By Taylor Harrington 2/9/2021 10:37am ET

Emily Tavolino

In Athens, you see people around you that have less than you, and even if they don’t have a lot, people just give and give and give because they know what it’s like to be without… That’s just how we do it here. That’s how the entire community is. It’s amazing.Emily Johnson, Owner, Tavolino

Emily Johnson is the owner of Tavolino, an Italian restaurant in Athens, Ohio. In Italian ‘tavolino” means little table, but the heart and support that Emily pours into the Athens community is anything but small.

Nestled in the foothills of Appalachia, Tavolino sits on the west side of Athens, which is home to Ohio University. From hand-rolled pasta to the most exquisite Tiramisu, there truly is love in every bite at Tavolino.

Appalachia has long been known for its poverty, and Athens County is no different with a staggering $37,000 median household income compared to the national median average of almost $70,000. What Athens lacks in finances, Emily makes up for in heart.

As a lifelong resident of Athens County, Emily has always been invested in her community because, like many of us living here, she knows what it is like to be on the receiving end of help. Even before Covid dramatically changed life for this small business owner, Emily started a “Soup-on-Hold” program, which feeds many members of the community regardless of if they can necessarily pay for the meal or not. The doors at Tavolino are also open to everyone on Thanksgiving Day, as Emily hosts a community meal for neighbors and those who might not have anywhere else to go for the holidays. Emily said this year was especially hard for her because due to Covid, Thanksgiving was carry-out only, which meant the potential of someone having nowhere to go to eat the meal she just passed out. “We need to get Joe Burrow connected with you and build The Joe burrow & Emily Johnson Community Center that’s just for people in Athens that need a warm space to go to.”

With quarantine essentially shutting down Tavolino’s inside-dining for the greater part of the last year, Emily knew that this didn’t mean her business would go under, but that it was now her business to go full-force into the community with the people in our area losing their jobs and more desperate than ever. Emily has opened up her heart and doors once again, and on Tuesdays, anyone can stop by Tavolino at 9 N. Shafer Street in Athens for a FREE lunch.

Emily Johnson

Tavolino is still a relatively new business, and like everyone, you’re struggling through this COVID thing, but you didn’t turn it into, “Woe is me“, you turned it into, “Woah, let’s help the community“. You started doing free lunch giveaways every Tuesday. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

If you look at cost of things, when you’re making everything from scratch, it costs a lot less than when you’re buying a pre-packaged product to utilize in the business. Coming from a large family, too, it’s not much more money to add extra servings to a meal if you’re making the same thing, you know? This bill is not gonna make or break me, as far as making it or not, if I make it, I make it, and I was doing okay. My business model is really different than a lot of places and I still haven’t paid myself yet, but it’s okay, I’m hanging in there, and I’m hanging in there probably better than a lot of places, regretfully. I think about that sometimes about how some of the businesses must be suffering because they do have an entire huge staff and a completely different business model, larger overhead, all of that. So, you know, because I was doing okay, and there are so many people, individuals, who are not doing okay, and we were already doing the Soup on Hold program. If you need something, you come here and you tell me, I will make sure you have it because it’s important, we all need to take care of each other. I’ve been on the receiving end of that sometimes throughout my life, so I love that I have the ability to do it. It’s honestly my favorite day of the week. It’s very fulfilling in the sense that I get to see a lot of people and I get to see my regulars and make sure that they’re doing okay, from week to week. I get to see new people that might not have come here before and I get to see that with my own two eyes each week that people are doing alright. I mean, maybe not great, because this is all hard, you know, but I get to be the giver of all these gifts from other people. I’ve had donations from around the country. As of today, just from doing an interview on the news, I have received $10,000 in donations from around the country.

To date, Emily has been donated over $10,000, from both neighbors and strangers alike, who have heard Emily’s mission and seen her drive to make ALL of Athens County one step closer to being fed.