‘Grab a bite and give if you can’ is the motto of Tiny Home Takeout, the pay-what-you can takeout restaurant operated by St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in downtown Kitchener.
Tiny home takeout is located in the church parking lot, where they serve over 500 portions of food every night -- from pasta to pizza, all made by their in-house chef, Amy Cyr.
However, it’s more than just a food service -- outreach coordinator Tony Stortz says that it serves as a common space where people from all walks of life can come together.
Though the service only launched in January of this year, Stortz says it’s been a long time coming.
“It goes back to the winter [of 2019], when there was a snowstorm before the emergency winter shelters were ready,” Stortz said. “There were about 117 people on the street who were unsheltered, and Father Toby decided to open up the church basement and let them all stay here.”
Stortz says that decision taught their parish “a bunch of really good lessons, one of which [being] how deep the need is in downtown Kitchener.”
However, providing shelter in the church was more of an emergency measure and proved to be challenging -- so they began thinking of other ways they could help the community.
They landed on building a full commercial kitchen with a dining hall in the church basement. But by the time it was ready to open to the public, the pandemic had hit.
“So we had this beautiful kitchen, this big, indoor kind of dining hall style space, and no ability to have anyone indoors. And that's where the tiny home takeout came in as a part of it,” Stortz said.
Their involvement with Tiny Homes for the Better Tent City inspired them to put a tiny home out front of the church to serve the food out of.
When they launched earlier this year, Stortz says they were making around 150 portions each night, but that number has quickly grown to 560 portions.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Stortz. “I think it was the right thing at the right time. I mean, we launched in the darkest days of the second wave of the pandemic.”
They buy the food from the same providers restaurants use, which Stortz says is because they “don’t want people to get second-tier quality food, just because they can’t afford it.”
“If the food isn't good enough for the mayor, or for a CEO, or whatever it is, it shouldn't be served to someone on the street, or a senior on a fixed income living on CPP, or a single mom with two young kids who's trying to make ends meet,” he said.
“Regardless of what kind of job you have, or how much money is in your pocket, everybody deserves that top quality food, the best food we know how to make. And I think that philosophy has really driven a lot of success in the project.”
The kitchen is run by their head chef, Cyr -- who is their only full-time paid staff member -- and her 111 volunteers from throughout the community.
“We can do two pizzas and two daily bites per person that we can see. So if somebody is waiting in the car, that's fine, we can get it for them. That helps us address folks with mobility issues, but without having one person come in and clear us out,” he said.
Stortz says the service will be around for at least three years, at which time they will reassess the need for it.
In terms of their existing dining space in the church basement, he said they will likely keep the bulk of the serving in the tiny home, but that they want it to become some sort of common space.
“The one thing that always resonates with me is that we've really become one of the few common spaces left in downtown Kitchener,” he said, explaining that there is a lot of new development and tech money coming in for downtown, but that there is still a lot of poverty.
“And it's separating, the world’s are getting farther and farther apart. And I think we're really lucky to have built - and we really focused on building - a common space where everybody would be welcome.
“It's not just people on the street, [or] people who are poor,” he said. “We have the head of BIA or we have the mayor and a city councillor in line next to someone who's homeless, next to a senior who doesn't get to get out very much, next to a single mom who's struggling to get by, and there are so few places left where all those people can belong.”
Tiny Home Takeout is open from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and all the food is made fresh in-house every day by Cyr and volunteers.
You can find out more, or support Tiny Home Takeout here.