Shared from the 4/30/2016 Valley News Dispatch eEdition

Much-‘kneaded’ boost

Couple to open ‘pay-what-you-can’ restaurant


Mary Bode explains the renovations needed to convert the building into a cafe by fall.


Mary and Kevin Bode plan to turn the newer portion of the former Sons of Italy building along Barnes Street in New Kensington into the Knead Community Cafe.

Open house

The Knead Community Cafe will be one of several businesses and organizations that will host an open house during the downtown New Kensington Better Block festival today from noon to 8 p.m.

Visitors can tour the space, watch several brief videos about the “pay-what-you-can” restaurant concept, sample refreshments and ask questions about the cafe.

The project also has a Face-book page at kneadcommunitycafe.


Kevin and Mary Bode talk about a dining patio they hope to incorporate with their Knead Community Cafe. JASON BRIDGE |TRIBUNE-REVIEW

Serving food will be only one aspect of the Knead Community Cafe planned for downtown New Kensington.

“It’s about food, but it’s not just food,” said Mary Bode, who along with her husband, Kevin, is spearheading the nonprofit restaurant project.

The Bodes became interested in opening a cafe in New Kensington nearly two years ago. Initially, they considered a coffee shop that would offer jobs and job training for local youths, but they thought that idea would not provide enough opportunities.

After attending a national conference of the One World Everybody Eats movement, the Bodes landed on the “pay-what-you-can” restaurant concept.

Diners who can afford the meal pay a suggested price and have the option of donating a bit more to help pay for the meals of the less fortunate, according to Mary Bode.

Those who can’t pay can volunteer at the restaurant to cover the cost of their meal.

The Bodes are quick to differentiate their project from a traditional soup kitchen that typically serves only the needy.

A ‘melting pot’ envisioned

Instead, they envision their customer base as a melting pot of members of the community, where professionals and families can break bread alongside students and people struggling to afford food.

“We want this to be a community space,” Kevin Bode said.

They believe the cafe’s premise of relying on volunteer labor gives needy folks a dignified option to acquire food.

“It’s a hand up, not a handout,” Mary Bode said. They anticipate having only two paid employees — a chef and a manager.

They’d like to work with local farms to get seasonal produce and reduce waste by using food determined to be too “ugly” to sell because of blemishes or disfigurement.

“We’ll serve wholesome, fresh, local foods whenever possible,” she said. “It’s how our grandmothers used to cook. We love ugly foods.”

The Bodes liken the menu to that of amini Panera Bread with soups, salads and sandwiches that will change daily.

Mary Bode wants the dining room to feature a large farm table that will allow members of the community to mingle.

Kevin Bode said they’d like to include comfortable lounge space, similar to a coffee shop, with wireless Internet access that would appeal to students of the nearby Westmoreland County Community College and Penn State New Kensington’s planned Alle-Kiski Economic Generator initiative on Fourth Avenue.

The Bodes believe the “pay-what-you-can” concept is catching on, with more than 50 restaurants in the United States, including two founded by rocker Jon Bon Jovi in New Jersey.

The couple is aware of one or two similar restaurants in eastern Pennsylvania, but believe their community cafe will be the first in the Pittsburgh region.

Sons of Italy buildings

After more than a year of searching for appropriate property in New Kensington, the Bodes settled on the former Sons of Italy lodge buildings along Fifth Avenue and Barnes Street. Their limited liability company, named Broken Together Properties, bought the two adjacent parcels for $64,000 this month, according to Westmoreland County deeds records.

The Bodes plan to use the smaller of the two buildings for the cafe, adding windows and doors to the side that borders an empty lot owned by the city.

Ultimately they’d like to buy the lot and add outdoor seating.

Mary Bode said they’d like to restore the “ghost sign” advertisement for Pillsbury flour on the side of the building — a sign she sees as a good omen, given the correlation to the Knead name.

“It was a sign from God,” she said.

The restaurant’s entrance would be along Barnes Street, across from city-owned parking lots that would be available for customers.

As for the main building, the Bodes plan to maintain the ballroom and continue renting it out as an event space. A conference room behind the cafe also would be available to community organizations.

Kevin Bode said he’s working with a local contractor and architect to renovate the space and make some needed repairs to the buildings. He said a rough estimate for the improvements is $150,000 to $200,000.

They plan to ask for volunteers to help with renovations and host fundraisers, such as dinners with noteworthy guest chefs. Once their nonprofit status is approved, they plan to seek funding from foundations and corporations.

They hope to open the cafe in the fall.

New Ken revitalization

The Bodes, who are moving back to New Kensington after living in Allegheny Township, are excited to be part of what they see as the rebirth of the city’s downtown.

Kevin Bode, a financial planner who previously served on the board at the YMCA in New Kensington, said he participated in several church-related missions in foreign countries, but was moved to try to help people in his own neighborhood.

Mary Bode said she appreciates the connection with the grass-roots Better Block initiative that relies on a network of loosely connected individuals to spur revitalization: “It’s not one big thing that’s going to come in and save us.

“It’s time for a new New Kensington,” she said.

Liz Hayes is aTribune-Review staff writer. She can be reached at or 724-226-4680

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