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!