In Alabama, there is a restaurant with no prices shown on the menu. This is because there is no price for food at Drexell and Honeybee’s in Brewton.
Instead, customers can leave any amount they want—or can afford—in a donation box. The customer consists primarily of senior citizens who would otherwise struggle to pay for their meal or find healthful, calorie-dense alternatives.
According to a 2018 Hunger Free America report, Alabama has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the country, with 822,109 Alabamians, including 122,400 senior adults, going to bed without knowing where their next meal would come from.
While working in the cafeteria at Coastal Alabama Community College, Lisa Thomas-Macmillan, the owner of Drexell and Honeybee, spotted it. She told The Washington Post that the majority of the people that ate there were students, but she did see a few older people. And many of them couldn’t even pull together the required change.
“I have found out … a lot of elderly people are coming hungry, because a lot of them can’t pay for their medicine and buy food,” Lisa told the Post. “Food stamps are not adequate.”
So she and her retired husband, Freddie McMillan, established Drexel & Honeybee’s on Lee Street in 2016. (The name came to Lisa’s mind.) The restaurant is open for lunch Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., but Lisa and Freddie arrive at 5 a.m. to prepare a continuously changing menu of staples like mac and cheese, beef stew, chicken dumplings, and peach cobbler. “We Feed the Need” is their motto.
All donations are anonymous because the donation box is in a curtained off area. “If you can give, give; if you can’t, don’t—we don’t care,” Lisa told Alabama Living. “That’s between you and God. We don’t worry about that.”
When you dropped a coin in the box, others could hear it, but “a little cloth at the bottom of the box solved that,” she added.
The eatery only makes about $110 per day on average. According to Freddie, the most popular donation is $5. Checks as small as $50 occasionally appear in the donation box; once, a diner left a $1,000 donation.
Volunteers staff the restaurant; some are civic-minded residents, while others work in exchange for meals. The eatery is festooned with thank-you letters complimenting Drexell & Honeybee’s.
Lisa confesses that keeping the organization afloat can be difficult at times, as she chronicled her personal experiences with hunger and poverty, as well as her call to service, in her 2017 novel Living Fulfilled. The business is mostly supported by the couple’s Social Security and Freddie’s military retirement payments.
“The hours are long; the cost is high, but it’s a calling for us,” Lisa told Alabama Living.“The notes people leave in our box tell us how much a need there is. I got one the other day that said, ‘Because of you, a family of four was able to eat today.’ That’s worth a million dollars to me.”
In a review on Google, one diner said he didn’t believe the food was free “until I came and checked it out for myself.”
“If it were a regular restaurant they’d probably command most of what’s in our wallets,” he added. “God bless the people running this place. I can imagine it is a blessing to so many people who’ve needed the warmth in both food and fellowship.”