NEST Cafe: ‘This is a place for everybody’

Laura Mahn sees the problem with food, hunger and waste in this country in these terms:

“It’s ridiculous how much food is wasted. … There are so many people who are hungry and so much food that goes wasted. There is a disconnect,” she said.

Ms. Mahn is trying to solve that disconnect, feed people and end food waste  – one meal at a time. 

She is the founder and executive director of the NEST Cafe Quad Cities, which set up a permanent meal site location about three months ago at 1524 Fourth Ave., Rock Island. NEST – short for Nourish Everyone Sustainably Together – is a pay-what-you-can nonprofit restaurant that uses locally sourced food. It also has the goal of wasting nothing. Food that is not consumed is composted or turned into animal feed.

Nest Cafe
The NEST Cafe Quad Cities is located at 1524 Fourth Ave., Rock Island. CREDIT DAVE THOMPSON

Those efforts earned NEST a special honor this week. The nonprofit organization has become the newest member of the Food Rescue Partnership. At a brief ceremony Tuesday, July 19, at the cafe, a partnership certificate was presented to Ms. Mahn and other members and volunteers at the NEST Cafe.

There are 22 members of the food partnership in the region. The partner companies or groups “have taken a stand against food waste in our community by donating their excess food to local non-profit hunger relief agencies to feed hungry people and/or farmers for animal feed or compost,” according to its website at

“This highlights what we are trying to do, and that’s not waste food,” Ms. Mahn told the QCBJ after the ceremony.

The Food Rescue Partnership is a local coalition that promotes rescuing edible food that might be thrown in the trash. The organization has diverted more than 53,700 pounds of food from landfills by connecting professional food establishments and one-time event coordinators to donate access edible food to local non-profit hunger-relief agencies or compost operations, according to information provided by Christina McDonough, the partnership’s board chair.

“Our approach is to educate people not to waste food. … NEST is a perfect example of this,” Ms. McDonough said at the ceremony.

The Food Rescue Partnership gave these statistics on U.S. food waste:

  • 40% of all food produced in the United States is wasted.
  • 8.9% of Scott County and 10.9% of Rock Island County residents are food insecure.
  • The EPA estimates that food waste accounts for 22% of the municipal solid waste in U.S. landfills.

“Donating excess food is a double win — it feeds those who are hungry and helps reduce the amount of food waste being sent to the landfill,” Ms. McDonough said in a recent news release.

During the brief ceremony, Ms. Mahn said she is proud the cafe has helped in the efforts to cut down on food waste. But she added that more needs to be done. In fact, she called for a more coordinated effort  between restaurants in order to create a compost system for unused food.

For the NEST Cafe, keeping good food out of the landfill is just part of its mission. Another big part of its work is to feed hungry people in the Quad Cities. 

Here is how NEST’s pay-what-you-can model works: People select between two sizes of food plates – a full plate and half plate. The suggested price is $10 for the full and $7 for the half. But, that is only a suggested price.

“Pockets full? Donate a little extra. Pockets light? Donate what you can and enjoy. Pockets empty? Donate your time. We can always use an extra hand,” a large sign posted in the restaurant reads.

NEST Cafe also prides itself on providing good, healthy food for its customers, and a menu that is always changing things up. For instance, the “Taco Tuesday” menu featured zucchini-cucumber salsa and three tacos. Dessert was zucchini brownie blondies. Some recent past menu items have included pesto chicken sandwiches; BLT turkey; smoked pulled pork; and mint, cucumber and mushroom salad.

Ms. Mahn said that about 40-45 people from all walks of life use the NEST Cafe per day. But there is always room for more. “This is a place for everybody. I think some people think this is a place for other people, but it’s for all people.”

NEST Cafe is open: Sundays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Mondays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5-8 p.m.; and Tuesdays through Thursdays, 11 a m. to 2 p.m. It is closed Fridays and Saturdays. For more information, visit

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