The magic of Everybody Eats

Customers chit-chat and enjoy their meals at the Everybody eats.

Koha-based restaurant

Everybody Eats is a pay-as-you-feel restaurant charity that started out on Auckland’s K Rd in 2017. Its mission is to tackle food waste, food poverty and social isolation.

The Wellington equivalent began as a pop-up in Visa Wellington On a Plate in 2020. It has since evolved to providing community dinners from Sunday to Wednesday, and a pay-as-you-feel private function space on Thursdays.

The 60-seater space at LTD on Dixon Street offers diners restaurant-quality three-course meals from food otherwise destined for landfill. Meals are prepared and served by volunteers, led by head chef Ellis Robbins and manager Jack Rainey.

Customers sit and enjoy their meals inside Everybody eats.

While it’s just another dining option in the central city, what sets Everybody Eats apart is that it’s based on a pay-it-forward business model, whereby diners donate what they can to help cover their meal costs and potentially someone else’s too.

“Anyone can come here and eat — we have diners living on the streets, those experiencing homelessness, those living in welfare housing, those living alone where this is their only social interaction and many living in apartments with full-time jobs and no time to make dinner,” says Jack.

“They slot in at a table with a group, and that’s the magic, to have all walks of life in one place, striking up a conversation and connecting over food. For that brief moment in time, everyone’s equal. Everyone’s sharing the same meal. Food is the connector.

“It helps lift the mana of those people that have lived a bit harder than others, and it helps humble people who haven’t experienced poverty. It’s a great leveller of society.”

“Whether you’re coming to dinner and making a koha, whether you’re coming to eat rescue food and chat with your neighbour... every interaction with this charity is positive.”

Jack Rainey, Everybody Eats

Restaurant addresses issues

The former chef of 20 years loves that Everybody Eats addresses social isolation, food poverty and food waste all at the same time. Statistics show New Zealand produces enough food to feed about 40 million people a year, yet one in five Kiwis go hungry most nights.

“There is enough food produced in the country and enough need for that food, but we’re wasting about 170,000 tonnes of food a year,” says Jack.

Funded through fundraising campaigns, diner koha and grants, Everybody Eats has built relationships with food rescue organisations like Kaibosh and Kiwi Community Assistance, as well as supermarkets and producers.

The nature of food rescue means the menu changes daily, with both meat and vegetarian/vegan options. On the day of this interview, the menu featured an entrée of green salad with roast broccoli, courgette, mesclun salad, a pea tendril, and peanut pesto. The main course was shredded ham hocks (vegan option of carrot sausages) with roast potatoes and braised cabbage, leek, and apple. For dessert, 15kg of donated lolly cake ice cream was used for sundaes comprising cake pieces, fresh grapes, and plum coulis.

Interactions positive

On any given night, Everybody Eats will have 140 to 150 people through its doors to sample El’s creations. Regulars make up 60%, and there are only two rules — be respectful and sober. He speaks of one diner who frequented the restaurant every night and was always apologetic he couldn’t afford to pay.

“We still encouraged him to dine with us. Every human should have dignity in their life. Eventually, he got a job at Subway, accommodation through Wellington City Council and came back to volunteer his time as a prep person for us.”

Other regular diners have met across the dinner table and have become friends outside of Everybody Eats.

“To be able to have a restaurant offering available to the whole community to come and eat and be part of those solutions around food waste is really unique and really special.

“Also, dining with everybody in the community helps to humanise the people you see on the street who are struggling, it helps to see them as people, and it helps to connect with fellow humans.”