Although Schenk's unorthodox, off-the-cuff style sometimes stirs controversy, friends and advocates say he is an uncommonly generous man who's willing to risk his reputation to stand by his convictions.
Schenk's career perfectly illustrates the "triple bottom line" business philosophy of social entrepreneurs who place equal emphasis on people, planet, and profits, says Enid Wonnacott, executive director of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. "It really came from a very loving, big-hearted place," she says of his early work establishing American Flatbread. "He didn't think it was going to make him rich."
American Flatbread restaurants have a family-friendly atmosphere featuring a wood-fired oven and gingham-checked tablecloths – and a mission that promotes tolerance, social justice, and environmental sustainability. Each week Schenk writes a dedication for his menus that explores issues of the day, and he often ponders the teachings of ancient philosophers.
The flatbread is occasionally served with political overtones. In December 2002, for example, it was baked with salt harvested from the Dead Sea – half in Israel, half in Jordan. And in December 2009 it was topped with Afghan saffron as a gesture of support for Afghan poppy farmers trying to find alternatives to the opium trade.