BALDWIN HILLS — Television talk show host Tavis Smiley, alongside other community dignitaries, will celebrate the grand opening of Everytable at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza on March 4.
Everytable is a new kind of food outlet that falls somewhere between a restaurant and a grocery store.
All items come pre-packaged, but microwave ovens are available for people who want to eat their food on site.
Menu items include hot bowls like the gluten-free Jamaican jerk chicken, which consists of smoked chicken, rice, beans, kale, carrot, yucca, plantain, and spicy Jerk barbecue sauce; red chili tamales with chicken and roasted vegetables; cold bowls, including their kale chicken caesar salad and their vegetarian spicy Mexi-Cali bowl; and kids’ meals items like the spaghetti squash and meatballs dish.
In 2013, Sam Polk — cofounder and CEO of Everytable — started a nonprofit called Groceryships to address some of the food-related issues he noticed in areas like South Los Angeles.
According to Polk, the lack of easy access to wholesome food, among other factors, is why there is such a high number of people with diseases like diabetes and obesity in the area, and why people’s life expectancy is 10 years lower than those from wealthier communities.
It was from that project that sprung Everytable, which opened its first location last summer in South L.A. on West 23rd Street.
Smiley joined the board of directors for the company after being approached by Polk, a friend of his.
“Poverty has so many tentacles,” Smiley said. “Impoverished people have so many issues that they have to navigate. [Everytable] is just one solution.”
Polk emphasized that healthy food is a human right, not a luxury for only a few: a statement that underlines the philosophy behind the restaurant.
Everytable changes the prices of its menu items according to the neighborhoods income using ZIP Code-level per capita income data. In South L.A., “where the average income is $13,000 a year,” according to Polk, a dish is priced around $4. In more affluent areas like Santa Monica and downtown L.A. — which will soon see an Everytable of its own — the same bowl would cost twice as much.
The business model is an experimental attempt at eradicating “food desert” communities like South L.A, Polk said. Food deserts are mostly impoverished communities with little or no access to fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthy foods due to lack of grocery stores and other health food providers.
An author, advocate, publisher, philanthropist and host of a talk show on PBS and Public Radio International, Smiley’s passion for food justice issues runs deep.
Though raised in a large, poor family in Indiana, Smiley and his nine siblings didn’t grow up hungry. His mother, he said, was a wonderful cook and prepared meals for 13 people every day.
“My father had to build a table big enough to fit 13 people. And every night, growing up, we had dinner on that table.”
But many people in underserved communities don’t have that experience, and that realization hit Polk especially hard after the economic crash in 2008.
During the recession, PoIk — a former hedge fund trader — understood how deeply connected everyone is and “became aware of food inequality in South L.A., where people don’t have the same access to fresh, healthy foods like in the Pacific Palisades.”
“Part of what people struggle with is trying to find resources to feed their families something that’s delicious and affordable,” Smiley said. “I feel honored to be part of [Everytable]. The world has so many problems, especially in poor communities. Everytable is just one solution to the problem of: how people can afford to have a healthy meal every day?”
Its mission, Smiley said, is to do good and to do well.
The grand opening event will be held in the Plaza’s Center Court at 3650 W Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Greetings and remarks begin at noon. Free meals will be provided on a first come, first serve basis.