Placement Highlight: 541 Eatery and Exchange

“‘And can you remind me of your name again, my friend?’ is the line that warmly welcomes guests with open arms into 541 Eatery & Exchange. This lively, joy-filled community has taught me how you can find the beauty and the sorrows of life and how they can co-exist together in chaotic harmony if you’re willing to stop and listen. I’ve learned I am not as good of a listener as I believed I was. Through observing my coworkers Rob and Carmen, I notice how they always take the time out of their workday to sit and have a coffee with guests. Their selflessness and ability to listen attentively have shown me that to truly listen to someone is to stop everything and humbly come to the table, willing to learn from the person across from you. I see beautiful, and servant-hearted hospitality in my time at 541, as we seek to be one as a community. “Sounds good, we will get that right out for you”. This is the ending line that joins you to our big, loving, yet chaotic community here at 541.”

These are words from Zoe, who might take your order if you walk into 541 Eatery & Exchange on a Tuesday or Thursday this term. She is one of three students from our gap year program volunteering with 541 this semester. 

Act Five is deeply grateful for our ongoing partnership with 541 Eatery & Exchange, a local non-profit and pay-it-forward cafe. 541 brings people together around food to create a diverse community of belonging. Our students have had the gift of volunteering at 541 for several years serving coffee, cooking breakfast, chatting with customers, and now making art!

You have to try a delicious and affordable meal from 541, cooked by another one of our students, Evan. Here’s what he has to say about his experience so far: 

“541 has been an interesting experience for me. It is nothing like I expected. I work mostly in the dish pit, so I don’t have a lot of interaction with the customers – mainly with other staff. I appreciate how calm the kitchen seems to be compared to the rest of the store. There is a lot of beauty in the back as people are forced to work together and communicate, especially when it’s busy. I have learned to appreciate the dish pit. Though I would rather be working on the line; it’s still an important job to help things flow better. The staff are kind and I enjoy working here!”

541 doesn’t only use food to foster connection and belonging. They also use their space and resources to host community groups and youth programming. Once a week, our student Eden runs an afternoon art-making drop-in at 541. She wrote the following to describe her experience there so far:

“Noise, a glorious cacophony of dishes and chatter, was the first thing I noticed when I stepped into 541 Eatery & Exchange. I smiled; this noise meant life, and I wanted to really live today. As I looked half-heartedly up at the menu, lost in my thoughts, I heard a sudden burst of laughter from somewhere beside me, catching me off guard. Before I could look around, I felt a rush of wind and warmth envelop me. Startled, I looked down to find Amber, her blue eyes sparked with excitement, looking up at me with her arms wrapped tightly around my waist. With a joyful squeal, she buried her head into my chest, wrapping her arms tightly around me. It was as if I were an old friend she hadn’t seen in years. We had only met officially a week ago; I guess she had taken a liking to me. Still somewhat stunned at the unexpected display of affection, I stood awkwardly before a huge smile spread across my face, reciprocating her touch with a heartfelt embrace. Today was going to be a good day.”

Check out to learn more about the mission of 541 Eatery & Exchange. And don’t forget to stop by next time you want a local latte or tasty breakfast sandwich!

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