BY PHIL WHEELER
Bistro 163 celebrated its 5th anniversary this past Tuesday. The gala event for the “Pay It Forward” restaurant was a celebration of a simple concept become reality. Those who can’t pay for a meal don’t have to, and those who can often pay extra.
About a third of all the meals served are given away free. In exchange for the free meals people can, and often do, volunteer their time. They call it a hand up, not a hand out.
In August 2015, people from the community, along with representatives from seven different churches, came together to create Bistro 163. Although not a religious organization, it is built on biblical principals. The name, Bistro 163, is only partially based on its location on Rt. 163. Proverbs 16:3 says “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” The place is uplifting without being preachy or judgmental.
Mary Caracci and Ed Carlson are two of the
founders behind Bistro 163. It all started with a simple idea. Increase food security and offer all neighbors a place to eat and come together as one community.
Said Caracci, “We are a city of haves and have-nots. There are many people in the area who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”
Carlson and Caracci had no restaurant experience.
“We hired a chef, and before we opened we fired a chef,” said Carlson. “Stacy Maple was a consultant with us, and she called from Chicago and said she wanted to go full time if we could work it out.
“So we worked it out, and we had a chef.”
The mission of the restaurant is simple, a large sign on the wall behind the counter says it all: “Everyone is welcome to eat a meal. Patrons are encouraged to pay more than the suggested price to help others enjoy a meal. If unable to pay, give your time in service as payment.”
The bistro works to connect those in need with other community organizations that can help, offering community meals and special study programs for kids. It is a place to build a relationship with your neighbors.
“We have a base of about 60 volunteers. Everything from the Boy Scouts to retirees, to people ordered by the court.” said Caricci, “The judges will literally walk people down the street and say ‘This is Shawn, and he’s going to do 25 hours of community service.’ The judges know the environment that we have here, they know it is going to be a positive one.”
Bistro 163 is located in the Sutton Center, 1848 Perry St., Suite 10 in Port Clinton.
The restaurant offers fresh food prepared from scratch using locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. Hours of operation are 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., on Tuesday through Saturday. They are closed Sunday and Monday.