Lexington restaurant accepts a unique type of payment

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LEXINGTON, Va. (WDBJ7) They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. A Lexington restaurant is out to prove that saying wrong.

The Blue Phoenix Café is an unusual place to begin with. It replaced the local natural food co-op when that went out of business, and aspects of the store remain.

You can get fair trade coffee with your vegetarian meal, and organic, gluten-free Dijon mustard is available on the shelves.

But perhaps the most unusual thing is on the counter: a jar of colored marbles.

“Each one represents a free meal available to members of the community,” says Damon Hopkins. Because, restaurant owners Damon and his wife explain, food insecurity is a lot more widespread these days than we might think, and they want to help.

“Obviously, there’s not much more important than food," says Hopkins. "And we think that no one should have to go without.”

But there’s a problem with their plan to allow people to quietly accept help by inconspicuously paying for lunch with a marble.

According to Hopkins: “We’ve had a lot more givers than takers so far.”

That’s right, people paying food forward outnumber those using the marble option. They’ve had so many supporters that they had to buy another bag of marbles. At this point, they have several dozen meals available to people that need one.

And they provide good, healthy meals, rather than what those who need help can usually afford.

“We want there to be an option besides the Dollar Menu at McDonald’s for people like that," Hopkins explains.

So while they’re grateful for the help – even tourists passing through town have pitched in – they’re also hoping people who need a free lunch won’t be too embarrassed to come by and get a little healthy help.