Lincoln restaurant ‘pays it forward’

Penelope's Lil' Café servers take money from a pot to randomly pay for diner's breakfasts and...
Penelope's Lil' Café servers take money from a pot to randomly pay for diner's breakfasts and lunches(John Grinvalds)
Published: Dec. 8, 2022 at 6:37 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - It’s not just the burgers or the coffee that keep people coming to Penelope’s Lil’ Cafe near 48th and Pioneers. It’s also the sense of community.

“It’s a thousand-person family,” Paul McMullin, a server at Penelope’s, said.

And like in a family, the meals--sometimes--come with little to no charge.

“We’ll take that cash, put it toward their bill,” McMullin said. “We’ll let them know. And then let them know that if they want to help keep that going, play along, we have the basket up front for donations.”

The holiday pay-it-forward at Penelope’s started in 2020--when donation dollars during the pandemic provided the money to start a pot.

“We decided to keep it going that year, and we were just amazed at the turnout of people being so generous,” Brenda Failor, the owner of Penelope’s, said. “So we decided for the next year, let’s start it up again. So we all put the money in here at Penelope’s”

The staff put together $80 of their own money on Monday of this week. And thanks to customers, the fund has already grown to $350.

Servers choose people at random, but they aim to hit dozens of customers every day between Monday and Thursday.

“It gives other people the same idea,” Mark Sapp, a diner at Penelope’s, said. “You know, they realize it’s someone they don’t know who’s paid it. And hopefully, they’ll do it to somebody else.”

To the staff, paying it forward is a way to show gratitude: through the long, dark pandemic, it’s the community that kept the lights on.

“It’s just a way to give back,” McMullin said. “I mean these people take care of us year long. They’re the reason we’re still here.”