Making a Difference: Cafe cookin’ up free meals in Barneveld needs help in the kitchen

Chef Cliff Hooks is about to undergo surgery to replace both his knees and is looking for volunteers to keep the kitchen running
A café in Barneveld doesn’t want your money.
Published: Oct. 17, 2021 at 8:49 PM CDT
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BARNEVELD, Wis. (WMTV) - A café in Barneveld doesn’t want your money.

In fact, everything on the menu is free. That business model has been a huge help to the community, especially during the pandemic when money got tight for a lot of people.

The chef at Barneveld Community Café still doesn’t want your money, but he does need your help.

Cliff Hooks is scheduled for a double knee replacement in the near future. Doctors will be replacing one knee on October 19th. His second surgery is scheduled not long after that. That means he’ll be recovering and off his feet for roughly four or more months.

“That is going to put me out of commission for a while,” said Hooks.

With Hooks on the mend, he’s hoping volunteer chefs and cooks will step up to keep the café going strong.

“Financially, you won’t get money doing it but you’ll get (something) better than money,” he said. “The feeling you get from lending a hand,”

“The salary is zero! Same as me and Cliff and everyone else. You get absolutely zero salary, but the rewards are fantastic,” said Yvonne Hooks, who runs the restaurant along with her husband.

Back in March of 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic hit, Cliff and Yvonne decided they had to do something to help the community. The Hooks turned their for-profit restaurant into the “pay what you can afford” model.

“When all the mandates and stuff came into play, when the world turned upside down, well someone had to do something, and we did,” said Cliff.

The café is a place where everyone and anyone is welcome. Any judgment is left at the door.

Cliff and Yvonne Hooks run the Barneveld Community Cafe
Cliff and Yvonne Hooks run the Barneveld Community Cafe(Tim Elliott)

“I like it, it’s friendly, it’s fast, you can pay whatever you can afford,” said Martina Duerst, one of the café's many customers. “I’ve never seen anything like it,”

“It’s more like a social club than anything else,” said Cliff.

“There is such stigma involved in needing help and people are proud,” said Yvonne. “But they still need to eat,”

To keep the café running, the Hooks rely on monetary and food donations from the community. They’re hoping now people will donate their time in the kitchen to keep people fed.

“I don’t want to lose this, I really don’t,” said Yvonne.

If you are interested in helping out the Hooks in the kitchen over the next several months, give the café a call at 608-924-0125 .

“Basically, whatever that person is willing to do or wants to do, we are willing to work with that,” added Cliff. “The show is going to go on with or without me,”

If you’re wondering why Cliff is in need of both of his knees replaced, he says being an athlete in his younger days and nearly 50 years working as a chef has taken a toll on his body.

“Being on my feet 12 to 14 hours a day being a chef, the life of a chef is not glamorous. Sometimes I like to make a big joke about it and sometimes it hits me like a ton of bricks,” Cliff said of the pain.

The Hooks are confident the café will continue on as is because Barneveld knows how to give back.

“This is what a small-town community does,” said Cliff.

“Love doesn’t say,” added Yvonne. “It does.”

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