Never for Money, Always for Love: The Charlottesville 29 Restaurant Auctions Create One Million Meals for the Hungry

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The results are in. Proceeds from The 2019 Charlottesville 29 Restaurant Auctions for the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank total $255,421, enough to create more than one million meals for our area’s hungry.

Credit for this total belongs to the restaurants of The Charlottesville 29, which offered once-in-a-lifetime experiences in a series of online auctions that began in June and ended last week. Because restaurants donated the offerings in their entirety, auction winners simply made donations to the food bank in the amounts of their winning bids.

A common question I heard during the auctions was: “How did you get the restaurants to do this?” I understand the question. The dining experiences were incredible. A celebration dinner for 30. A holiday party for 50. Epic wine feasts. A pizza oven built at your house. And more. So, how did I get the restaurants to do it? Here’s how.

I asked them.

That’s it.

If you want to begin to comprehend the heart of the Charlottesville restaurant community, mull that over for a minute. I did not twist anyone’s arm. I did not bribe anyone. I did not threaten to publish compromising photographs. I just asked.

“Will you donate once-in-a-lifetime experiences to help feed the area’s hungry?”

Yes, yes we will.

As I reflected on how that happened, and how the offerings became so extraordinary, I kept coming back to the fundamental rule of restaurants that I have taken away from my years writing about food. That rule is this:

There are only two kinds of restaurants in the world: those with love, and all the rest.

Usually, it is easy to tell the difference. If the people who run a restaurant have a genuine love of hospitality – of taking care of people – you will know it from the food, from the service, from the entire experience.  If their primary motivation is something else — say money — none of these things is likely to feel the same, at least not over time.  

Never for Money, Always for Love

Without exception, all of the restaurants in The 2019 Charlottesville Restaurant Auctions are the kind with love. A love to feed. A love to nurture. Never for money, always for love.

That love was the lifeblood of the auctions. And as the love spread, a theme emerged: kindness is contagious.

What made the spread of restaurants’ kindness all the more amazing is that restaurants’ margins are so small. Most restaurants struggle just to survive. Back in 2016, the only other year of The Charlottesville 29 Restaurant Auctions, when I first asked restaurants to submit their experiences, one restaurant offered dinner for two people, with no alcohol or gratuity. I thanked them for their generosity. Despite tiny margins, restaurants receive endless solicitations for fundraisers, and I appreciated the restaurant’s kindness in offering dinner for two.

A few weeks later, I received an email from the restaurant’s owner. He explained that he had seen some of the other restaurants’ auction experiences, and would like to upgrade his own. I again thanked him for his generosity. Another week passed, and I received another email from the owner, again upgrading the auction experience, this time to a massive all-inclusive group dinner. And indeed, in this year’s auctions, the restaurant’s experience was so over-the-top that it received one of the largest bids of all. 

This is just one example of how the contagious nature of restaurants’ kindness grew the auctions into something greater than ever imagined. Time and again, the kindness of one inspired the kindness of another, and then another, and then another. Watermark Design donated design services and more. After UVa’s Dr. Larry Sabato came up just short in winning MarieBette’s experience for his staff, MarieBette offered another one. Blenheim Vineyards, already a donor of wine to one restaurant’s experience, won the auction of another, to throw a party for vineyard staff. A group of husbands won the Zocalo auction as a gift to their wives for ladies’ night out. Duner’s amazing Holiday Party for 50 went to the widow of Duner himself, for $6,000. Public Fish & Oyster expanded an already extravagant Lobster Bake of Your Dreams, generating even higher bids. And finally, Charlottesville’s top food and drink artisans created a food court at Prime 109 for a reception to honor the generosity of the restaurants, with ticket sales generating nearly $10,000 for the food bank. For the event, Brian Helleberg, who had already donated stunning auction experiences for his restaurants Fleurie and Petit Pois, bought ten $100 tickets to share with friends, family, staff.

Even after the auctions, the generosity continued. Sussex Farm offered a second auction experience for its runner-up, while Bodo’s and UVa Men’s Basketball coach Tony Bennett did the same.

Daily Rewards

One of my great rewards in running the auctions is that every day for two months I witnessed manifestations of the restaurants’ love. One regular instance was bids, which arrived to my email daily.  “I’d like to place a bid for $5,000 on the Brasserie Saison Auction.” Boom, another 20,000 meals for the area’s hungry. Among the flurry of life’s responsibilities, what a boost of spirits these daily interruptions brought.

Another was the raffle for an entire year of Bodo’s. The web platform for ticket sales offered the option to receive an email notification for every ticket purchase, but advised against these notifications, so as to avoid excess emails. Excess emails?! Who would not want to know about donations to the food bank? I received a total of 316 of these emails – each one another gift for our area’s hungry.

One Million Meals

The Charlottesville 29 answers: if there were just 29 restaurants in Charlottesville, what would be the ideal 29? After completing the initial list in 2016, I asked each restaurant in the 29 if they would create a special experience for a series of online auctions for the food bank. Thrilled that they all said yes, I set a goal of $29,000, which at the time seemed ambitious and a major “ask” of restaurants.

Fast forward three years, and, the second iteration of The Charlottesville 29 Restaurant Auctions has yielded more than $255,000, creating more than one million meals for the area’s hungry.

Nearly as impressive as this figure is the total amount of costs the food bank incurred in raising that sum: zero. The food bank’s income statement for the auctions would show $255,421 in revenue and $0 in expenses. Restaurants’ generosity was so inspiring that anytime we needed anything — promotional materials, event space, food, wine, etc. — vendors happily offered it at their own expense. And, this is why the signatory of the check representing the total benefit to the food bank is not just the restaurants of The Charlottesville 29, but “The Charlottesville Food Community” itself.

One millions meals from The Charlottesville Food Community to our area’s hungry.

A roll call of the generous contributors is below. To show your own appreciation for their effort, please donate to the food bank here and indicate that your donation is in honor of The Charlottesville 29 auctions. Thank you, Charlottesville.

  • Afton Mountain Vineyards (wine and facility for Brasserie Saison auction)
  • Albemarle Baking Co. (food for Prime 109 reception)
  • Autumn Olive Farms (facility and equipment for Petit Pois auction)
  • Blanc Creatives (assistance with Lampo auction)
  • Blenheim Vineyards (wine for Sultan Kebab auction and Prime 109 reception)
  • Brewing Tree Beer Company (beer for Duner’s auction; beer and facility for BBQ Exchange auction)
  • Caromont Farm (food for Prime 109 reception)
  • Champion Brewing Company (make your own beer for Beer Run auction, and beer for Prime 109 reception)
  • Early Mountain Vineyards (wine for MarieBette auction)
  • Elysium Honey Co. (honey for Tavola auction)
  • Festive Fare (glassware for Prime 109 reception)
  • Gabrielle Rausse (assistance with Ivy Inn auction)
  • Gearharts’ Chocolate (chocolate and tour for Hamiltons’ auction, and food for Prime 109 reception)
  • Ian’s Creations (videography for Prime 109 reception)
  • In Vino Veritas (wine for Peter Chang auction)
  • Jefferson Vineyards’ (wine for Zocalo auction)
  • Jeremiah Langhorne (assistance with Ivy Inn auction)
  • JM Stock Provisions (auction experience and food for Prime 109 reception)
  • Justin Ide (photography for Prime 109 reception)
  • Keevil & Keevil Grocery and Kitchen (auction experience and food for Prime 109 reception)
  • Lovingston Winery (wine and facility for Fleurie auction)
  • Luca Paschina (assistance with Ivy Inn auction)
  • Market Street Wine (wine for Milan action)
  • Michael Shaps Wineworks (wine for Prime 109 reception)
  • Monticello Media (public service announcement advertisements)
  • Monticello Wine Tour & Coach Co. (transportation for Brasserie Saison auction)
  • North American Sake Brewery (sake for Pad Thai auction)
  • Paradox Pastry (auction experience and food for Prime 109 reception)
  • Pollak Vineyards (wine for Duner’s auction)
  • Potter’s Craft Cider (cider for Sultan Kebab auction and Prime 109 reception)
  • Prime 109 (facility, staff, and food for reception)
  • Reason Beer (beer for Prime 109 reception)
  • Splendora’s Gelato (food for Prime 109 reception)
  • Sussex Farm (auction experience and food for Prime 109 reception)
  • SYSCO (napkins for Prime 109 reception)
  • T&N Printing (posters, auction signs, symbolic check)
  • Tom McGovern Photography (photo’s for Ivy Inn auction)
  • Tony Bennett (time for Bodo’s auction)
  • Virginia Distillery Company (whisky and glasses for Hamiltons’ auction)
  • Watermark Design (logo, coasters, posters, auction signs)
  • The Wine Guild (wine for Pad Thai auction)

The 2019 Charlottesville 29 Restaurant Auctions 

Peter Chang: The Ultimate Szechuan Corkage Dinner for Ten ($3,200)

Beer Run: Brew Your Own Charlottesville Beer ($4,000)

The Alley Light: Bartender for a Night and Celebratory Feast ($2,200)

Al Carbon: The “29” Molcajete and Margarita Party ($1,700)

Milan: Traditional Indian Feast for 50 ($2,700)

ZoCaLo: Legends’ Dinner for Ten with Jefferson Vineyards ($3,000)

MarieBette: Le Goûter for 12 (times two!) ($3,000)

Oakhart Social: Super Super Bowl Party ($3,000)

Maya: The Ultimate Charlottesville Tailgate Party ($1,400)

TEN: Luxury Omakase ($2,600)

Public Fish & Oyster: Lobster Bake of Your Dreams ($3,000)

Duner’s: Holiday Party for 50 ($6,000)

C&O: Celebration Dinner for 30 ($5,500)

MAS: A Walk Through Spain in 29 Bites ($2,600)

Sultan Kebab: Ziyafet for 50 ($2,800)

Pad Thai: Thai Homestyle Feast ($1,800)

Petit Pois: Autumn Olive Farms, Nose-to-Tail ($3,000)

Brasserie Saison: Harvest Dinner for 20 ($5,000)

Revolutionary Soup: A Year of Revolutionary Soup ($1,600)

Hamiltons’: An Evening of Wine, Chocolate, and Whiskey ($3,333.33)

The Bebedero: Bucket List Mezcal & Tequila Dinner Party ($3,000)

Tavola: Killer B’s Wine Class and Dinner ($3,000)

BBQ Exchange: Virginia Pig Roast for 50 ($3,500)

Bizou: Meatloaf for Four, for a Year ($2,050)

Pippin Hill: Sunset Wine Dinner for Eight ($3,500)

Parallel 38:  A Wine Lover’s Dream Quartet ($7,400)

Fleurie: Wine Dinner of a Lifetime ($10,000)

Ivy Inn: Be a Michelin Star Sous Chef ($10,000)

Lampo: Lampo for Life at Home ($22,000)

Bodo’s: Lunch of Champions with Tony Bennett (times two!) ($108,000)