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$20 Dinner

$20 Dinner: Everytable Seeks to ‘Transform the Food System’ With Microwaves and Sliding-Scale Prices

Serving nutritious, delicious, affordable fare isn't easy.

12:03 PM EDT on October 26, 2022

Chickpeas, sauce, and salmon sit in a tray at the Everytable in Flatbush.

Homegirl salmon adobo, $8.15 in Flatbush (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Walk into an Everytable restaurant—the new one in Flatbush, say, or the only slightly less new one on Avenue B—and you encounter a lot of inarguably correct buzz-phrases, most of which are some sort of riff on the LA-based chain's mission statement. 

Which, as Richard Jones, the general manager of Everytable Flatbush put it to Hell Gate, goes something like this: "We want to transform the food system and make nutritious meals affordable and accessible to everyone in our community."

Right on, obviously! Food equality for all!

East Village Everytable on Avenue B (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Obstacles abound to actually pulling this off. There's the challenge of keeping the quality of ingredients high, the prices low, and the storefronts not depressing. Then there's resistance from people who don't like feeling scolded for eating at McDonald's or whatever. And, of course, the food has to taste good and not like eating it is some sort of altruistic chore.    

Carnitas bowl, $6.25 in the East Village (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

All of that is hard to do! There's been a mini-boom of vegan fast food spots around town over the past few years, all with a similar goal to make healthy food more approachable. These include Lekka Burger by Amanda "Dirt Candy" Cohen in tony Tribeca, the activist-minded Grillled! in less-tony Bushwick, and the crazy popular, definitely not cheap Slutty Vegan in Fort Greene. But none of these hit all the marks that Everytable is going for.  

Chicken shawarma with yogurt sauce, $7.15 in the East Village (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Everytable was founded by Sam Polk, a former hedge-fund dude with a well-publicized asshole moment a dozen years ago when he very publicly quit Wall Street in a rage after getting "only" $3.6 million for his bonus. Polk later wrote a long essay in the Times about the incident, and his subsequent recovery from what he calls a "wealth addiction," and today he expends most of his considerable confidence and energy these days on building Everytable into a successful chain that, as it happens, also has the potential to be a force for good.   

There are now six locations in New York City, in Brooklyn and Manhattan, as well as nearly 50 in Southern California. All of the NYC spots are stocked with pre-packaged, fully-cooked dishes from one central commissary kitchen, in the old Pfizer factory in Bed-Stuy. This creates both economies of scale on the production end of things and allows for more affordably-sized and staffed spaces at the retail level. 

The menu at the Flatbush Everytable (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)
Quayshawn Peete, general manager, helps a customer at the East Village Everytable (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

There's no kitchen on site. You'll find just a wall of refrigerated cases for food and drinks, and an ordering counter where a couple of microwaves stand at the ready for dine-in guests. Granted, the vibe is more corporate break room than cozy cafe, but there are plenty of tables, a few plants, some art, and lots of light.       

Prices at each Everytable are set on a sliding scale, based on the median income of the neighborhood. The same carnitas bowl, for example, will cost you $8.95 in Chelsea, but only $6.25 in Flatbush. Portions are substantial, though you'll probably want like 1.5 dishes for a truly satisfying dinner (think of it like an appetizer or salad and an entree).

Most important, almost everything I ate (six dishes in all at two different Everytables), was good. It kind of reminded me of the stuff we used to get excited about at the then-vaunted Time-Life cafeteria back in the late 1980s. The food is institutional, but not half-assed. The flavors are fresh and true, there's textural variety, lots of sauce, and it stands up well to a quick microwave nuke-ing. 

The fish in the "homegirl salmon adobo" bowl was remarkably not overcooked. The pork in the carnitas bowl had plenty of juice. The chicken in both the shawarma and the elote Caesar salad was well seasoned and also not dry. The tomato sauce on the cheese ravioli was bright and alive. The beans, the corn kernels, the greens—all still perky. The only miss, and a pretty big one, was the wan and soggy breakfast burrito. 

Elote Caesar salad, $7.15 in the East Village (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The menu is lengthy however, so follow your cravings (the $5 bacon cheeseburger macaroni looked like decent stoner food). There's coffee, bags of chips, fresh cut fruit, cans of kombucha, and premixed smoothies. Also—vegan brownies from Greyston bakery in Yonkers, an outfit that "creates meaningful job opportunities for those who have experienced barriers to employment," including the formerly incarcerated. You can also treat a stranger to a meal through the Pay-It-Forward option at checkout.

Four cheese ravioli, $5 in Flatbush (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)
Breakfast burrito, $5 in Flatbush (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Both of the general managers I spoke with came from outside the hospitality industry. Richard Jones in Flatbush worked at a laundromat before joining Everytable five months ago. Quayshawn Peete was at Foot Locker prior to running the East Village shop. And both men will soon enough be eligible for Everytable's unique "university program," whereby employees, after only eleven months with the company, are given their own franchises to run with no money down. They have to repay the start-up money, but only after the store starts making a profit.

Seating at the Flatbush Everytable (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Everytable has locations in Flatbush, Chelsea, the Financial District, Harlem, and the East Village. A Downtown Brooklyn branch is opening soon, and more stores are in the works for 2023. Hours, addresses, and menus can all be found here. 

Flatbush Everytable (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)
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