Bidding for a Job: How a Charlottesville 29 Restaurant Auction Win Turned Into Employment

by Charlottesville29

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Jessica Fake and Camie Mess

During last year’s The Charlottesville 29 Restaurant Auctions, where Charlottesville restaurants created once-in-a-lifetime experiences for whoever pledged the largest donation to the food bank, a common theme emerged: kindness is contagious. Time and again during the auctions, one act of kindness would lead to another. And another. Even now that bidding has ended, the theme has continued as auction winners enjoy their prizes. In fact, one pair of winners wound up with not just a spectacular experience, but a job.

Throughout the auctions, Jessica Fake was one of their biggest supporters. “When my fiancée Camie Mess and I learned about the auctions,” said Fake, “we immediately fell in love with the idea of supporting local restaurants while supporting the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.” Fake bid on several items along the way, but it was not until an unexpected late addition that her enthusiasm peaked.

The award-winning Sussex Farm operates a food stand at area farmers’ markets, serving kimchi and other Korean cuisine prepared by Korea native Jen Naylor, aka Mama Bird. Among the stand’s loyal following is Fake, who is half-Korean. “Camie and I looked forward each week to saying the very few Korean words I know, such as 안녕하세요 (hello), 감사합니다 (thank you) and the most appropriate for the situation 맛있어요 (delicious) — to express our gratitude for Jen and her food.”

And so, when Fake learned that Sussex Farm would be offering an auction experience, she swooned. Fake placed a bid right away, and with it, wrote: “Just when my fiancée thought I’d stop being obsessed with these auctions, and having been knocked out of the ones where we thought we had a shot, and bidding away money that we should be saving, you come in with this awesome item. Well done.”

The item? “Kimchi Forever!“: free kimchi for a year, a hands-on kimchi lesson at Sussex Farm, and a multi-course Korean feast served outdoors beside the farm’s bonfire.

Fake’s only concern was that the Sussex Farm auction was set to end with live bidding at Prime 109’s celebration of the auctions, which Fake could not attend due to a conflict. And so, Fake instead bid by proxy, submitting a maximum bid, and hoping for the best.

Unfortunately, Fake’s bid fell just short. But when Naylor learned that the runner-up had come so close to winning, she offered to double up: create the same auction experience for the runner-up – another year of kimchi, another kimchi lesson, another Korean feast. Combined, the donations from the two winners were enough to create more than 8,000 meals for the area’s hungry.

Fake could hardly believe it. “The generosity of Jen in doubling her offering blew us away,” said Fake. “She’s a tiny local business that just operates at the farmers market, so to give away so much means that her heart is larger than life, and her own wallet.”

And so, this past fall, Fake, Mess, and some friends drove out to Naylor’s farm in Esmont to learn to make kimchi.

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When it came time for their Korean feast, Fake’s group pulled up a second table so that Naylor and her family could join. Over dinner, as Naylor described her love of farming, cooking, and sharing food with others, she mentioned her plans to prepare 600 pounds of Winter Pogi Napa Kimchi. “Wow, that’s a lot,” said Fake. “Do you need help?”

A few weeks later, Fake and Mess found themselves taking a day off from their real jobs to help make 600 pounds of kimchi at the farm. There, they learned of Naylor’s expansion plans, and more work to be done at the farm, which Fake and Mess returned to help with over the course of several weekends: painting, shelving, moving supplies and more. Before they knew it, they were even spending the holidays with the Naylors at the farm.

Now, Fake and Mess still work for Sussex Farm, helping with the food stand each week. Mess, who has long had a love of cooking, works side-by-side with Naylor, learning and preparing the food, while Fake helps with the front of the house, taking orders and hawking kimchi. “Somehow,” Fake said, “through the magic of kimchi, we found ourselves included in the circle of Mama Bird’s love.”

Kindness is contagious, no?