomes all guests — regardless of their ability to pay. If you can afford the listed price, you simply pay it; but those who can’t won’t go to bed hungry.
Table One is a non-profit community cafe in Kenton, and it officially opened its doors this past June. Its motto? “Table One: One table, everyone eats.”
“Most people can afford to pay here what that would be at a normal restaurant — similar to Bob Evans, Applebee’s, that type of place,” said the Rev. Loran Miracle, president of Table One Ministries and director of Table One. “We ask them to pay what they would normally pay at any sit-down restaurant that they would go to of similar quality. And then, all the people that are non-cooks at the restaurant are all volunteers. Everybody that’s waiting on your table, they’re all volunteers, which means there’s no tipping.”
Instead of leaving a tip, patrons are asked to “pay it forward” for someone else, Miracle explained.
“People who can’t afford to eat at a restaurant at all, what we ask from them is that they volunteer at least one hour of their time in exchange for a meal,” he said. “That way, I don’t have to hire people to do things. I have volunteers that can do things — like wait tables, if that’s what they can do, wash dishes, fold silverware, those kinds of things. In exchange for their help in the restaurant, they get to eat.”
Miracle is actually a Lima Senior High School graduate. He attended The Ohio State University and lived in Columbus for 25 years and then in Toledo for 15. In 2012, he became the pastor at First United Methodist Church in Kenton until his retirement in 2015.
“This is a Christian-based, faith-based mission and ministry that we do,” Miracle said, noting it’s also referred to as a biznistry. “So it’s a combination business and ministry, and it has to work as both. I didn’t retire to go into the restaurant business. I retired to start a new kind of ministry.”
No-cost meals for those who can’t afford them isn’t the only way Table One embodies social responsibility. Recently, for example, there were 30 hydroponic strawberry plants in the restaurant’s front window. If it all works out, they’ll have 90 pounds of strawberries this spring, he said.
“We also take all of our table scraps that people leave on their plates, and we save those in buckets,” Miracle said. “We give them to a local farmer, who feeds them to his chickens. And he gives us 15 dozen eggs every week in exchange for that.”
And just because some of the meals offered at Table One come at no monetary cost doesn’t mean the restaurant skimps out on quality. Or taste. Salad dressings and sauces for sandwiches are all made in house. All of the bread is baked by an artisan baker in Findlay called Bread Kneads. The bread has no preservatives, no GMO flours.
Here’s a sampling of what’s on the menu: Sandwiches include the Table One Burger, reuben, double BLT, turkey club. There are specialty salads and soups. Breakfast items are available. And dinner entrees like ribs, broasted chicken, steak, sweet potato fries, parmesan crusted pork chops, chicken cordon bleu, southern fried catfish and baked potatoes round it out. Children’s meals are available, too. Crowds swarm for the all-you-can-eat broasted chicken on Friday nights.
Don’t be fooled by what might seem at first glance like a simple menu, though. The double BLT, for example, isn’t your run-of-the-mill toasted bread with bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo.
“What we do, is we start with ciabatta bread, which is a wide loaf of kind of a white bread. We slice that off and we cut that in half and grill it. That’s the bread that we use,” Miracle said. “Then we make a double bacon aioli — and what we do is we take bacon and brown sugar and oil and some spices, and that’s what we put on the sandwich. Not mayonnaise. And then we put romaine lettuce, tomato and bacon on the sandwich. So it’s a very different kind of BLT than you would ever expect to find.”
According to Miracle, 28 percent of Hardin County suffers from what is called food insufficiency. That means by the end of the month, food stamps are gone, money is gone and people are going to bed hungry until the first of the month rolls around.
“People that don’t have much to eat typically don’t eat very well,” Miracle said. “They eat way down on the food chain. I jokingly say they eat like a college student — they eat ramen noodles, they eat canned pastas. They eat whatever’s cheap and filling. So what they get is a lot of processed foods, they get a lot of salt, that sort of thing. So we kind of feel like if we can offer a higher quality food for everybody, including those people who don’t typically get it, it’s a much healthier way for everybody to eat. And we want to do that as much as we possibly can.”
Not only does Table One serve its community by helping those who face food insufficiency, the restaurant is also a great opportunity for residents to give back. Families come in to volunteer together on a regular basis, and many of them have children who help out as well. Individuals are also able carry out community service hours at the restaurant, Miracle said.
“Table One is about giving hope to people who often have no hope,” he said. “They can become part of who we are, part of our community. And it encourages them to get past whatever it is that’s caused them to be in this situation.”
— Recipes courtesy Table One:
1/4 pound bacon, diced
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/3 cup flour
8 cups milk
2 medium potatoes, diced
2 cups frozen corn
1 1/2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoons oregano
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
Shredded cheese, to taste
Sliced green onions, to taste
Cook bacon over medium heat in a large pot. Add butter and onions. Saute until onions are tender. Add flour. Let cook 2 minutes. Add milk; whisk until smooth. Bring to a simmer. Add potatoes; let cook 10 minutes. Add corn, salt and pepper, garlic and oregano. Let cook 10 more minutes. Garnish with cheese and green onions, if desired.
Southern Fried Catfish
6 catfish fillets
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Oil for deep frying
Soak catfish in buttermilk for at least 30 minutes before preparing. Mix dry ingredients; Dredge drained catfish. Deep fry in oil that is 350 degrees F for 4 minutes and 45 seconds. (If pan frying, fry on both sides until golden brown and fish flakes easily with a fork.)
1 N. Detroit St., Kenton
11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday; 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday
Catering, delivery and take-out available. For details, call 419-674-3400.