It started as a simple notion: A for-profit company and a philanthropic organization partnering up to tackle the problems facing their community.
On Monday, that idea became a reality with the grand opening of Rooster Soup Company in Philadelphia - an entirely nonprofit restaurant with a charitable mission.
Rooster Soup Co. is a partnership between Federal Donuts, a popular coffee, donut and fried chicken shop in Philly, and Broad Street Hospitality Collaborative (BSHC), a nonprofit organization run by Broad Street Ministry that helps Philadelphians in deep poverty gain access to food, healthcare and even mail service.
BSHC is a unique philanthropic organization in that it offers what it calls "radical hospitality." It serves three-course meals prepared by professional chefs to the homeless, and it is located in a high-income area of the city.
"We're on the same block as the Ritz Carlton and very expensive condos," Bill Golderer, the founder of BSHC and current board member, told Seeker. "We wanted to reverse the experience that so many of our guests have which is that they're told in subtle and overt ways, 'you're not welcome here.'"
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Many of the surrounding businesses were concerned that BSHC would cultivate an unwelcoming environment for the hospitality industry, but Golderer pointed out that they're all in the same business.
"We just operate at a different price point," he said. "You extend hospitality and make people feel like a million dollars as part of your business model, and we do it because it's the right thing to do."
About three years ago, Golderer started the Hospitality and Corporate Council to give the businesses in the neighborhood an opportunity to take action in combating hunger and homelessness in the community.
That's when Mike Solomonov and Steve Cook from Federal Donuts reached out.
"They said look we have these chicken backs and bones and parts that we're currently paying people to dispose of," Golderer said. "We're wondering if we couldn't repurpose them in the form of chicken soup."
Solomonov and Cook wanted to donate a lifetime supply of chicken soup to BSHC, but Golderer was wary of perpetuating the idea that their organization is a soup kitchen, which it's not. Golderer saw a much bigger opportunity there.
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He recalled frequently hearing people say that they wanted to help the hungry and homeless, while bemoaning that they just didn't know how they could do so. The idea for Rooster Soup Co. was sparked by the question, "What if you could help someone who really needed it... just by eating lunch?"
When Golderer first came to Philadelphia, he saw a big divide between those who worked in the private sector and those who were advocates for the homeless. By selling meals to the general public and donating the money to BSHC, they would bust the myth that private companies and nonprofits can't work together.
The team estimated that it would need at least $150,000 to get everything off the ground, so it launched a Kickstarter campaign.
The idea, Golderer explained, was to "throw it out to Philadelphia to see if people can catch a hold of this vision and we could raise the capital. But it was also a proof of concept. You turn patrons into investors."
Two years later, Rooster Soup Co. has finally opened its doors. And the restaurant is serving a lot more than just soup, offering breakfast, sandwiches, salads, and even beer, wine and cocktails.
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The restaurant's prominent location in Philadelphia near luxury hotels and apartments is an opportunity to get a lot of business, but it also means that it doesn't get a break on rent. Rooster Soup Co. also pays every employee a livable wage.
All of the operating costs come out of the restaurant's revenue and the leftover profit is donated to BSHC. The business model is a new concept for everyone involved, but Golderer believes it will succeed.
"The beauty of this is that it's a true collaboration," he said, "where everybody brings something to the table and where they feel like they're building something unique and powerful that couldn't be built on it's own."
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