Pay-What-You-Can Café Eyes Patchogue

Rosemarie McCarthy envisions a space where community members of all economic backgrounds can gather along side one another for a healthy meal—and a bit of music. For the past three years, McCarthy has cultivated her idea for Harmony Café, the Island’s first pay-what-you-can-eatery working towards eliminating hunger and uniting neighbors one meal at a time.

Harmony Café Patchogue is part of the growing Community Café Movement based on the established nonprofit restaurant business model developed by the One World Everybody Eats Foundation (OWEE). There are currently more than 60 community cafés operating in the U.S. and internationally. If you have never dined at a community café here’s a small glimpse of what you can expect: The café offers a suggested donation for meals (there are no set prices). Pay the suggested amount, pay more to cover the meal of a fellow diner or, if you cannot pay anything, pay-it-forward by volunteering at the café—or not, if you choose. “No one ever has to feel like they’re not welcome,” said McCarthy, the executive director and founder.

While charitable, Harmony is no status quo soup kitchen. The café prides itself on nutritional, delicious meals crave-worthy of any nine-to-fiver—and beyond. The “give-a-hand-up,” honor system-style approach engages the community as a whole in a comfortable and downright fun environment. “We almost always have a live band…You’re not just there to eat, you’re there to make friends.”

Networking between the higher ups and the unemployed (or underemployed) is another goal of the café. It’s a simple philosophy with grand impact: “Everyone, regardless of economic status, deserves the chance to eat healthy food while being treated with dignity,” reads the nonprofit’s mission statement.

“Of course, it’s about food. But it’s more about helping the community come together. It’s really about giving a hand-up,” she said.

McCarthy, who holds a business degree from St. Joseph’s College and boasts a background in the healthcare and legal fields, is the first to admit entering into the nonprofit world isn’t a walk in the park. After leaving corporate America, she’s spent her time networking, ascertaining a board of directors and establishing Harmony Café as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. And 2017 is shaping up to be the fruition of her efforts.

“I had to learn to network. It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s my passion that keeps me going.”

For the first time, Harmony has regular and consistent hours, operating out of the VFW in Patchogue every second Wednesday of month from noon-2:30pm. The pop-up café is a part of an ongoing partnership with the VFW, facilitated by the organization’s George Barrett.

In the coming months, McCarthy hopes to secure enough grant money to transform an East Patchogue all-but-forgotten building into a permanent home for Harmony Café. Ideally, the café will one day serve lunch and dinner, five (or more) days a week to everyone who’s hungry.

“Patchogue is great,” she said. “You have to have people that can support this, and people that need this. We have both here.”

cyndi murray

Cyndi Murray is an associate editor at Long Island Pulse. Have a story idea or just want to say hello? Email cyndi@lipulse.com or reach out on Twitter @cyndi_murray