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North Hills Monthly

First Western PA Pay-What-You-Can Cafe to Open in New Kensington

Oct 01, 2016 02:09PM ● By Erica Cebzanov

Knead Community Cafe volunteers

Knead Community Cafe founders Kevin and Mary Bode think combining fresh, locally sourced ingredients with a sense of community will serve as a recipe for success at their pay-what-you-can restaurant – the first of its kind in western Pennsylvania.

Opening in late fall, the nonprofit cafe will feature suggested prices for its rotating menu of soups, sandwiches and salads. "Patrons may pay those fees, or they may pay it forward by donating extra to help feed a neighbor that day who might not be able to eat,” Mary Bode said.

Those who cannot cover their meals can volunteer an hour at the cafe to pay for their meals. “It’s not like that person is segregated,” Mary said. “They are working with community volunteers for the same cause. It’s a partnership.”

Attending the 2015 One World Everybody Eats national conference inspired the Bodes to join the 60 other cafes across the nation in the pay-what-you-can movement. “We believe that everybody is entitled to eat. Food should be an equalizer among people,” Mary said.

The couple wanted to open the venture in their adopted New Kensington hometown, where they are active Mount St. Peter Parish members and Kevin served on the YMCA board.

“I want to be in the trenches doing the work and not just sitting in the boardroom making the decisions,” he said. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I just felt like it was time to do more hands-on work.”

“The biggest treasure of New Kensington is its people and their willingness to join together to accomplish things. They have great support and great volunteerism, and we really feel like we are blessed in that capacity to make this model work,” said Mary, who added that a chef and manager would hold the cafe’s only paid positions. 

In April, the duo purchased the former Sons of Italy buildings along Fifth Avenue and Barnes Street. The Bodes estimate that they will spend $300,000 on interior renovations and an additional $100,000 for a courtyard, which they plan on using as an outdoor classroom. “You could have literally opened the doors and used the facility as is, but we didn’t want to do that. This is the first time people have seen construction downtown in New Kensington in a long time, so we really wanted to do something special that would make a big statement that we believe in the community,” said Kevin.

More than 100 volunteers prepared the building for construction to add windows, new bathrooms and a courtyard entrance. Eventually, the Bodes would like to add outdoor seating. Mary would also like to restore the Pillsbury flour advertisement on the side of the building, which she associates with the “Knead” name.

Community organizations will be able to rent a conference room behind the cafe that comes with audio-visual equipment. “We want people to feel like they own the cafe, that it’s a community partnership,” said Kevin Bode. “The whole point is that we want to bring people in for things like that, so people feel like it’s their meeting place.” The Bodes hope free Wi-Fi attracts Westmoreland County Community College and Penn State New Kensington students attending classes nearby. 

“The food, to me, is almost a ruse to get people in the door to bring them together. It’s about loving people and making them feel like this is a place of love. That’s what we’re truly all about,” said Kevin.

For Knead Community Cafe volunteer and donation information, visit: The café could also use corporate sponsors. For information, contact