‘Tis The Season – Let’s Pay It Forward

During this time of celebration, joy, love, and giving, it’s appropriate that a friend of mine took me to a unique restaurant in Hamilton.  Called the 541 Eatery & Exchange, it’s a hidden gem in the city’s core (Barton Village).

Initially, I thought it was just a coffee shop/gathering place as it was bustling with activity and the delicious smells of home cooking all around.  Yet, this place was a bit different.  When we went up to order our meals, there were two large jars in front of the cash register.  Both contained a variety of buttons.

Image from http://bit.ly/2ARR8EH

What makes this place so special is that not only can you get a great meal at a reasonable price, but you can also donate by paying it forward.  Prices for meals and fresh-baked goods range anywhere from $2.00 – $6.00.  While ordering your food you can, if you want, purchase buttons at $1.00 each and move them from the Pay It Forward jar to the Button Bank jar.

When someone comes in who doesn’t have the funds to pay for a hot breakfast, they can take up to five buttons from the Button Bank jar to pay for their meal.  Normally, a latte is $3.00 there, but say you only have $1.00 – you can take two buttons from the Bank jar and enjoy.

Image from http://bit.ly/2C7LheF

This program is all about giving to receive in a way that maintains the dignity of those who may not be able to afford such things.  Everyone orders from the same menu; eats and enjoys the same food.  As Executive Director Sue Carr says, “It’s a charity…but it is not a soup kitchen” (Hayes, 2017, April 3).

The restaurant staff are largely volunteers; even though their goal is to make a profit.  Profits that are then reinvested to offer more to those in need.

According to Hayes, the eatery is,

More than a restaurant, it is a unique social enterprise, fuelled by, and wholly dependent on, the generosity of the community.

Sitting at the harvest table, it was very clear that this place promotes the feeling of community and allows people to be social.  Whether people want a cheap, healthy meal, a coffee, muffin, or just to sit in charming surroundings and chat, it’s a great way to help change the area one button at a time.

As with all good things, there are those who argue it’s not the job of the community to help the disadvantaged.  Rather, the government should be solely responsible for this task.  What are your thoughts?  Do we need more places like this?


Buttons as currency?  Do you think buttons are a good way to help the disenfranchised in a community?  Or should it be up to the government to support those who can’t support themselves?



Buttons r currency in this unique restaurant. Pay it forward has new meaning. #eatery #buttons #payitforward #community



Hayes, M. (2017, April 3).  Eatery’s Currency Concept Brings Hope to Hamilton’s Barton Street East.  Retrieved from https://tgam.ca/2z50cXy

4 thoughts on “‘Tis The Season – Let’s Pay It Forward

  1. Hi There:

    Actually I can sympathize in what the restaurant is doing, in today’s elderly demographics, they are living on less than satisfactory income. There is a lodge just up the street from my work place, where there are (I don’t want to say this) a form of a Soup Kitchen. Seniors or people that have little to no money are going to and if they can pay let’s say $5.00 for a meal and then next person only has a $1.00, the person with a buck, will be treated with the same respect as the person that paid $5.00 without any questions. Its quit genuine to see volunteers go out to purchase their supplies and ask for so little but to only make enough to cover their rental fee of the lodge and their supplies.

    I like the idea of the button’s, or as you said “Pay it Forward”. It allows people to keep their dignity without being judged or frowned upon for insufficient funds.

    • I’m glad to hear there are other organizations doing something similar. We must look after the disadvantaged in our communities as that’s what defines our humanity.
      Thanks for your reply Terri.

  2. I love this restaurant and wish there were more of them. It’s amazing to witness the atmosphere in 541 Eatery and see everyone treated with the same respect, no matter where they come from. We go often and always make sure we pay it forward. There’s also a grocery store in the States that follows a similar format, in that it sells food close to its sell-by date or has been donated by local supermarkets. The grocery store looks like an upscale supermarket but offers low cost, healthy food to customers. Again, allowing people to shop with dignity, despite their economic constraints.

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