Food People Giving Back

By on Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

While “giving back” has become cliché in modern business, it’s still important to single out those selfless souls who make it part of their day’s work. The restaurant and food industry in particular offers an extraordinary level of dedication to charitable causes.

(Photo © Shawna Lemay/flickr)

Whether they support cancer research or help alleviate homelessness or domestic violence, restaurateurs somehow make sure they find the time and the resources to give as they can.

We found many food establishments both small and large who are opening not only their hearts, but their pocketbooks and kitchens to help the less fortunate. This is just a fraction of the many benevolent chefs, restaurants and organizations giving back.

It’s a Cat’s Life

Darbster Foundation is the brainchild of Ellen Quinlan and her husband Alan Gould, who operate a vegan restaurant of the same name in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Pedro was found in an abandoned building. He had worms and needed veterinary care. Darbster Foundation did this and he was subsequently adopted.

The popular eatery donates 100 percent of its profits to area charities that spay and neuter feral cats, and help animals find homes and low-income families pay veterinary bills.

Quinlan says that since she and her husband have other businesses, they don’t need the money from Darbster. “So we really set up the restaurant so we would have a place to eat that was vegan.”

Any profits they make are funneled into the foundation, last year saving about 300 cats from being put down through adoption programs. “These guys can’t take care of themselves so we feel it’s our responsibility to give back as much as we can,” Quinlan shares.

Lemons to Lemonade

Sadly, eating well and getting better are only dreams for some children.

In 2004, an eight-year-old girl named Alex Scott passed away several years after receiving a diagnosis of neuroblastoma, but not before inspiring others.

Chef Suzanne Goin founded L.A. Loves Alex, a fundraising supporter of the national Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation.(Photo ©

Hoping to help other kids with cancer, she had asked her folks to let her have a lemonade stand in her West Hartford, Connecticut neighborhood and send the proceeds to local hospitals. Her parents obliged and the response was overwhelming: that debut culled $2,000. Then, when the family moved to Wynnewood, Pennsylvania so she could receive treatment at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the lemonade stands continued.

Today, the tradition Alex started is buttressed by Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, which her parents founded in her memory and to help raise funds for children with cancer.

Jimmy Kimmel at the third annual L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade event last September. (Photo © Alex J. Berliner/AB Images)

Nowadays, lemonade is drunk alongside exotic dishes whipped up by famous chefs who fly into LA for an annual fundraiser. These Alex’s Lemonade Stand events are widely publicized and supported by celebrities such as Jimmy Kimmel and Neil Patrick Harris, who have helped raise over $1 million to help parents afford cancer treatment for their children.

L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade was started by Suzanne Goin, an LA-based chef at Lucques and Tavern, along with business partner Caroline Stine and chef David Lentz in 2010. It follows the genesis Great Chefs Event in Philadelphia, which brought Goin to tears when she heard Alex’s story. Now there’s also Lemon: NYC , completing the trifecta of culinary events in Alex’s name.

Goin, formerly of Chez Panisse, explains that L.A. Alex’s “evolved naturally when we told our customers and investors about it … We don’t focus on the celebrity aspect as much as we do showcasing our participating chefs, but their involvement and time (enhances) the event.”

Life After Sandy

Other chefs and food businesses comfort hyperlocally, and in the case of one cupcake baker, during a crisis.

Drummer-baker Kimmee Masi operates a rockin’ bake shop in Asbury Park, New Jersey.

Confections of a Rock Star had only opened its Asbury Park, NJ doors two and a half months before Hurricane Sandy bullied its way into town. Although the owner had been doing custom cake orders previously, this was her shop’s big debut – and timing couldn’t have been more problematic. Owner and baker-cum-drummer Kimmee Masi, who plays with the Garden state’s Our Last Sin, said she couldn’t even open for 13 days after Sandy hit.

Her shop was spared the brunt of the hurricane’s wrath in that it didn’t flood, but she did have “a lot of spoilage; which being a new business makes it difficult and we are still trying to recover,” Masi says.

“While the store was closed, we wanted to help others and decided to take food and clothing donations. The response was overwhelming and we wound up delivering four truckloads of goods to Sandy victims,” she adds.

“We accepted all donations with the exception of monetary donations at the store and then brought the items collected to shelters in Port Monmouth, Union Beach, Wall and Hazlet, New Jersey,” she says.

Masi, who learned to bake at her father Vincent’s knee — he operated Vincent’s Cookie Cupboard in Jersey — also brought cupcakes to VH1’s Angela “Big Ang” Raiola Sandy Relief event and has donated to many other charities and events including the Jersey Shore Big Wave Awards, and Musicians on a Mission.

Bread for Breast Cancer

Doherty Enterprises, one of Panera’s largest franchisees, runs Pink Ribbon Bagel every October to raise money for breast cancer research.

Panera Bread franchisee operator Doherty Enterprises generously supports National Breast Cancer Awareness Month by selling Pink Ribbon Bagels each October. “A portion of each Pink Ribbon Bagel sold benefits organizations such as the Adelphi Breast Cancer Hotline & Support program.

Doherty also gives to Prevention is the Cure, which seeks to increase public awareness of environmental links to breast cancer and promotes a precautionary health model, and also to the Breast Cancer Research Program at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Gilda’s Club in New York.

“By 2012, which marked our 11th year, we had raised more than $130,000 through the Pink Ribbon Bagel initiative,” says spokesperson Pat Friia.

Homeless, Hungry No More

Other organizations and restaurants are helping those who oftentimes engender less sympathy.

Scoma’s Executive Chef Alan Fairhurst welcomes one of San Francisco’s finest to Cops & Wishes. (Photo © Scoma’s)

Kudos to Scoma’s of San Francisco, for not only serving up some of the city’s finest lobster, but for sponsoring events such as Cops and Wishes, which benefits the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and raised over $3,000 in September when San Francisco’s finest played waiter for a day. Scoma’s also participates in myriad other fundraisers such as the East Bay Stand Down in Pleasanton, California, which services and feeds homeless vets.

“Stand down” is a term that means helping soldiers and bringing them out of combat in order to attend to their medical needs. This past year, Scoma’s president Tom Creedon joined Executive Chef Alan Fairhurst and others to help feed over 700 vets in one evening.

Just as many vets have become homeless so have other segments of the population–many of whom are benefiting from the efforts of one very kind-hearted Massachusetts woman, Ashley Stanley. Her Brookline non-profit Lovin’ Spoonfuls connects perishable, prepared and unserved food to programs serving the hungry.

Lovin’ aims “to incorporate fresh food into the social service stream” by picking up unsalable food from grocery stores such as Trader Joe’s and high-end restaurants like Myers + Chang and Lineage. The type of food Lovin’ delivers “really varies and depends on the season, the inventory and what we’re able to pick up from our partners,” Stanley says.

To date they’ve delivered about 100,000 pounds of fresh food since their debut in January of 2010, when Stanley went knocking on doors to attract donors.

“It was such a new concept that many calls went unanswered or folks just flat out said no,” she says. “But that was three years ago. We now have a waiting list of vendors who want to get involved and participate in food rescue.”

Fresh Food for Kids

Americans reportedly waste over $150 billion worth of food annually, a figure all the more shocking when one considers the millions of kids going to bed hungry every night. One company is making its own dent in these numbers, in a somewhat unexpected way.

Sub-Zero is known for high-end refrigerators offering air-tight compartments, but that doesn’t mean it is insensitive to those who’ll never afford to become customers. They have been participating in the Freshness IQ Challenge, which quizzes one’s food preservation knowledge. For each test taken, Sub-Zero donates a dollar to FoodCorps to help get healthy food to the nation’s young.

FoodCorps is not only educating kids on healthy options, but procuring healthier food for school cafeterias and planting gardens in communities where fresh fruits and vegetables have been lacking.

Sub-Zero’s VP of marketing, Michele Bedard, says that as of mid-January, 12- to 15,000 people had taken the ‘challenge’. “We’ll stop when we get to $25,000,” says Bedard, who investigated six to eight other charities.

“We thought it was cool to give them [Food Corps.] a boost, to support the leadership program they have and to help kids in schools understand how to eat well.”

Written by Laurie Wiegler

Laurie Wiegler is a Connecticut-based journalist who has written frequently about green living, science, and the environment for a range of publications including Toque, Slate, Scientific American, MIT Technology Review, The Hartford Business Journal's Green Guide, AARP and

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