Pay-as-you-go nonprofit Taste Community Restaurant heads to busy downtown Arlington spot
A popular Fort Worth restaurant that runs on a "pay-as-you-go" model to serve the unhoused and food insecure has sights set on a location near UT Arlington.
Jeff Williams, executive director, says Taste Community Restaurant's second location could serve as a "hub" for future projects and experiments as his team looks to try new services and programs.
"Arlington's kind of really going to become our headquarters for investigation into sort of other services," Williams says, such as a potential hydroponic garden and offering new types of food.
Taste opened in Fort Worth's near southside district in 2017 as the culmination of Williams' search to address food insecurity. The restaurant, open for breakfast and lunch six days a week, lists its seasonal menu selections without prices; instead, customers can pay what they can afford, pay what they normally pay or pay extra for someone in need.
Williams says Arlington's been on his radar since 2018, when he delivered a TEDx Talk at UTA on his project. From there, he researched the city's demographics and looked for space. He and his team applied for grants, but their dreams of expanding were sidelined due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. City staff and officials started working with Taste several months ago to pinpoint locations.
Arlington City Council approved a 10-year lease agreement for Taste Project to operate out of 200 N. Cooper St. during an evening council meeting Tuesday. The facility is a warehouse-like former water department building that temporarily housed Central Library operations during construction of the George W. Hawkes Downtown Library.
Mayor Jim Ross says Taste "checks a lot of boxes" for him. The nonprofit, in addition to its restaurant, hosts a culinary apprenticeship program and community garden.
"It gives a lot of people a sense of normalcy. It's not a soup kitchen, you know?" Ross says. "It's a cool, hip, trendy place where everybody is involved and you have great workforce development, you have a great community effort to take care of food deprivation issues. It's just all-encompassing."
Some 13% of Tarrant County residents face food insecurity, 40% of whom live above the federal poverty line but do not qualify for federal government programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), according to city documents. Around 41% of college students also experience food insecurity.
Williams says he's interested in bringing Taste services to the greater Tarrant County area.
The water utilities building also provides the city the chance to bring redevelopment along one of the Arlington's busiest streets. City leaders have looked for ways to improve conditions for pedestrians and businesses along the Cooper Street including a May 2021 corridor study of the roadway that stretches from UTA Boulevard to Bardin Road.
"We're putting forth a tremendous effort in that part of town to make it that more walkable, friendly neighborhood type of place," Ross says. "Taste is going to fit in well; it's going to bring the marriage together of all of those issues."
Williams says Taste's second location is in the design phase, and they hope to break ground by the end of the year and complete construction in late 2023 or early 2024. The renovation of their portion of 13,000 square-foot building could cost over $1 million, according to city documents.
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