After just a year and a half, the aspirationally named charitable restaurant couldn't survive in South Lake Union.
Just a year and a half after opening in the heart of Amazon, the charitable Community Table has shut down permanently.
Seattle nonprofit FareStart opened the restaurant, along with two more, inside space donated and outfitted by Amazon in South Lake Union in the summer of 2017. FareStart CEO Angela Stowell says that despite the aspirational name, Community Table failed to gather the volume of Amazon lunchgoers needed to keep it a viable part of the organization’s Foodservice Apprenticeship Program, which helps low-income locals gain experience in the industry.
While the casual, lunch-only, counter-service place serving salads, barbecue and bowls seemed like a good fit for the Amazon crowds, “It wasn’t as successful as we thought it would be,” Stowell says. The Community Table space — a massive one, making up 10,000 of the 25,000 square feet total donated for FareStart’s use — will return to use by Amazon. The kitchen equipment with which Amazon furnished the space will stay in place for the moment, according to the company, with plans to repurpose it for future FareStart programs.
The decision to close Community Table was FareStart’s, Stowell says. The nonprofit’s airy, elegant full-serve restaurant on the Amazon campus, Maslow’s, remains open, and Stowell says FareStart-operated cafe Rise in a nearby Amazon lobby is undergoing an expansion, with more grab-and-go sandwiches and salads on the way (including Community Table’s popular Mediterranean, Caesar and Hacienda salads). FareStart also provides catering for Amazon, with that revenue to the nonprofit increasing by $2 million last year, according to Stowell, and expected to further expand.
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While some companies provide free food for staff as a perk, Amazon has said that it refrains in an effort to promote employees’ dining out and engaging in the community. The attempt has met with mixed results; while food trucks, happy hours and delivery-and-deal apps like MealPal appear popular with Amazonians, multiple other Seattle restaurants looking to serve them in South Lake Union have also failed. An Amazon representative says the increase in FareStart’s catering for the company does not represent free food going to Amazon staff, as “Day-to-day eating in the neighborhood is not affected by FareStart catering” for events and conferences.
The 2017 opening of Community Table, Maslow’s and Rise on Amazon turf was part of a new — some would say belated — era of charitable giving for the company. FareStart, a James Beard Award-winning organization that has been providing restaurant-industry job training to those in Seattle who are homeless and disadvantaged for more than a quarter of a century, was grateful. FareStart’s Stowell says Amazon has been “a great partner,” citing not only the joint restaurant and catering undertakings, but also a $1 million matching donation from the company at the end of 2018 — the second million-dollar match from Amazon to FareStart. On Amazon’s part, a representative says the company will “continue pouring resources” into its efforts to serve FareStart’s mission.