New York’s first restaurant accepting SNAP benefits is in Charlotte

Restaurant first in NYS cleared to let people pay with SNAP benefits

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CHARLOTTE, N.Y. — Karin Williams has owned Lakeside Haven in Charlotte for eight years. The cozy restaurant on Lake Avenue serves classic diner fare, seven days a week. While they have plenty of regulars to keep the place going, Lakeside Haven is about to expand into a completely new customer base: people on SNAP benefits.

Lakeside Haven is the first restaurant in New York State cleared to let eligible SNAP recipients buy hot meals using their benefits. To be eligible, SNAP recipients — and everyone in their household as defined on the application — must be over the age of 60, disabled, or homeless. 

“We looked at it as a great opportunity to not only bring in more business, but of course to continue to help seniors or disabled or those experiencing homelessness in the community with meals that might otherwise be difficult to either obtain or make for themselves,” Williams said.

She first got involved with state programming during the pandemic, when she helped out with the county’s Meals on Wheels initiative. 

“It was to seniors all over the City of Rochester who really couldn’t go shopping, get out for themselves — [who] couldn’t really cook for themselves,” she said.

Four months ago, the state approached her with the opportunity to help pilot the Restaurant Meals Program. So far, she’s had exactly one customer come on. 

“He sat down, had breakfast, and he was extremely grateful,” she said. “He said that because of his situation it’s been difficult for him to get a hot meal, prepare a hot meal, so we were glad to be able to help with that.”

The program is being rolled out slowly, and recipients are automatically enrolled if they’re eligible. They can then use their EBT or cash assistance at any restaurant authorized to accept the payment. They also get a 10% discount as part of the Restaurant Meals Program. 

Program representatives said they’re starting the rollout in the Rochester area because it has some of the highest concentrations of eligible SNAP recipients. In Charlotte, most of those folks check the “senior” box.

“One of the things we also learned [in Meals on Wheels] and what we thought was important for this program — it’s not only the ability to get or cook hot meals for themselves, its the loneliness that so many seniors in our community experience,” Williams said.

To help kick off the program, Williams said she will also start serving dinner on Monday nights. The first dinner will be on Feb. 5, with a senior social hour at 2 p.m.

While Lakeside Haven is the first restaurant, there are many more in line to be approved. The program will continue to roll out through Rochester and Monroe County, with a focus on incorporating restaurants in the highest-need zip codes. After that, they’ll be expanding the pilot to Brooklyn.

Restaurants interested in participating can see if they’re eligible and fill out an application here.