Robin Hood is the brainchild of 80-year-old priest Ángel García Rodríguez. The restaurant differs from a soup kitchen in that the food is high-end, the chefs are sometimes famous, and the cutlery and glasses are real. In other words, Robin Hood offers homeless people a dignified restaurant experience.
Father Ángel takes his inspiration from Pope Francis, who is named after Francis of Assisi. Francis of Assisi is most well-known for his love of animals, but he also had a great love for the poor. Francis was the son of a wealthy silk merchant, but after a revelation, he gave up his worldly goods. He spent his life caring for lepers, seeking spiritual enlightenment, and preaching the Gospel.
Pope Francis took that name because of his firm belief in loving the poor. Father Ángel describes the genesis of Robin Hood like this. “The inspiration came from Pope Francis, who’s spoken again and again about the importance of giving people dignity, whether it’s through bread or through work,” Father Ángel told the Guardian.
“So we thought, why not open a restaurant with tablecloths and proper cutlery and waiters? People with nothing can come and eat here in the restaurant and get the same treatment as everyone else. It’s just common sense.”
What seems like a natural gesture to Father Ángel is making the homeless of Madrid feel loved and important. With Spain in economic crisis, unemployment and homelessness are high. The country needs Robin Hood now more than ever.
It’s not just the homeless that are responding favorably to the restaurant. Paying lunch customers have reserved spots through April of 2017. Chefs and other staff are eager to work for the enterprise. The restaurant’s mission has such appeal that newspapers around the world write about it.
Perhaps the best part of Robin Hood is the food. On one winter night, NPR reports that dinner was a mushroom consommé with roast turkey and potatoes. The food gets high marks from paying and free-of-charge customers alike.
“The food here is great and very elegant,” one homeless patron said. “I’d give it loads of stars and I’ll be back tomorrow.”
Robin Hood is part of trend, where restaurants are extending their reach past wealthy diners. A Los Angeles restaurant called Everytable adjusts its prices based on what patrons can afford.
In Brazil, master chef Massimo Bottura turns leftovers into gourmet dishes for homeless diners. Bottura also runs a Michelin three-star restaurant in Italy, but it’s his gourmet soup kitchen, RefettoRio Gastromotiva, that takes up most of his attention.
Bottura, like Father Angel, focuses on dignity. “One of the most important things of this project is we give dignity, rebuild dignity,” Bottura told NPR. “It’s not just about good food.”
The idea that treating homeless people with dignity is a worthwhile endeavor is spreading. Whether it’s in Madrid’s Robin Hood, Los Angeles’ Everytable, or Rio de Janeiro’s RefettoRio Gastromotiva, the idea is simple. Treat a person with respect and dignity, and they will believe that they deserve such things. Once they believe that, they may be able to get their lives back on track.
We don’t know if this new approach to dining will sweep the world. We do know that it’s made a huge difference to those people who have been served and treated like royalty by world-class chefs. If we all stopped and remembered that everyone deserves dignity and respect, the world would quickly become a better place.