“Pay what you can” cafe coming to Fort Dodge


FORT DODGE – With the help of many, a couple who knows what it’s like to hit rock bottom is planning to open a community cafe where no one will be turned away, even if they can’t afford a meal.

Customers will only be required to pay what they can.

Jodi Tietsort and her husband Mark McGuire are opening the restaurant where “Sudden Service” used to operate on Central Avenue. Right now, they’re in the middle of the renovation process.

“Some will pay more, some will pay less, but everybody can eat,” Tietsort said.

The cafe will also include a gallery for local artists to sell their work.

Chef Michael Hirst, a culinary professor at Iowa Central Community College, is in charge of the menu, which he says will be somewhat basic. His students will work at the cafe and do shifts on a rotation, including food prep, cooking, and the cash register. A main goal is to have the students interact with those eating their meals.

“We’re bringing the chefs right out in front of the customers,” he said. “I’ve got plans for this end of the restaurant to be a prep area where there will be tables, they’ll be able to make fresh doughs, fresh pastas in front of people, then the guests will be able to watch what’s going on, and if they can’t pay for their meal, they can get their hands dirty and come and join us.”

For Tietsort, this concept hits very close to home. She and her husband have a history of drugs and alcohol. Both are now sober and say this is their way to give back and pay it forward all at once.

“Even when I was sober, there were still days where I didn’t know where my next meal was going to come from. So I’ve been there,” she said. “I never want my story to be someone else’s story.”

The couple will be relying heavily on donations at first, but plenty are already coming in. Their landlord is giving them free rent for the first two years. Contractors in town are donating sheetrock for the renovations, farmers are on board to donate fresh produce, and Chef Michael says a friend is donating plenty of baking supplies.

Tietsort says she hopes to open the cafe sometime in October.

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