Chef, Big Big Table Community Cafe
Chef Mandy Bailey and her husband, Trueman Muhrer-Irwin, have been working on their nonprofit community café, Big Big Table, for four years. They plan for a welcoming place where people from all backgrounds can come together to enjoy a healthy meal, regardless of ability to pay. Mandy first heard of the concept in 2011 while she was working locally as a chef. Diners have the option to pay the suggested price for a meal, add a little extra, or pay less or nothing at all, and instead volunteer their time.
The couple has received private donations, including a 2016 fundraiser at Resurgence Brewery. They’ve also applied for grants, recently receiving a $2500 grant from the Pitch 10 competition sponsored by Next Generation United, where Mandy was among the ten not-for-profits pitching small business ideas.
All the pieces are in place: Big Big Table is now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit; they have their kitchen equipment, purchased from a local nonprofit; Trueman’s not for profit experience (Program Coordinator at Compeer of Buffalo); and Mandy’s culinary skills (she will be the executive chef, planning meals and running the kitchen staff). The only step left is to find a space, hopefully in a neighborhood with a range of income levels, possibly on the West Side, where they can make a difference by providing access to nutritious meals.
The couple has pursued their vision since 2012, with early support from Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church and business training from the Westminster Economic Development Initiative. There have been setbacks, though, especially after Mandy traveled to Denver, CO, to learn from the community cafés located there and attend the annual OWEE Summit, a gathering for community café entrepreneurs to share ideas.
On her return from one of these trips, Mandy was diagnosed with a somewhat rare disorder called neuromyelitis optica, which is similar to MS, probably contracted as a teenager. Physical therapy, drug infusions, and a plasma exchange (similar to dialysis) have led to marked improvement, although Mandy uses a walker. Despite these physical setbacks, Mandy remains the same: outgoing, optimistic, and committed to “Everybody eats, everybody gives, everybody matters.”