Cafe nourishes body and soul

Published: Thursday, Dec. 25 2003 12:00 a.m. MST

Denise Cerreta, second from right, chats with a customer at her One World Cafe, which lets customers decide portion size and how much to pay for their food.

Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News

The Christmas "feel-good" season happens once a year in most business establishments, but if you ask the customers at One World Cafe, they'll tell you it always feels like the spirit of giving in their favorite haunt.

Literally. In fact, that's what runs the place. There's no price board and no cash register. Just a simple brown basket near the water jug where diners deposit their cash, no questions asked.

Yet Denise Cerreta didn't set out to turn a business model on its head when she opened the tiny cafe downtown, on the ground floor of a building that's seen better days.

She was catering to students at the Utah College of Massage Therapy and residents of the area around 300 East between South Temple and 100 South, serving up sandwiches, burritos and nachos, along with the coffee she had originally envisioned would be popular in her location.

Seven years of previous work in the same building as an acupuncturist with her own clinic had paid the bills, but she wasn't satisfied with it anymore.

"I felt like I had reached my spiritual ceiling in that vocation," she said, "and I had to move on for my own growth."

She needed a change, and the cafe offered her the chance to interact with people in a whole new way. But even with a bustling crowd of diners most days, there was still something missing in her soul as she re-fashioned her lifestyle and career.

So, the Ohio native she set out to find it, though she wasn't sure exactly what she was embarking on when she first decided to toss out her menu.

"I did it at first out of pure selfishness," she says, remembering the boredom that had set in. "I'm not a robot, and I decided I wasn't going to cook the same thing every day."

The change seemed satisfying at first, as she switched to organic foods and cooked up whatever soups and salads and quiches fit with the ingredients she could procure on any given day. But when 95 percent of her business evaporated along with the menu, and she was working three shifts a day, seven days a week, she began to wonder.

After a couple of months, and a lot of mental anguish, she had an encounter with the divine. She calls it inspiration from a higher power, her own "Field of Dreams" experience, where she "just knew" if she followed it, customers would come.

She can't say if she actually heard a voice, or if it was simply by inspiration. But a past experience with an inner voice she failed to heed, warning her of danger, resulted in a severe injury. After that, she had promised herself if she ever heard the voice again, she would follow it.

Yet what she heard startled even the free spirit inside her.

It told her to get rid of her price board and cash register and let customers decide how much to pay for their food.

"I knew I needed to go to donations," she says, smiling, still seeming somewhat astonished herself as she explains the prompting. "I think we all have that ability" to hear a prompting from a higher source. "But I don't think we listen to it."

Yet listen she did.

Even so, it was no small leap of faith to follow through on the impression.

"I closed my clinic a split second before God just kicked me off the ledge. It was scary," she said. "People say you're so brave and just an inspiration, but it wasn't my idea."

Still, it was her choice. Customers pay by conscience. A simple brown basket near the water jug serves as the cash collection point.

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