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NEST Café to open permanent 'pay-what-you-can' restaurant location in 2022

A $5,000 grant from WQAD's parent company, TEGNA, is moving the café one step closer to that goal.

ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — NEST Café is gearing up to open a new, permanent restaurant location in 2022.

The café's new space can be found at 1524 4th Avenue in Rock Island, once the location of Moe's Burgers & Brews.  

And news of the soon-to-occur grand opening comes as WQAD News 8 and the TEGNA Foundation, the charitable organization run by WQAD's parent company, TEGNA, Inc., announced a $5,000 grant for NEST.

The pay-what-you-can establishment has been serving the Quad Cities community through pop-up venues for the past two years. But after 19 of these monthly meals, founder and executive director, Laura Mahn, says the end goal is now in sight. 

"It's kind of like a blank canvas at this point," Mahn said. "We have lots of things in the interior that we want to do to make it feel more inviting and more like what we envision." 

She said the news of TEGNA's grant was a huge surprise, recalling the emotional moment when she found out. 

"It just made my day! Just sitting in my car and I cried a little bit," Mahn laughed. "Every single dollar that we get is just a little bit less of a stress on us." 

For the moment, the café's board has decided to save the money and assess where it can be best spent. 

"We might use that grant to help pay our employees; it might be that we use it to help pay our gas bill; it might be that we use it for food; it might be that we use it for a particular project to help folks in need," Mahn said. "I don't know, but it's really exciting to be able to let that be there and let us dream a little bit about how we can best use it to serve our community." 

Now, NEST is busy putting up paint swatches, planning renovations, and fixing up its new home. Eventually, Mahn has big plans to redo the building's bar, bring in seating, and even potentially adding a window or two. 

The old burger joint has a large room off the kitchen that NEST wants to put serving tables in. Eventually, customers will be able to select their food cafeteria-style ("Even though I hate that term," said Mahn) and then self-serve drinks from another small counter. 

In the next room over, yellow sticky notes reading 'table' dot the wall at spaced-out intervals. One large alcove near the door is reserved for a large community table that Mahn envisions as a gathering space. 

"We're really excited and it's really nerve-racking," Mahn laughed. "When I come in here, I can picture people like sitting at tables in here and what it'll look like." 

Although the building may not be ready, NEST's business model has certainly been put to the test in the Quad Cities. 

Patrons are given a suggested donation amount for the provided food, but are welcome to pay more or less. If an individual can't afford the meal that day, they are able to eat for free and encouraged to volunteer some time working at the café in exchange. 

To Mahn, paying what one can supports not only community strength, but combats food insecurity in the Quad Cities. It's why she pushed to find a restaurant location in Rock Island. 

"Rock Island is, in many ways, the most diverse place in the Quad Cities. It's the most economically diverse, we have a lot of need and a lot of gifts and a lot of people from lots of different backgrounds," she said. "If you look around, there's not a whole lot of options for people to get fresh food, especially if they don't have the means to pay for it." 

But at the end of the day, NEST isn't a soup kitchen, and Mahn doesn't want you to think it is. 

Instead, she refers to her business as a 'real restaurant' with nutritious food, just a different payment system. 

"It's really weird to me that fresh, organic food tends to cost more," Mahn said. "We want people to get fresh, nutrient-dense food, whether they can pay a lot for it or not. We want good things going into people's bodies." 

Going forward, NEST has plenty of renovation projects it will be recruiting volunteers for. Future opportunities will be posted on NEST's website and Facebook page. If you're interested in volunteering, Mahn says both of those outlets are the best way to get in contact with her. 

So many amazing things to be thankful for as we close out 2021. We are so grateful to have a location where we'll open...

Posted by NEST Café Quad Cities on Thursday, December 30, 2021