|FRANCISCAN SISTER Maureen Dorr and Chef
Alfred Astl with patrons at the Trinity Café
As a young man Alfred Astl started cooking at his parents’ mountain inn in Austria. He went on to become a chef, working at restaurants in Europe and the United States, including the Four Seasons Hotel in New York, the Hotel Jerome in Aspen, the Hershey Country Club in Pennsylvania, and the late George Steinbrenner's Yankee Trader at Bay Harbor Inn. He also co-owned a restaurant with his wife and worked as a corporate chef.
The long hours of the restaurant world, however, began to burn him out, and ten years ago he saw an opening for a weekday lunch-chef position in Tampa, Florida and applied.
His new employer was Trinity Café, which serves 230 free hot lunches out of a Salvation Army facility every weekday, holidays included. “Anyone who comes to our door is welcome—without question or qualification,” the Café’s website says. “We serve free meals to homeless, poor, and anyone wishing to receive a meal.”
Besides a five-star chef in the kitchen, the restaurant has other amenities you might not expect in a place that offers free meals, like the cloth-covered tables set with china dishes and silverware Astl insists on. Volunteer waiters serve the patrons in courses, and every meal includes salad or soup, a healthy portion of protein, a starch, a vegetable, a dessert, and a piece of fruit, all for about $2 a serving. The café's $455,000 annual budget depends on donations and grants.
Astl and two part-time kitchen staff members cook 1,000 meals a week. Since it began, Trinity Café has served more than 717,000 meals.
”It could be very easy to say, OK, we’re feeding homeless people. Who cares?” Astl told Alexandra Zayas of the St. Petersburg Times. “If I ever say that, I’ll quit. . . . Some of these people have problems out there they can’t do anything about. By the time they leave, they’re in a whole different frame of mind.”
At the about the same Chef Astl started at the Café, Franciscan Sister of Allegany Maureen Dorr stopped in to volunteer. She has never left.
For 40 years Sister Maureen worked in education as a teacher and administrator. At the Café she walks the food line and dining room, giving out hugs, advice, and prayers. She can be persuaded to take a turn dancing in the middle of the room. Once a week she visits the jail.
“Saint Francis [of Assisi] taught us about living out the gospel and serving the poor," she told The Tampa Tribune’s Michelle Bearden. "But truth is, I don't minister to them. I minister with them. I firmly believe there are such good people who have had bad opportunities. They show me the way to God as much as I try to show them."
Now 81, Dorr has no plans to stop. "Nuns don't retire," she said. "We just get recycled. As long as God gives you the health, you keep on moving."
Read more about the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany.