Paola family opening pay-as-you-can restaurant, using renovated building with roots from 1903

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PAOLA, Kan. — In one part of the metro, they’re breathing new life into a century-old Miami County building.

When people in Paola ask “what’s for dinner?” they’ll soon be met with an answer anyone can afford.

For now, the old building on W. Wea Street looks like a pile of dust and boards for now. Paola`s Jen and Tommy Wright said they imagine it as a community resource.

Last February, they received the donated 4,000-square-foot building in downtown Paola. They plan to open What`s For Dinner, a pay-what-you-can restaurant that will offer quality meals to people who can`t afford to eat elsewhere.

The Wrights started working on the old building in March. Their hands were full since the century-old building had gaping holes in the roof and floor.

Jen and Tommy said they’ve used around $20,000 in donated supplies and gear. It took that much, since the building was nearly condemned at one point.

“The weather and the elements were raining in on this place for about eight years,” Tommy Wright said Monday.

The Wrights said their community, like so many others, has a food insecurity issue.

“Its for everybody. You want to share a meal with people. The community comes together, and everyone deserves to have a meal,” Jen Wright said.

The building that What’s For Dinner’s staff is renovating has roots that date back to 1903. Tommy Wright said, at one point, it was a liquor store.

It’s only been a few months, but the Wrights are already sharing this space with the community.

Their associate, Larry Lee, was living in his car when the Wrights met him. Since then, Lee has volunteered his carpentry skills. In exchange, Lee will live upstairs above the restaurant space at no cost rather than living on the streets.

“It`s hard times for everybody,” Lee said. “The first time we came and looked at this, he said, `The building can be saved.` It looked terrible. But it was all there, and we`re bringing it back to life again.”

“When you come through these doors we want people to have a feeling of grace and love. This is God`s building. We want to be able to provide a meal with dignity to people who can afford meal and who can`t afford a meal,” Tommy Wright told FOX4.

The Wrights expect What`s For Dinner to open early next year. Once it does, they hope no one in Miami County goes hungry again.

The Wrights also believe What’s For Dinner will be the only pay-as-you-can style restaurant in the state of Kansas.

They’ve organized this crowdfunding effort to further their community-minded restaurant in Paola.

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