138: Lyn Harwell on Community Cafes and Kitchens

Today’s specials include healthy foods, great meals, dignity, education and community.

138: Lyn Harwell on Community Cafes and Kitchens

A childhood spent on a farm in northeast Ohio shaped Lyn Harwell’s views on community and how neighbors can help and support one another through sharing food and resources. “A seemingly forgotten way of living in America,” says Harwell. Thirty-plus years spent as a chef in world-class restaurants taught Harwell the importance of creating beautiful food for people to enjoy and gather together to share. In recent years, he spent time helping others open community kitchens and supporting local sustainability.

This led him to open Seeds Community Café in September 2013. Seeds is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that is based on a “pay it forward” model wherein patrons can partake of healthy, nutritious, locally-sourced and creatively crafted meals, regardless of their ability to pay. “I am a huge supporter of Community Cafes, Kitchens and local gardens as a Social Enterprise and way of life,” he says. “I believe this concept of sharing local great food around a community table can change the world we live in by impacting food insecurity and building community in our own neighborhoods! It also enhances our local economies.”

In This Podcast: Greg takes the time to get to know Lyn and is moved by his persistence and dedication to making a difference in his community. Lyn tells how he has always been doing something with food, and how he has worked with some well-known chefs on his way to opening up his own very special restaurant. With an idea in his head about a café where people pay what they think the meal is worth, and those who can’t pay have a chance to work off the meal through service, Lyn worked until he got enough support to open the doors to this very epic, community centric, aptly named, Seeds Community Café.

 Listen in to Learn About:

  • Growing up in a small farming community of 500 people
  • When the term organic just meant food
  • His studying through culinary school, an apprenticeship, and getting into the restaurant industry to be a chef
  • Working with Olive Garden when they just had 5 restaurants
  • His ten years in New Orleans and some of the restaurants he worked at

    Working in the Seeds Cafe kitchen

  • Working with Emeril Lagasse at Delmonico
  • Why he moved to Colorado Springs and
  • His volunteer work with the Springs Rescue Mission
  • Teaching cooking classes at the mission which helped changed his life
  • An article about the first community café and how he reached out to learn more
  • How this café was his biggest failure for a while and now is his biggest success
  • How his determination to start his own café really changed when the urban garden movement took off
  • Persistence paid off and he opened the doors in 2013
  • It is one of 60 community cafes across the country
  • 75000 meals served with 40% of that to people in need
  • Customers can get a great meal and work it off with an hour of service
  • No one knows how much the other person paid for the same meal
  • They have a culinary arts program, work with the community college and have programs for addicts, as well as kids with disabilities
  • Have put 41 people back to work with living wage jobs
  • How the community café was first received when they opened up their doors
  • How they manage the payment for those who can’t pay and the volunteers that help keep it going
  • What the restaurant atmosphere is like
  • The story of Tanzer, a very quiet boy who participated in a local school district special needs program at the café and some of the magic that happened after weeks of coming in to help and when he finally opened up and started talking
  • Their Sunrise Garden Project in a part of Colorado Springs with 1500 households in a food desert
  • How important it is for kids to start gardening and try fresh food

The Community of the Seeds Cafe

As well as:

  • What he learned and how he overcame the struggles in getting this café started
  • How he is driven by food and his passion to reach people in his community about healthy food
  • His advice for podcast listeners – never give up, keep cooking and keep growing

Book Recommendations by Lyn:

The book that changed his life – Begging for Change by Robert Egger

Local Dollars, Local Sense by Michael Shuman

Any book by Michael Pollen

How to reach Seeds Community Cafe:


Cafe phone number: 719-473-8206

Facebook: Seeds Community Cafe


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