The Patachou Foundation, The Good Fight to Feed Everyone Good Food
“So, we went from [feeding] my family to my customers to truly children who are at risk in this community.” —Martha Hoover
It all began with Café Patachou. Ask nearly anyone in the Indianapolis area what it is and they know it. It falls off the lips of friends meeting up for brunch, co-workers taking a lunch break after a long meeting and families looking to spend quality time together with solid eats on the weekend.
The creator and driving force behind this local restaurant favorite is Martha Hoover, an Indianapolis native, wife, mother, attorney and entrepreneur. She owns several Indianapolis area restaurants under the company name Patachou Inc., including Cafés Patachou, Petite Chou and Napolese, focusing on breakfast, lunch, French-style bistro fare and stone-hearth pizza. The restaurants showcase whole foods; quality, locally sourced ingredients; sustainability and elegantly adorned dining spaces.
Hoover opened her first Patachou Café in 1989 to fulfill her then-extreme vision of giving people what they deserve: the same good food she was feeding her family. And that’s what she and her staff—whom she obviously holds in high regard—have been doing well for the last 25 years.
But a few years ago, Hoover started to wonder about what she could do to give back to those in her community who need it most, particularly children struggling with hunger and food insecurity. Historically, her company has given generously to charity, but she didn’t feel it was enough. She felt like she was getting credit for writing checks and her staff and customers were left wanting.
“We didn’t make any impact on the butts in our seats. Our customers knew that we supported the community, but it did not really translate to them.” and “it did not mean anything to my employees and that bothered me a lot.” Echoed Hoover.
From this idea, in 2013 the Patachou Foundation was born. Its mission is simple and important: “To feed nutritious after-school meals to at risk and food insecure children in our community.” Hoover sees the Foundation as a natural progression of her brand and a powerful way to give back to her community.
“We knew if we created our own foundation we would have remarkable control over how money was spent, the impact it would make and also how we could connect with our own staff. The one thing we did not count on was how impactful all of those things were going to be for our customers.”
So how does it work?
Several days a week, Patachou Foundation volunteers bus food, prepared at a production kitchen in south Broad Ripple, over to its community partner, the Legacy Center, located on Indianapolis’ near-eastside. From there, the Foundation works with Growing Places, which also donates food from its greenhouse and raised beds at the Legacy Center, to provide healthy after-school fare to children from five Indianapolis Public Schools. To date, the Patachou Foundation has served over 6,000 meals.
The Foundation is fueled by private donations, fundraisers and another restaurant Hoover can add to her impressive repertoire, Public Greens. Her newest gastronomic creation—subtitled “An Urban Kitchen on a Mission”—opened late 2014 and is an urban-style cafeteria featuring farm-to-table cuisine and an on-site micro-farm. The best thing about it: All profits and farmed food go back to the Foundation.
While the Foundation is in the early stages, the reaction from the children is proof it’s making headway.
“It was fun because we got to learn how to make different recipes. Learning to cook as a kid helps you when you are an adult. If you are able to cook, you can help out people that are disabled and not able to cook.” Sana’a 10 and Keiara 10
“We have found that the children are insanely open to everything that we feed them, talk to them about, show them, have them participate with us in … they are truly sponges,” Hoover said.
Hoover’s goal is to “awaken and increase kids’ knowledge about what they eat so they can make healthy choices on their own.” But Hoover doesn’t want to be just another person donating food blindly to her community, what she calls being a “food thrower.” With this in mind, the Patachou Foundation not only feeds hungry and food insecure children, it educates them.
Last summer, the Foundation worked with Brookside Park on the near-eastside, through the Indy Parks summer camp program, where 98% of the children they fed lived at or below the poverty level. The children planted and harvested crops, made homemade salad dressings, breads and butter, played games involving food, read books, participated in physical exercises and were taught manners. According to Hoover, the children were just thrilled to eat what they had made, particularly real butter as some of them had never tasted it, and they beamed at the end of their time when they were treated to a formal, white linen dinner.
As to the Patachou Foundation’s operations, it’s 100% volunteer-operated, save three part-time workers, and Hoover serves as the executive director. And the board member list is deep and impressive. When asked how she found such an accomplished group Hoover said, “When you’re selling something you’re really passionate about it’s not really hard to sell it.”
“As mothers, we were fortunate to be able to provide our children with quality food. However, the Patachou Foundation has opened our eyes to the significant number of children who go to bed hungry. We both believe strongly in Martha’s mission and vision and the work of the Patachou Foundation. There is nothing more rewarding for us than helping to feed children in need. This is our way of giving back.—Sherri Reider and Diane Smith, Community Volunteer Coordinators
As to the future of the Patachou Foundation, Hoover emphasized she will follow the same approach she used with her first Café Patachou—to grow slowly and strategically. The Foundation has plans to expand the number of children fed in Marion County during the 2015–16 school year and to obtain more community partners.
Public Greens, 900 E. 64th St., Indianapolis, on the Monon Trail in Broad Ripple; 317.964.0865. Hours vary based on season.