Pay What You Can – Hartford Courant

Tyler Anderson is at the top of Connecticut’s culinary world, but in the past he has experienced food insecurity.

“My family didn’t always have everything. And when I started working in restaurants, I was working poor. They didn’t pay me much. My friends and I who worked with me used pantries to get by,” he said.

Anderson, owner of Millwright’s in Simsbury, is giving back by partnering with Hands on Hartford to open the state’s first pay-what-you-can restaurant. The restaurant, called Gather55, is located in the offices of 55 Bartholomew Ave. of Hands on Hartford.

The breakfast and lunch venue, which will expand to dinners Wednesday through Saturday October 5, had a soft opening in May. It was officially launched, with an appearance by Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin on Thursday.

Bronin called Gather55 “a restaurant that belongs to everyone, that is accessible to everyone, ‘that makes healthy, fresh and delicious food available to everyone”.

Hands on Hartford has been serving meals to underprivileged communities in the area for 40 years. Milton Shannon is a frequent customer. “It’s something to do, somewhere to go. Senior centers just aren’t as bustling,” he said.

With the opening of Gather55, Hands on Hartford invites everyone in the area to dinner. Cindi Bates, chair of the board of directors of Hands on Hartford, called Gather55 “something bigger, something deeper, bringing everyone together, regardless of their means, to enjoy good food and a common experience.

All diners pay what they can afford. The bar inside the restaurant also offers dishes for sale at a fixed price.

Diners have two choices per meal, changing daily. On Thursday, breakfast diners chose between a waffle with strawberry sauce and turkey sausage, and a bacon and cheddar scramble with cookies and fruit. Lunch diners chose between pesto tortellini with sun-dried tomatoes and chicken, and spaghetti with meatballs.

Anderson does the menus and the recipes. The chefs who cook the meals are Jeremy Williams, Karl Robinson and James Edwards.

For 14 years, Williams owned Berlin’s Even Stephens breakfast. The pandemic hurt his business and he sold it.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Until now, I’ve only worked for for-profit restaurants,” Williams said. “Now we’re serving restaurant-quality food to people who really need it.”

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Williams estimated that since the soft opening, he and the mostly volunteer crew have served 300 to 350 meals a day.

In anticipation of the opening, Hands on Hartford has embellished the dining rooms, installing wainscoting in one and artwork on the walls, including a series of photos of street murals from around the country. Other works will be installed soon.

CT Foodshare is also an operating partner of Gather55.

In his remarks, Anderson joked, “I’ve always wanted to turn all of my restaurants into paying restaurants. Unfortunately, I have business partners and they didn’t like the idea at all.

“So it’s good to have business partners like this. Who let us do it and who wants to do it.

Gather55, 55 Bartholomew Ave., is open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Thursday. Breakfast is served from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and take-out meals are available from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., with take-out available from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. will be launched soon.

Susan Dunne can be contacted at [email protected].

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