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Provision Community Restaurant Aims to Connect Communities

Healther Mady, left, who is taking over the kitchen at Provision and Kenzie Edinger from Mucci’s, a guest chef for a fundraising dinner.

Every shift is like receiving a mystery basket. The evening’s menu is decided once the chef shows up at 3 p.m. and sees what’s in the cooler. There’s usually bread from Rustica, maybe cottage cheese or yogurt and organic vegetables that have lost their looks, but not their nutrition, sometimes proteins.

Around 90 percent of the food is donated, says David Smith, program director for Provision Community Restaurant, and consequentially, “I’ve become shameless in asking.”

But as the pay-what-you-can restaurant gains more visibility, it’s become easier. “You don’t really have to ask, you just mention what you’re doing,” Smith says. It doesn’t hurt that their model also addresses food waste. 

Anna Wienke welcomes guests before they’re escorted into the dining room for communal meals. 

Provision is a 30-seat restaurant in the old Salty Tart production bakery in the Lyn-Lake area of Minneapolis, where neighbors can gather at shared tables and pay what they can afford. Its mission is to “overcome food insecurity, isolation and hardship in our community by serving family-style meals to patrons of all social, racial and economic classes.” Fundraisers, such as a recent sustainability dinner, also provide funds. “Chefs are paid, everyone else is volunteers,” says Anna Wienke, founder of the nonprofit organization. 

Wienke has worked all the positions in a restaurant while volunteering at nonprofits, and while she never wanted to run a restaurant, she was up for running a nonprofit restaurant. 

She’s fortunate to have friends like Smith, who she brought on board, and Brent Frederick, founder of Jester Concepts, who has been a board member for the past two years. 

“ Anna was a friend of mine and when she came to me with the idea, I knew I wanted to help her get her vision off the ground,” Frederick said. “It’s a super exciting time in Provision’s infancy and we’re hoping to keep the momentum going, but we always need more volunteers and more guests. Public education is the biggest hurdle at this stage and getting people to understand who we are and where we are is crucial at this point.”

It’s a bit ironic that a restaurant with a price-point that’s negotiable is having trouble attracting customers, but “people feel like they’re taking away a meal” from someone who can’t afford to pay, Wienke says, or they worry that the person sitting next to them is a, shall we say, less-desirable. “But that’s not the case,” Wienke asserts. She’s seen a right-leaning Vietnam vet sit next to a liberal couple and find common ground, and people coming back with family and friends. Who pays what evens out. 

Dinner is served Wednesday through Friday at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., with brunch on Saturday at 10 a.m. and noon. While patrons can’t choose the menu, they can choose their portion size since the meal is served family-style from a lazy Susan.

The evening I dined at Provision, the menu was heavy on the pasta. “I wanted to do something made only with things people have at home,” Kenzie Edinger, the guest chef for the evening, said. “People usually have flour, water and potatoes.”

 Cooking using only what’s on hand isn’t new to Edinger, who shared with the diners that she “comes from a far away place, North Dakota,” and once she got trapped in the house by snow for six days without groceries. “It’s all about getting creative with next to nothing,” she says.

The restaurant has only been open four months and they’re still in the learning mode.

 “It’s a work in process,” Wienke says. “It’s trying to hit a moving target while moving.” 

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