Quebec sisters offer hearty meals at pay-what-you-can café
Val-Morin's Val Café serves up homecooking for all budgets
The menu at Val Café is what you'd expect to find in a upscale restaurant — French Toast topped with almonds, fresh fruit and maple syrup, Brie fondue with maple syrup and pecans, panini with caramelized onions — but what makes the restaurant unique is there are no prices attached.
Lynda Duval and her sister Lucy Duval only just started to make enough money to break even, but they don't mind. They say if their guests go home with a full belly, then they're satisfied.
The Duval sisters opened their restaurant in the fall, and since then word has spread about their hearty, homecooked meals.
"It's quality food ... when you eat a soup here, it's a hearty meal," Lynda Duval said.
The cozy café is right off the main street in Val-Morin, in Quebec's Laurentians.
The idea is that everyone is welcome to enjoy a homecooked meal, no matter what they can afford to pay.
They have all sorts of customers. Staff at the theatre next door often order lunch, or sometimes tourists travelling through stop by for a coffee.
"It's for everyone," Duval said.
The payment system is simple — when you finish your meal you slip whatever you feel is fair into a discreet donation box on the counter.
The money counted at the end of the day, so the sisters don't know who paid what.
"There can be $100 in the box, then — Yes! We can go grocery shopping. Or 10 days can go by when we check the box and say — tomorrow we will make the money to go grocery shopping," Duval said.
"We never know what is going to be in the box, but it's fun for us to check in the evening and reveal the surprise."
The idea is to get rid of any sort of stigma, and create a space where anyone can come, eat a good meal, and maybe share a laugh.
For a time they had one customer who came in every day for a meal, but couldn't afford to pay because he was struggling to find work.
Lucy Duval said when he found a job and returned to pay them back, he asked if they were worried he'd never pay.
But they said they're not doing this to make a profit.
"We knew worst case scenario, he would eventually find work and in the meantime he would have eaten well. That's the worst that can happen."
Val Café is open Wednesday to Saturday, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.