The Charlottesville 29

If there were just 29 restaurants in Charlottesville, what would be the ideal 29?

The Charlottesville 29 Restaurant Auctions

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Link: Current Auction List!

Here’s your chance to enjoy your favorite Charlottesville restaurant like you’ve never enjoyed it before. McGuireWoods is pleased to present The Charlottesville 29 Restaurant Auctions in support of the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.

Hunger is a stubborn problem – globally, nationally and regionally. Here in the Charlottesville area, it still impacts as many as one in ten people, and the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank helps by feeding an average of 118,000 per month. But, it cannot continue to do this without the support of the community.

With The Charlottesville 29 Restaurant Auctions, the restaurants of The Charlottesville 29 are coming together to help the area’s hungry by creating signature, once-in-lifetime experiences and offering them to whoever pledges the highest donation to the food bank. The restaurants are donating all of the food and beverage, and McGuireWoods is covering residual expenses, so every dollar of the winning bids will go directly to the food bank. And, thanks to the efficiency of the food bank, each dollar is enough to provide four meals to the area’s hungry, meaning the auction winners’ meals will result in thousands more meals for the area’s hungry.

While the signature experiences vary from one restaurant to another, what they all share is the opportunity to enjoy a top area restaurant in a way you’ve never enjoyed it before. Imagine a multi-course feast of a restaurant chef’s favorite dishes for a large group of friends, prepared and served by the chef himself, paired with wines. Or, a hands-on group cooking demonstration followed by a custom-prepared meal at your favorite restaurant, all while having the whole place to yourself.

Beginning May 23, every day we will announce a new online auction of a signature experience at a restaurant of The Charlottesville 29, and each auction will last 30 days. The auctions winners will make a donation to the food bank in the amount of their winning bid, and then enjoy their own unforgettable, all-inclusive restaurant experience at a mutually convenient time with the restaurant.

All current auctions are posted here, and a list of bidding deadlines is here. With many of the experiences designed for large groups, forming a group bid can make them much more affordable for each attendee. So, gather some friends to bid on an item for a special celebration or an unforgettable night out. And, thank you to the Charlottesville restaurant community for your outpouring of generosity to help the area’s hungry.

 

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Dr. Ho’s Rewards Auctions’ Unsung Heroes

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Among the unsung heroes of The Charlottesville Restaurant Auctions were the auction runners-up, whose participation was vital to the auctions’ success. For each restaurant’s auction, after public bidding closed I would email all of the bidders to invite further bidding until only one remained. Some dropped out quickly. But, in almost all cases, at least two bidders battled back-and-forth with repeated bids. Runners-up drove up bids thousands of dollars for the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, creating tens of thousands of meals for the hungry that would not have existed without their support.

Dr. Lisa Hardy was a runner-up an amazing six times. Often, she was the only significant competitor for the winner, meaning that, if she had not participated, winning bids would have been much lower, and the benefit to the hungry diminished. Even though bids kept sailing just north of her grasp, her own bidding created literally thousands of meals for the hungry. Given her obvious love of good food and support of the food bank, I did not want her to go away empty handed.

So, after the auctions ended, I contacted Michael McCarthy, chef-owner of the outstanding Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie. Since Dr. Ho’s does not have a Charlottesville address, it is not technically one of The Charlottesville 29, but instead is a “Worth the Drive” restaurant – a designation for restaurants outside Charlottesville worthy of the 29. I explained the situation to McCarthy and asked if he might consider creating a special meal for Hardy, if she were to donate to the food bank.

He responded almost immediately: “Sounds like a plan.”  He proposed an “esoteric Baltimore style Bull & Oyster Roast for 10 people.” (Evidently great feast ideas are just lying around in chefs’ imaginations.) It would include “roast pit beef, oysters served a dozen different ways, steamed shrimp, oyster stew, Chesapeake inspired nosh and nibbles, beer, and wine.”

When I pitched it to Hardy, she was elated. “Wow, that sounds great!” she said, and pledged a $1,500 donation to the food bank on the spot. In addition to the meals her runner-up efforts helped to create, her donation will provide another 6,000 meals to the area’s hungry.  Thank you to Hardy and Dr. Ho’s for their tremendous generosity, another reminder of how special our food community is.

Auctions End with Maximum Vangelopoulosity

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While the The Charlottesville 29 Restaurant Auctions have had many heroes, none has been bigger than Ivy Inn owners Angelo and Farrell Vangelopoulos. There is generosity. And, then there is Vangelopoulosity. As anyone who knows them knows, the latter is another thing altogether. I owe them a huge debt of gratitude for helping to make these auctions such a success.

Earlier this year, when I first wondered if restaurants would participate in a series of auctions of special dining experiences, I decided to proceed in two steps. First, I thought, I would ask each restaurant if they would commit generally to the idea of the auctions, without requiring details of their experiences. Then, I would circle back, to learn what each restaurant wished to offer.

For the first step, I knew just where to start. Many regard Angelo as not just the best chef in the area, but also the kindest. And so, I was hopfeul that Angelo would say yes. Just as Tyrion drinks and knows things, Angelo says yes. That’s what he does. When I emailed him to pitch the idea, he responded immediately. “Yep, I’m in. I love the idea. – ang!”

Then, once all of the restaurants of The Charlottesville 29 were on board, Angelo was one of the first to submit his experience to me. And, though I am accustomed to Angelo’s generosity, it still astonished me. Angelo offered A Greek Taverna Experience for 20, in which he would turn the inn’s patio into a pop-up taverna for the auction winner and nineteen guests. Angelo’s parents are Greek, and he grew up working in their restaurants. For the auction winner, Angelo said, he and his father would prepare an enormous feast of traditional and modern Greek dishes, wines, and ouzo, with a wide variety of meats, seafood, and vegetables. Wow. “What a wonderful idea and how extremely generous,” I replied to Angelo. “Thank you so much.”

His response, in toto: “it’ll be a blast:).”

Next, I sent The Ivy Inn’s auction item as one of several examples to other restaurants still working on their auction experiences. While I have no doubt that restaurants would have created spectacular experiences regardless, Angelo’s generosity set the bar early on, and likely inspired others. In fact, when I circulated the list of auction examples, including The Ivy Inn’s, one restaurateur wrote back simply: “Damn it Angelo!”

Indeed, Angelo’s early example may have been responsible for thousands of meals for the area’s hungry. And, this morning, he and Farrell became responsible for thousands more. The Ivy Inn auction, the final one in The Charlottesville 29 Restaurant Auctions, was won by a bid of $8,150, which will provide more than 32,000 meals to the area’s hungry. Thank you to the Vangelopoulos’ and the bidder for their tremendous generosity.

The Public Auction: A Vehicle of Blessing

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Whole Snapper Greek Style at Public auction dinner.

Last month, I received an email from someone named Frank, who said he wished to bid on the Public Fish & Oyster auction in The Charlottesville 29 Restaurant Auctions, but on one condition: the auction experience would need to be on July 19, his wife’s birthday. This particular auction, I knew, had a lot of moving parts – a reunion dinner with former Public chef Donnie Glass hosted by MarieBette Cafe & Bakery, and presided over by Public owner and sommelier Daniel Kaufman. So, meeting the condition would require the consent and availability of all three, which seemed a long shot, especially since auction descriptions specify that winners must schedule their dinner at a mutually convenient time with the restaurant. It would also require moving up Public’s July 17 bidding deadline a few days, to allow chef Glass enough time to plan the dinner in case Frank won. Nonetheless, I figured, it was worth asking, and I told Frank that I would.

To my surprise, Glass, Kaufman, and MarieBette’s owners all confirmed that they could make July 19 work. Weeks still remained before the auction’s end, with plenty of opportunity for others to outbid Frank, but Glass, Kaufman, and MarieBette agreed to hold the date on the off chance he won. I delivered the good news to Frank, who promptly placed a bid of $1,500 for the dinner for six.

Soon after confirming the date, though, Glass received an offer he could not refuse from a top restaurant in Martha’s Vineyard. They asked him to start immediately. The only thing keeping Glass from moving right away, he told me, was his commitment to the auction experience. Given his unexpected career opportunity, I suggested that we replace him with Public’s current chef Gregg Dionne, a Glass protege who is more than capable of delivering a special experience. We could just explain the circumstances to any prior bidders, and offer them the chance to rescind their bid if they wished.

“No way,” wrote Glass, when he learned a $1,500 bid had already been placed. “Let’s do the 19th. I’m in 100%.” While a generous offer, I replied, there was a good chance Frank might not even win, in which case the dinner would not be on July 19th, and Glass would have postponed his new career opportunity several weeks for nothing. No matter, Glass said. If so, he would just return to Charlottesville later this year to provide the auction experience at a mutually convenient time. While this seemed well beyond the call of duty, Glass insisted. “I do not want to back out my commitment,” he said.

As bidding for the Public auction drew to a close, however, a serious competitor emerged, who would surpass Frank’s bid each time he placed a new one, threatening to upset his plans for a surprise birthday dinner for his wife. Frank was relentless, though, and, after some furious back-and-forth bidding, his competitor eventually conceded to Frank’s winning bid of $2,200 – every penny going to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. “What a two-fer’ this is for me,” Frank rejoiced in an email to me. “I get to give my wife and her friends a great birthday, and I get to help out the food bank at the same time. I can’t even imagine money more well spent.”

Yesterday, on the day of the dinner, his excitement had not subsided. “I’m so thankful for everything,” he wrote before the dinner. “Judy’s four good friends, plus Judy and myself, at a fantastic dinner, that benefits a wonderful charity close to my heart. Sheer awesomeness.”

I loved the term “sheer awesomeness,” but it turns out it may have been an understatement. So focused on the logistics of bidding and the growing benefit for the area’s hungry, I had not stopped to consider another wonderful aspect of the auctions: auction winners’ enjoyment of their experiences. That changed last night just before midnight, when I received an email from Frank:

Our evening was memorable in so many ways: great friends, great food, attentive, gracious and knowledgeable servers, and a wonderful cause. Sheer awesomeness perhaps undersells it a bit. One of Judy’s friends, a nurse just back from a week of helping families stricken by flooding in WV, said it was a life event for her: she’d always remember it. The same was true for all of us. Our 90 year old friend Rodney said he hadn’t enjoyed oysters like that in over 50 years, not since his days of vacationing on the OBX in the ’60’s. And, the Australian Tokay enjoyed with the final course of (warm) MarieBette desserts sent everyone into this giddy, joyful spiral . . .

Daniel was amazing in his role as sommelier — the pairings of wines with food were spot-on (even a red with the fish: it totally worked). And, Donnie — prior to getting in a car and driving to Cape Cod, where he starts his new job in less than 40 hours — knocked it out of the park. The courses were perfect: colorful, delicious, ample and with plenty of pop. We called him over so we could give him a standing O. Our loss is the Vineyard’s gain . . .

If the other 28 evenings are like this one, between happy guests and joyful chefs and hungry people enjoying healthy meals who otherwise might’ve gone without — you’ve created a remarkable vehicle of blessing for Charlottesville. Thank you so much!

A chef, a restaurant owner, and a bakery aligned their schedules for an auction dinner. The chef then postponed a career move to stay in Charlottesville to prepare the dinner. And, a generous bidder surprised his wife on her birthday with a “life event” to remember. All the while, they created 9,000 meals for the area’s hungry. As Frank says, a vehicle of blessing.

Take that, 2016!

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