Holiday charity: operators rally for the needy

Holiday charity: operators rally for the needy – restaurant operators

Paul Frumkin

Setting aside their own pressing business concerns, restaurateurs across the country are opening their hearts and kitchens to help make the holiday season a happier time for the truly needy.

While an increasing number of operators are becoming involved on a yearly basis with such public-spirited organizations as Share Our Strength — the national restaurant organization for hunger relief — or local Meals-On-Wheels fund-raising drives, still more are dipping into their own resources to feed the indigent and homeless at this time of the year.

“I’ve seen more sharing this year than I can ever remember,” said Kirk Johnston, administrative affairs vice president for Charlotte, N.C.-based Barclay Enterprises, which operates Slug’s at the Pines in Chapel Hill, N.C., a contributor to RSVVP–short for Restaurateurs Share V (Five) and V (Five) Percent — a regional charity co-op.

And most say they do it for no other reason than to give something back to their own communities.

“There are homeless people in the area and people who can’t afford to create these types of meals for their families,” declared Alison Dance, co-owner of the Asimakopoulos Cafe in San Francisco, “and we love to provide it.”

The season’s spirit of giving is taking many forms across the nation.

Rita’s Texas Cafes in Houston and a host of celebrity waiters kicked off the holiday season with a Thanksgiving meal for the Mission of Yahweh. Rita’s management staff donated its time to prepare the meal for the guests of the mission, which include “throwaway” children and homeless, abused women.

“Part of the satisfaction from working in this industry is being able to give back to the community,” said Sunny Partovi, owner of the five Houston-area Rita’s.

For the third year in a row, the Orleans restaurant in West Los Angeles will be hosting scores of homeless families for a white-tablecloth Christmas dinner replete with carolers, giftwrapped presents and turkey with all the trimmings.

“It’s just a wonderful way to spend Christmas,” said Orleans general manager Mary Atkinson, whose volunteer wait staff will provide a full-service experience to 300 guests referred by the Family Assistance Program of Hollywood.

Last month Peter Morton’s 10 Hard Rock Cafes served Thanksgiving dinner to more than 4,000 homeless and needy people.

“The enthusiasm and dedication of our employees and the gratefulness on the faces of our guests make it all worthwhile,” Morton said.

Chef-owner Sofi Konstantinidis of Sofi restaurant in Los Angeles will open Sofi’s doors Dec. 20 to runaway and homeless juveniles from the Los Angeles Youth Network.

In San Francisco, MacArthur Park employees will be on hand Dec. 20 to host Santa; hand out cookies, milk and cider; and collect the admission price: a wrapped toy for an underprivileged child.

For five years the Central City Hospitality House has called on a number of area restaurants and suppliers to help it provide a special preholiday meal to the homeless and low-income inhabitants of San Francisco’s Tenderloin.

The volunteer meal effort, which is called Next Serving, occurs on the Monday before Thanksgiving to point out that hunger, — and ending it — shouldn’t be synonymous with holidays.

This year Next Serving fed 2,500 people. Restaurant contributors to Next Serving 1990 included ARA Service’s Carnelian Room, Scoma’s, The Waterfront, MacArthur Park, Cioa and Bon Appetit Management Co.

The bakery department of the Novi Hilton in Novi, Mich., a suburb of Detroit, is helping needy southeastern Michigan families of GI’s who were forced to leave their jobs when they were called to duty in the Middle East.

The Hilton is selling a 12-ounce chocolate chip “G.I. Cookie” for $10 and donating the proceeds to the Selfridge Air National Guard Community Services Center. It will use the money to provide clothing and gift packages to families of GI breadwinners who are experiencing significant drops in their incomes.

And, for the 12th year in a row, Elias Brothers Big Boy Restaurants is conducting its Can Do food drive — a program that collects canned goods from the public and donates them to the needy.

When the Troy, Mich.-based company kicked off the drive in 1978, three tons of food were collected. This year Elias expects to collect more than 250 tons within the state of Michigan alone.

In Chicago the Ann Sather Restaurant will donate Christmas dinners to the Neon Street Center for Homeless Youths, an agency that operates in the restaurant’s neighborhood.

In Dallas, Actuelle co-owners Victor Gielisse and Clive O’Donohue celebrated their fourth year in business by preparing an early December meal for 250 children at the Buckner Children’s Home for victims of abuse, poverty, divorce, desertion or alcoholic parents.

Houston restaurateur Ghulam Bombaywala, working in conjunction with the Angels of Mercy program at Second Baptist Church, fed more than 5,000 homeless and needy people with food from four of his local concepts.

In the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill markets in North Carolina, operators are donating 10 percent of their gross sales on given weeknights to charities operating under RSVVP.

But like their peers in other parts of the country, Alabama restaurateurs aren’t just charity-minded around Christmas.

Yet this holiday season wraps up a year of charity totaling $96,000 from operators across the state in support of homeless children through the Alabama Sheriff’s Ranch.

Atlanta’s Table, a gigantic operator-supported project that sends leftover product from more than 100 restaurants to the needy of Atlanta, is always beefed up during the holidays.

To help raise money for the homeless in the Boston area, Pizzeria Uno has offered its support to a local television station’s “Home for the Holidays Telathon. Anyone who calls in and donates $10 or more receives a $2 gift certificate to local Pizzeria Uno restaurants.

Tila’s Restaurant & Bar in Washington, D.C. — which donates fresh food every week to a central homeless shelter kitchen — is working with the Rev. Logan Jackson and his Exodus Youth Services to host a special Christmas dinner at a local shelter for homeless children.

But Clive Du Val, III, owner of Tila’s and a national board member of Share Our Strength, stressed that restaurateurs still need to give even more.

“It’s great that so many people in our industry are doing so much for the holidays,” DuVal observed. “But it seems that after Jan. 1, the poor people fall back through the cracks again.”

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