Santorini Grill: “Pay what you feel the food is worth” starting November 4th for one month.
On Grand Street in Williamsburg, Paula opens her heart and her kitchen during tough times, and wants to wrap us all in warm phyllo dough of generosity.
Not all Greeks are looking for a bailout, and some are even giving one.
Paula Douralas is offering dinner and lunch to her customers at Santorini Grill on a pay-as-you-feel basis. She promises you she’s not crazy “yet.” The deal starts November 4th for one month.
Santorini Grill is a cozy Mediterranean restaurant with a small garden located on Grand Street, just steps away from the corner of Bedford Avenue. It opened on November 4, 2008, the same night Obama was elected president. And on that date, for the last three years, and to mark its opening, Douralas has offered the public a full buffet of her Greek specialties at no charge. This year, she plans to do it one step further.
When asked what happens if people come in and pay nothing, she replies, “That’s fine. If they’re hungry, let them do that. I’ve always fed people—the homeless, drug addicts, children—it’s what I do.”
“You know how much food goes to waste; it drives me crazy,” she adds. “And we all do it.” That’s the main reason she decided to take such a huge gamble—seeing a homeless person who is hungry, or those who are increasingly opting out of going to restaurants because they’re under-employed. Recently, she brought a man on the corner some food, and saw his eyes light up. It gave her the satisfaction that she’s in this business for. “That was worth more to me than all the dollars in the world.”
“I’m not giving away diamonds,” she says, “I’m giving away food.”
There are some ground rules. Beverages and alcohol are not part of the deal. “After all, I’m not that crazy,” she says. At the end of their meal, customers will receive a bill only for alcohol and beverages of any kind, and the customer can judge what they think the meal was worth. Tips for the waitstaff are still de rigueur.
“There will be some people who pay nothing, some who pay what the usual cost is, and some who pay more than the price on the menu. They can pay what they think the experience and the food is worth,” says Douralas. “It will balance out.” She says if the event proves to be successful, she will extend the pay-as-you-feel deal. “If I can pay my bills, rent, telephone, and electricity, we’ll keep it going.”
Douralas came up with the idea herself. The philosophy is familiar to some of us from yoga studios, but for local restaurants, this is new—and may be as revolutionary as it is good public relations. After mentioning the idea to a friend, she learned that the pay-as-you-feel philosophy exists at several restaurants in Australia, with a slight difference; based on trust, people pay or donate into an anonymous box.
Hopefully she won’t need a bailout.