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We are All Common: A non-profit restaurant wants the haves and have-nots to eat together 

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Zach Hancock has been a carpenter and a schoolteacher. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister and has his Masters in divinity. At 36, he's thin, energetic and tends to wax philosophical. With disheveled brown hair, thick-rimmed glasses and wearing a worn Phillies T-shirt (though he says he's not really a fan), Hancock looks and acts like a young professor - one who you could have a beer with. And he's been hired by Bob Pearson to coordinate the opening of a new restaurant whose mission goes beyond food and profits. Common Table, as the restaurant is known, opens mid-September in the old Cork space on Oregon Avenue, ushering in what could be a new era of food and philanthropy in Bend.

"We really want to facilitate a dialogue that's beyond the traditional," says Pearson, 62, a former Silicon Valley executive. He's an active member of the First Presbyterian Church, which is where he began formulating the concept for Common Table.

"I came here to retire and play golf," Pearson says. "But there are new discussions going on today about who we are and what we're all about." He hopes that Common Table will be a restaurant where the community can engage in intellectual dialogue.

But Hancock is quick to clarify - Common Table is not a traditional restaurant. It's not a soup kitchen either. "We're neither of those," he says. "There's nothing exactly like what this will be."

Common Table is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit - part café, part discussion forum. Vouchers will be given out to those who wouldn't otherwise be able to pay - $10 gift certificates will be issued to local nonprofits such as Neighbor Impact and the vouchers will be available for purchase at a discounted rate. It will be run partly by volunteers and partly by a paid staff. The restaurant's mission statement reads: "Common Table exists to feed all people, cherish the earth and to pursue awareness."

Four years ago, Pearson and his congregation started holding Sunday evening gatherings at the First Presbyterian building. "But it was way too churchy," Pearson says. "There's a lot of conversation in more homogenous groups. There's not as much conversation across groups and across ideas."

Common Table will be a somewhat standard-looking café during breakfast and lunch hours, six days a week. A modestly priced menu will feature locally sourced ingredients and simply prepared dishes. "The evenings are eclectic," says Pearson. At times, the restaurant will be open to the public with just a bar menu and cocktails. Other times, there will be events held around the restaurant's 20-foot-long walnut table - the literal "Common Table."

"There might be a film we want to watch, or a lecture or music events," says Hancock. "We want to intentionally create the space that people sit around and they discuss."

Pearson notes the many groups of people who seldom interact in Bend. "There's low income, high income. There's Hispanic vs. whites in the community. There's young vs. old. There's conservative vs. liberal. We really want to facilitate that environment to talk about what's needed [in the community]."

Pearson conducted a national search for someone who could bring a concept like Common Table to life and he found Hancock who was living in Boulder at the time. Hancock, who's strictly a volunteer, notes that while there are similar ventures in other cities such as Sisters of the Road in Portland, which provides affordable meals at low cost, Pearson and Hancock aren't basing their business model on any other established restaurant.

Pearson breaks down his hopes for Common Table: "On a typical day, maybe 60 or 70 percent of our patrons will spend money and buy a meal," he says. "Thirty to 40 percent get a free token."

Pearson notes that while Common Table will be able to provide low- to-no-cost meals for needy people, those who can pay may need to be educated about the low-income population.

"They're people just like them who had an issue come up - they need help, support and connection," says Pearson.

Hancock first attempted to get the Common Table idea off the ground with a community garden next to Bend Brewing Company. Initially, Hancock planned to source the café's vegetables from the garden, but it didn't work out. "We spent two months just spinning our wheels on that," says Hancock. Common Table will still get as much food as possible from local growers, including Fields Farm, and even draw from the new Common Table garden at the Nativity Lutheran church.

So far, Common Table has been funded largely by the Presbytery of the Cascades, the church's parent umbrella organization. In addition, The Nativity Lutheran, First Presbyterian and Trinity Episcopalian churches all provide support.

"Churches have started hospitals before," says Hancock, who notes that Common Table is independent and nonaligned. "We're not here as dispensers of answers. We're here for the betterment of humanity and welcoming anyone who wants to participate."

The menu, as of now, includes quiches, pressed sandwiches and tacos. It's eclectic, but approachable.

"We're not Karl Marx here trying to create a utopian society," says Hancock. "But we're trying to use the best of what have."

"We are what we do," he says. "We need to be better humanists. There's something bigger - what's that bigger thing? That's serving one another."


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