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Pay-What-You-Can Restaurant Paying It Forward with $40K American Express-backed Backing Historic Small Restaurants Grant

June 2, 2023


Photo: Courtesy of Hands On Hartford

Just as American Express works to back its colleagues, customers and communities, the management of Gather 55, a unique pay-what-you-can restaurant in Hartford, Connecticut, says they’re similarly focused on their community of “diners, donors and doers.”

Gather 55 is an initiative of Hands On Hartford, a nonprofit serving those most economically challenged in areas of food, housing and health for more than 50 years. It is also one of 25 U.S. grantees of this year’s Backing Historic Small Restaurants grant program, a program from American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

In its third year, the program is awarding each recipient $40,000– collectively $1 million in grant funding – to help them improve their business’ physical space and support critical operating costs with the goal of helping the restaurants make an even larger positive impact on their communities. Grant recipients span 20 states and the District of Columbia, and there are historic restaurants receiving this grant in 11 of those states for the first time. 

“Whether you come to us as a diner or as a doer, which is a volunteer, we welcome you,” said Molly Reynolds, Manager, Gather 55. “We need our donors, too. They make this model of helping others work!”

“Restaurants like Gather55 have a positive ripple effect on their local community. That’s why we’re passionate about supporting small businesses and established several “Backing Small” grant programs to help them grow and expand their impact,” said Madge Thomas, President of American Express Foundation and Head of Corporate Sustainability, American Express.

“When folks come to Gather 55 for a meal, they can pay the full price on the menu or the minimum of $2, or if they can’t do that, they can volunteer for half an hour. And when you can’t do either of those, we supply a meal voucher,” explained Reynolds. About 60% of meals during the day are discounted or free. At night, the team transforms the dining hall into an upscale restaurant with a revolving menu curated by local chefs, which underwrites the cost of their daytime program.

Chef Tyler Anderson, named Connecticut Chef of the Year and finalist on season 15 of Top Chef, is the primary culinary advisor.

The Gather 55 team wants their old warehouse building to look more like a traditional restaurant, and the grant money will help them achieve that vision. “We're a nonprofit that provides much more than just meal services. Having an organization like American Express, which is really committed to supporting the community, as a partner in this work, makes everything possible,” said Kate Shafer, Director of Partnerships and Support, Hands On Hartford.

Click here for more information on this grant program and others.

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