3 lessons to build & grow your organization from Maggie Kane, Founder & Executive Director of A Place at the Table

During each cohort of the FYSO accelerator, we invite successful mission-driven startup founders to come share the story of their entrepreneurial journey and key lessons they’ve learned along the way.

I am so freaking excited to share the first of these videos – an interview with Maggie Kane, Founder & Executive Director of A Place at the Table.

A Place at the Table (APATT) is Raleigh’s first “pay-what-you-can cafe.” Maggie founded APATT to provide community and healthy food for all, regardless of their means. In its first year, APATT was featured on the Today Show for the positive impact it’s making on the community. Kelly Clarkson was so inspired, she tweeted about it!

Most importantly, APATT has served a mind-blowing number of free meals while bringing the Raleigh community together:

  • In 2018, 8,159 meals were given and 25,322 people opted to donate $10 to “pay-it-forward”
  • In 2019, 12,559 were given and 27,396 opted to donate $10 to “pay-it-forward”
  • Since COVID has hit, more than 15,432 meals have been given in 11 weeks by APATT (i.e. more meals were given in less than 3 months than in all of 2019).

This goes to show the impact APATT has made on our community and it also serves as a challenging reminder of the need that is out there, in light of the pandemic.

Maggie is one of my absolute favorite people in the world that has taught me so much. I have no doubt that she’ll do the same for you:

To share some of the highlights, here are three key takeaways from our interview to help you as you build and grow your organization:

1. Learn from other successful organizations in your industry

Before starting APATT, Maggie first went and visited other “pay-what-you-can” cafes. She went to the successful “pay-what-you-can” cafe in Boone, NC, F.A.R.M. Cafe, at least 5 times. Each time, she brought a friend or family member with her. She asked F.A.R.M. questions about what worked and what didn’t for them.

Not only did Maggie get insights for the cafe she was planning to launch in Raleigh – these trips also began developing her support system… which conveniently leads us to our next lesson:

2. Don’t do this alone

It’s okay to not know what you’re doing. If you have a vision for what you’re trying to build, you can figure anything out by building the right support system.

Maggie is a master at inspiring other people to buy-in to her journey. She originally built a 9-person vision team with complementary skill sets (a restauranteur, lawyer, accountant, etc.) to help support her throughout her entrepreneurial journey. Now, APATT has a 20-person (!!) board of directors and an 8-person community advisory board.

Even if you’re a for-profit, you can still enlist support: form an advisory board, create a list of your mentors and send regular updates on your progress and needs, and/or find a community of like-minded entrepreneurs you can lean on for support.

People want to help. All you have to do is be brave enough to ask them

3. Stay the course

It took Maggie four long years to bring A Place at the Table to life, starting with having the vision for the restaurant in 2014 to launching the cafe in January 2018. All along the way she met people who doubted whether this model could work.

By surrounding herself with a team of supporters and building strong relationships over three and a half years, that enabled A Place at the Table to lead a successful fundraising campaign once they finally found the right space for the cafe.

Relationships with donors, investors, community partners, or potential customers don’t happen overnight. Approach them with humility and with the intent to serve. Over time, you’ll build a community of supporters and advocates for your organization.

If you’re local to the Triangle and have the means to “pay-it-forward,” you can donate to A Place at the Table here

My family recently became a monthly sustainer as it provides more dependable support. While APATT is a non-profit social enterprise that does make money from cafe sales, in light of COVID, there is currently more need for free meals than donations/revenues coming in (as mentioned above).

Donations go towards supporting: 

  • A community, where our friends can come for a healthy meal and a friendly chat
  • An amazing staff, who APATT has made an important commitment to paying a living wage 
  • A haven, for one of APATT’s regulars who delights in treating her son to a weekly waffle
  • A vision, for a steadily growing cafe and healthy community

I know there is so much need right now in the world on so many fronts, but if you’re looking for more opportunities to give back, APATT is an incredible organization. Even a little can go a long way.