What happens when you bring together people form all walks of life; serve them real, home-cooked, locally grown, hearty food get rid of the TVs and put down the smartphones; and encourage people to make genuine conversation?
That is the question Rhonda Pearcy asked herself in 2016 when she founded Fork Real Café. Originally a catering business, Pearcy moved to a nonprofit restaurant model in September 2017 in the basement of the Fairmont Creamery Building. In November last year, Fork Real moved to a newer, permanent location in the heart of downtown Rapid City on the main level of a building, making the restaurant more accessible to patrons.
Fork Real is conveniently located at 324 Joseph St., which Pearcy said reels in customers from all walks of life. They also continue to cater, which Pearcy calls “the cheapest and most brilliant marketing we can do.”
“We are across from the Courthouse, so we have lawyers who come in, we have police who come in,” she said. “We also have homeless who come in and eat, and then we have all the in-betweens, just families struggling from day to day as well as families coming in wanting to enjoy a really good meal. We’re about real people from all walks of life, and real food.”
Fork Real is a non-profit with a “pay-what-you-can” policy, meaning that customers can pay for the value of the meal, volunteer for a meal or pay it forward by paying a little extra or paying for someone else’s meal.
“Anyone and everyone who comes to the doors has the same opportunity to receive a nutritious meal,” said Pearcy.
The food at Fork Real is locally grown through a partnership with Lemmon Avenue Community Garden in which people can rent out plots for the summer and donate any extra produce to the eatery.
“I think that the biggest thing is that you’re welcome. if you have messed up one day, you aren’t that ‘mess-up,’ and we welcome you back again.”
Western Dakota Tech is also working on a grant to get an aquaponic system set up for Fork Real so they can grow produce year-round.
The menu at Fork Real changes weekly, but on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, they serve choice plates where customers can choose between two proteins, three vegetables, sweets like fresh fruits, starches and carbs. On Tuesdays, volunteers serve a Mexican bar, and on Thursday it’s an Italian bar. Fork Real is also well-known for their cheesecakes.“We are famous for our indulgent side, which is cheesecakes,” she said. “We make Maple Bacon Cheesecake, Honey Lavender… we like to experiment. You name it, and we’ll put it in a cheesecake.”
[FORK] REAL DESSERTS
» BLUEBERRY LEMONADE CHEESECAKE
» HONEY LAVENDER CHEESECAKE
» CHEESECAKE BITES
» LEMON BASIL CHEESECAKE
» CHOCOLATE-COVERED APPLE WEDGES
» PARFAIT CUPS
» CHOCOLATE HEATH SWIRL CHEESECAKE
» RASPBERRY CHOCOLATE CUPS
» CHOCOLATE CHIPOTLE CHEESECAKE
Pearcy said the restaurant has become a welcoming environment for all people.
“We really want to get to know people,” she said. “It’s a safe place and when you’re homeless, there aren’t a lot of safe places to be where you’re treated equal.”
Partnerships with community groups like Fountain Springs Church, Feeding South Dakota, and Love INC have helped put together volunteer efforts, food supplies and even cooking classes at the café. Volunteers from the Rapid City Community Work Center also help with the restaurant’s workload.
“They’re a valuable asset to us because we have two paid staff, and everyone else is a volunteer. We have anywhere from seven to 17 volunteers a day,” she said.
Love INC and Feeding South Dakota partner to put on the cooking classes at Fork Real, where people and families can prepare meals and take their new culinary knowledge home to practice.
They also offer cooking classes catered to individuals with disabilities by partnering with Black Hills Works.
“We really want families to see the importance of sitting down and eating together and having conversations,” she said. “Then we would actually prepare meals, so the same meal that we ate, we would prepare together with families.”
Making time for face-to-face conversations is an important part of Fork Real’s philosophy.
“When you’re having conversations, sometimes those are good, sometimes those are hard conversations,” Pearcy said. “We believe everyone should be able to have face-to-face conversations. It’s kind of what we are.”
For more information, visit forkrealcafe.org.