Running a successful restaurant is a challenge in itself, but can that same restaurant also help feed hungry children in 22 schools across Madison County? The answer is yes if that restaurant is Berea’s Noodle Nirvana.
A year ago, Noodle Nirvana embarked on a mission to partner with local non-profits, donating a portion of the restaurant’s proceeds to charitable causes. Noodle Nirvana’s first beneficiary was the New Opportunity School for Women (NOSW).
On June 28, the build-your-own-noodle bowl restaurant marked its one-year anniversary by celebrating its partnership with NOSW, and by beginning a new partnership with God’s Outreach Madison County Food Bank Backpack Program, which provides needy school children with backpacks full of food. Every month the organization distributes approximately 2,200 backpacks every Friday during the school year, ensuring unprivileged children will not go hungry over the weekend.
Mandy Agee, director of the program, notes the effort stems from a Monday morning about eight years ago when a child fainted at Glenn Marshall Elementary School. Teachers subsequently discovered the child hadn’t had anything to eat since the previous Friday at school. Thus began the food bank’s effort to provide needy children with the backpacks. But children aren’t the only ones who benefit, according to Agee. “A lot of times, it doesn’t just feed the kids, it feeds the family,” Agee said.
Sponsoring a child costs $10 per month, or $120 a year, according to Agee. With so many kids in need, those costs can add up quickly, which is why a financial partnership with Noodle Nirvana is timely. “We’re under-sponsored right now and this will definitely put us to the good,” Agee said.
As Noodle Nirvana’s first non-profit partner, NOSW drew $30,000 in financial support from the restaurant. On the first Tuesday of every month since last summer, Noodle Nirvana designated 25% of first Tuesday profits as well as 100% of all tips for the year to NOSW. Because it costs roughly $5,000 to sponsor a new NOSW student, Noodle Nirvana provided the means to empower six women to embark on a new journey of personal and professional development.
NOSW Executive Director Linda Sliwa said her organization not only benefited from financial support during the one-year partnership, but customers who dined at the restaurant developed a heightened awareness and interest in her organization’s mission. Additionally, Sliwa says Noodle Nirvana provides NOSW graduates with an example of how they can commit to helping their communities. “It’s amazing and its powerful,” Sliwa said. “This model is spectacular, and I think other places need to do this.”
Noodle Nirvana is a fast casual restaurant that serves fresh, made-from-scratch Asian noodle bowls, and, as the proprietors say, bowls are served with a side of world peace. In its first year of operation on Chestnut Street, the store has sold approximately 40,000 noodle bowls.
Though a non-profit restaurant dedicated to serving the public good is something that is new to Berea, Noodle Nirvana co-owner Mae Suramek said the community has responded with generosity. But Suramek said there’s not only satisfaction in being able to help people in need; she also hopes the restaurant can be an example of how independent, family-owned businesses can bring unique flavors to Berea’s growing restaurant industry. “I feel like Berea deserves to have independent restaurants where local owners are inspired to offer food that is unique,” Suramek said.
In the meantime, God’s Outreach Madison County Food Bank Director Anthony Lowery said that with roughly 17,000 people in Madison County at or below the poverty line, and with so many hungry children, the financial partnership with Noodle Nirvana will definitely fill a critical need.
“We can tell it’s making a difference in peoples’ lives,” Anthony said.