Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Shortly after 11 p.m., they come walking down the alley.
Rain or shine, warm weather or freezing cold, people appear every night at closing time near the back entrance to Rudy's Pizzeria, 704 Mass. Employees bring out a stack of uneaten pizzas and set them on the brick wall that surrounds the alley trash bin.
Then, the free feast begins.
"There's no way you could starve in Lawrence," 20-year-old Summer Kellogg said as she chewed on a leftover slice of meat pizza on a recent Tuesday night.
Setting out leftover food is a tradition for some Lawrence businesses and a taboo for others.
For certain chain restaurants, the company's rules dictate what can and can't be set out. At Jimmy John's, 922 Mass., for example, employees are instructed to throw away leftover bread and other food because of health and liability concerns.
"We're corporate, so we do what we're told," manager Chris Bradley said.
Some people who come to Rudy's for the leftovers are homeless and out of work, but many, including Kellogg, are not. Just as commonly, they're trying to save a few dollars to help pay rent or trying to eat a meal that doesn't support the capitalist system.
'The illusion aspect'
They have tales of finding perfectly good bananas in back of grocery stores and sacks of day-old doughnuts in the trash behind convenience stores.
"There's a lot of food out there that no one gets," said Nandini MacMillan, 20.
Kansas Department of Health and Environment spokeswoman Sharon Watson said businesses are allowed to give food away as long as it meets basic food-safety codes.
J. Phoenix, 26, an artist and musician who wears a spiked collar around his neck, said he wished more businesses would make a point to put out their food if it's going to go to waste anyway.
He said he believes some businesses are afraid of who might show up in the alley.
"It's kind of the illusion aspect," Phoenix said. "Because someone looks like they could be dangerous doesn't mean that they are. Because someone looks like they're needy doesn't mean they're going to steal from you."
Some of the people who get leftover food at Rudy's also volunteer with a group that gives food away every Saturday night at Ninth and Massachusetts streets. The event, known as "Food not Banks," reflects an anti-capitalist philosophy: that something essential to life should be free to all.
Rudy's manager Josh Reese said the business has been setting out its leftover pizzas since 1994. He's only had one problem: A year or so ago, some people hurled rocks at delivery drivers' cars after they were turned away earlier in the night.
"It's a good way for us to help out," he said. "We just happen to have a little bit of a following."
A few blocks to the south, employees of Milton's, 920 Mass., occasionally set out leftover cinnamon rolls, scones and bagels in the back alley.
"We'd rather not throw things away that people could consume," night manager Kelly Unruh said.
Kalila Dalton, who was eating pizza in the alley on a recent night, said there are more restaurants that give food away, but she didn't want to name all of them. They might have rules against it, she said, and she didn't want to get kind-hearted employees in trouble.
Bob Schumm, owner of Buffalo Bob's Smokehouse and Mass. St. Deli, said the question of what to do with leftovers isn't an issue for him. In a well-run restaurant there simply isn't much left to give away.
"If a restaurant was in a position where they had to make those type of giveaways on a regular basis, I suspect they would be out of business pretty quickly," he said. "There's just not enough profit margin in this business to do that."
Lawrence Journal-World reporters Chad Lawhorn and Sophia Maines contributed to this story.