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Carrie Shores wants to ensure all Denverites have access to as many delicious food options as possible—no matter their income bracket. Shores is the executive director of 16-and-a-half-year-old SAME Café, a pay-how-you-can lunch restaurant on East Colfax Avenue (SAME stands for “So All May Eat”). There, she works with chef Kim Brazile and a team of staff members and volunteers to offer a continuously rotating menu of nutritious dishes. Serving beautifully presented fare made from seasonal ingredients—think: creamy oyster mushroom bisque and pizza topped with bacon, pepperoni, pesto, sautéed onions and braised kale—is Shores’ passion and a vital part of the nonprofit’s mission.
“We want our guests to have options because most of those who are accessing our space have limited resources and typically their food access is very one-dimensional,” Shores says. “So they may be getting lunch at a soup kitchen or at a church and there’s only one option—but when they come to us, they have the option to never eat the same thing twice, even if they need to access our cafe five days a week. And so, for us, that’s the piece of dignity that’s tied in with our mission.”
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To pay for their meal, patrons can donate money, volunteer their time at the cafe (from 15 minutes to a full day), or bring in produce or other food items. After serving as SAME’s chef since 2020, Shores was promoted to executive director in late 2022 (she previously served a leadership role at Work Options for Women and as executive chef of Country Club’s Table 6). Since then, she’s been committed to supporting the organization’s growth, which includes the Denver restaurant’s expansion into an adjacent storefront with more food storage space and the opening of a second location of SAME Café in Toledo, Ohio.
SAME’s services are essential to community members facing food insecurity in Colorado, an issue exacerbated by rising food costs and the ongoing pandemic. “During times of economic instability, we do see an increased number of people coming in here and it helps us stay humble and remember that anybody can be experiencing food insecurity,” she says.
While SAME is a nonprofit dedicated to providing healthy food access, Shores hopes that patrons remember that it is also a great Denver restaurant. “We’re not just a cafe where people who are experiencing homelessness eat, we are a cafe that is accessible to everybody,” she says. “And we want to make people understand that we’re just a regular lunch spot that is open five days a week for you to come have a nice sit down lunch in a comfortable space.”
Here, Shores dishes on what makes SAME Café such a special place to eat, her favorite foods and restaurants, and where she hopes SAME will go in the future.
5280: What makes SAME Café different from other nonprofits working to feed Coloradans?
Carrie Shores: What sets us apart is that we are a participation-based cafe because we believe that everybody has something to give to the growth and sustainability of our organization. What we hear most from some of our volunteers is that they appreciate doing something in exchange for their meal because it makes them feel like they’re more than just a number or face. It gives them the opportunity to be human again, which I think is just such a beautiful thing because we tend to kind of make people in certain situations invisible.
Another thing is that people often think that we’re just doing soup-kitchen-style lunches. But we are serving foods that you would get at a normal, nicer restaurant [because] we have access to seasonal ingredients and the food is presented in a way that is upscale.
What obstacles does SAME Café face?
It takes quite a bit to create a menu from scratch every single day and do it all in three hours’ time, so a lack of staffing or volunteers can be a challenge. And also all of our produce is donated from local organic farms, so if they have a challenging growing season, that’s going to essentially affect us because they will have less food to donate… The nice thing, though, is that since we’ve been here for 16 years, we’ve really created a community of people who know who we are and are willing to help us out in times of crisis. A good example of that is during COVID when restaurants were closing down and we were getting tons of phone calls from places that wanted to donate [food to us].
What excites you the most about the future of the cafe?
[Last year], our new location in Ohio opened up in a public library. So the hope is that one day SAME Café can be in more downtown public libraries across the United States, because let’s be real, I’ve never been to a library where I was like, Oh my God, have you tried the food in their cafe? Because the food is never good and usually overpriced… But we have the opportunity to pilot this in Toledo and collect the data for a year or two to see what kind of impact it really makes on the community and people accessing the library. So I know I’m most excited to see what that looks like because it’s pretty innovative and necessary in my eyes.
Where are you eating when you’re not at the cafe or cooking at home?
I’m vegan and I love all sorts of Asian cuisines. Wellness Sushi is a good one—it’s insane how they can make something made out of plants taste like salmon. I really like Phở-natic, which is a Vietnamese place that makes an amazing vegan lemongrass chile broth. [My partner and I] love Somebody People. And there’s a tiny little Indian place in Arvada called Namaste India. They have amazing vegan options and we eat there a lot. There’s also a great little place on South Federal called Tarascos that’s a Michoacan restaurant.
What is a food item you can’t live without?
Give me all the carbs. I want bread. I want cookies. I want mashed potatoes. I don’t think I could survive without carbs.
Attend the 2023 SAME Table Annual Celebration
On Thursday, March 9, SAME Café will host its largest fundraiser of the year from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m at Space Gallery on Santa Fe Drive. This year’s affair will feature bites from chef Jeff Osaka of Sushi-Rama, chefs Tim and Lillian Lu of Noisette, the team behind Everyday Pizza, Andrea Murdoch of Four Directions Cuisine, and other culinary pros. Guests will also enjoy a live auction, two bars, live entertainment, and family activities. Tickets are a suggested donation of $75 (those interested in coming to the event can also pay what they can or volunteer time to attend). You can also donate to SAME year-round here.