Spain's 'Robin Hood Restaurant' Charges The Rich And Feeds The Poor : The Salt As the country reels from its financial crisis, a new restaurant, run by a Catholic priest, lets paying daytime customers foot the dinner bill for homeless people to dine with dignity — and style.
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Spain's 'Robin Hood Restaurant' Charges The Rich And Feeds The Poor

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Spain's 'Robin Hood Restaurant' Charges The Rich And Feeds The Poor

Spain's 'Robin Hood Restaurant' Charges The Rich And Feeds The Poor

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The most sought-after lunch reservation in Spain these days is not at an expensive Michelin-starred restaurant. It's at a small, brick building in Madrid run by a priest. It's called the Robin Hood Restaurant, and here's its philosophy. Charge the rich to feed the poor. Reporter Lauren Frayer went there.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Maria Vizuete polishes silver for tonight's dinner service. She worked as a waitress at the luxury Ritz Hotel before becoming the maitre d' of this slightly simpler restaurant for the homeless.

MARIA VIZUETE: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: She reads out tonight's menu, mushroom consomme, followed by roast turkey and potatoes. For dessert, there's vanilla pudding or yogurt. One of the homeless diners, Luis Gallardo, comes in wearing two coats. It's below freezing outside. But he says this meal reminds him of Christmas. He pulls out his cellphone...

LUIS GALLARDO: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: ...To show me photos of a holiday spread at his home two years ago laden with sweets and a bottle of French wine. "We were just like any other family," he says.

GALLARDO: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: Gallardo says he used to run an accounting firm with 60 employees. But it went bankrupt in Spain's economic crisis.

GALLARDO: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: He had to sell his house to pay his debts. His wife left him.

(Speaking Spanish).

GALLARDO: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: Gallardo lives on the street now, and so do all the other diners tonight at the Robin Hood Restaurant, which has a bit of a different business model. Paying customers at breakfast and lunch foot the bill for the restaurant to reopen each night as a soup kitchen for the homeless. The man behind all this is an 80-year-old Catholic priest, Angel Garcia Rodriguez, known as Padre Angel.

ANGEL GARCIA RODRIGUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "I want them to eat with the same dignity as any other customer," he says. "And the same quality, with glasses made of crystal, not plastic, in an atmosphere of friendship and conversation."

He smooths the tablecloths as he makes rounds of the restaurant, shaking hands with diners. He wants to bring in celebrity chefs to cook once a week. Padre Angel also says mass daily at the only church in Madrid that's open 24 hours a day, with free coffee and space for some of these patrons to sleep.

NIEVES CUENCA: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: (Speaking Spanish).

CUENCA: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: Back in the kitchen, the restaurant's dishwasher has just broken down. Nieves Cuenca, of the volunteers who helped run this place, is washing plates by hand.

CUENCA: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "Some of our diners are very educated, and some are a bit ashamed to be here," she says. "Volunteering here is the best thing I've ever done in my life."

CUENCA: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: Spain's economy may be out of recession, but unemployment is still near 20 percent. And the Robin Hood Restaurant feeds more than 100 needy people each night. But for every mouth to feed, turns out there are even more people who want to help. Lunch reservations for paying customers are booked solid through the end of March. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.

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