We started Love to Table with the vision of a full time pop up restaurant in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco, a spot where those in need could come and enjoy a beautiful farm-to-table sit down meal at no cost. We dreamed of a space where anyone could wander in from the streets and find nourishment and love, a refuge in the middle of the city. In Fall of 2019, we wandered around the neighborhood imagining our future restaurant and to our delight, found a restaurant owner who was eager to partner with us and help make our dream a reality.
Aref, the owner at Z Zoul Cafe, located at the heart of the Tenderloin district, was thrilled to let us use his restaurant during off hours. We launched weekend pop up meals in October 2019 and hosted monthly events, serving 100-200 guests a sit down meal each time. Our first one featured apple crisps from our summer fruit trees, and mint tea using our garden mint. Each month we got more and more sophisticated with the menus, plating, signage and decor, and added elements like a recovery meeting before lunch service and a token system so that guests could share something they did for someone else as an exchange for the meal.
We were blown away by the reception of our guests. One shared that he finally was treated like a normal person and realized that had been missing. Another guest told us he hadn’t eaten in a restaurant since the 70s. Another hadn’t eaten food this good since his mom died. People would often come in, eat and fall asleep because they felt so safe. They would wake up, their eyes shining and a brightness about them. One guest took extra meals to his friends at a shelter and then came back and offered to wash dishes. A feeling of community and exchange began to happen naturally.
When COVID hit, we had to take a break from serving in restaurants for the safety of our guests and our volunteers, but we can’t wait to create the next iteration when restaurant dining is safe again.