“You go back, Jack, do it again, wheels turnin' 'round and 'round

Daniel, a regular Onehunga diner, spoke with Everybody Eats Onehunga Kitchen Volunteer and Writer, Angela Robinson

“Thanks for agreeing to an interview Daniel…I see you’re a Steely Dan fan”. “How did you know that?!” he asked. “I noticed your fingers tapping in time to my feet…I’m a big fan” I reply. Daniel smiles shyly and I pull up a chair. Our chat is punctuated with reminders to not let his carrot soup go cold as I sense his urgency in expressing how much Everybody Eats means to him. “I come from an institutional background…I’m used to isolation” he said, before explaining that things can get a bit chaotic where he lives and he sometimes chooses to sleep in his car. “Coming here gives me time out”.

Daniel walked past Everybody Eats several times before plucking up the courage to come inside. “I felt I was out of place here…afraid of being judged” he explains. Then one night a turning point arrived in the shape of Restaurant Manager, Amanda Butland. “She came out and introduced herself and made me feel at home”. It comforted him enough to take a tentative step inside and face the daunting prospect of making small talk with strangers. “The first two visits I sat in a small group, and was nervous at first, but it’s my 10th time now” he said proudly. I sense the magnitude of each visit has made them easy to count. “I can talk to others now” he says with his characteristically shy smile. Which fades into a deeply serious expression as he explains how grateful he is to have found this place and the “big step forward” it’s given him psychologically. “I’ve never met more welcoming hosts…it’s brought me out of my shyness” he said as he described the “positive energy” in the restaurant. “They’re volunteers, and they’re here because they want to be, not because anyone’s paying them to come” I offer.


Daniel’s eager to give both the dining experience and the food his vote of confidence. “Before I came here, I didn’t like vegetables, now I love them!” he said. “I never thought cauli could taste so good!”. I’m reminded of my hours spent in the kitchen alongside talented Head Chef, Jamie Johnston, who never fails to deliver a delicious three course “pay what you feel” menu from a “Masterchef mystery box” of rescued food. “I pay what I can” Daniel volunteers. “We don’t expect payment here” I reply, but my words feel hollow in the presence of his graciousness.

“Coming here has made me touch base with myself” said Daniel. I’m moved by the sensitivity and striving beneath his words, when the needle on Steely Dan drops again in my internal jukebox; “You go back, Jack, do it again…” I’m struck by Daniel’s courage, his determination and enduring sense of hope that the harsher sides of life have failed to rob him of. The significance of the words, “Steely Dan” make me smile quietly at the synchronicities of life. As the main course arrives, I thank Daniel for his openness and in that moment feel the totality of the many moments of love and respect that drive the Everybody Eats experience …and how our plates of food may nourish, but the connection they come with has the power to mend hearts.

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