The Charlottesville 29

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

Category: Auction

Area Restaurants Create 315K+ Meals for Hungry

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Even if you’re not a money manager, you may have heard of ROI, a business term creeping into everyday conversation. Short for “return on investment,” it’s a simple metric to evaluate the efficacy of an investment – comparing the value of what you put in to the value of what you get out.

Over the past two months, in McGuireWoods’ The Charlottesville 29 Restaurant Auctions, area restaurants have offered thirty-one separate once-in-a-lifetime experiences to entice donations to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. Those 31 restaurant experiences yielded more than 315,000 meals for the hungry. How’s that for ROI?

The Auctions’ Heroes

Of course, many others have contributed to the cause as well. McGuireWoods LLP underwrote the entire thing, with a donation to cover residual expenses. The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank provided indispensable help. Elite University of Virginia coaches joined auction experiences as special guests. And, vendor, after vendor, after vendor came forward with generous donations of time, products, and services. One vendor donated coaster and poster design services and even threw in cash to pay for production.

Then there are the bidders. In some cases, an auction was won by a single individual with the resources and passion to make an enormous difference. In other cases, groups of friends pooled their funds to win restaurant auction experiences. In all, more than sixty bidders were among the winning donors.

It’s not just winners that helped, though. The unsung heroes of the auction were the runners-up, whose generosity and interest was essential to drive up winning bids, thereby creating more meals for the hungry.

The Right Thing at the Right Time: Moments of Kindness

At times I have wondered whether The Charlottesville 29 Restaurant Auctions did not belong in a year as unsettling as 2016. But when I thought about it more, I realized the auctions could not have been timed better. To combat the year’s repeated attacks on our confidence in human decency, the auctions have countered with reminders that, at their core, people are fundamentally good. There were too many heart-warming moments of kindness to document them all, so here are just a few.

After UVa’s second leading tackler in history won a fiercely competitive auction to have dinner at with UVa Football Coach Bronco Mendenhall, the runner-up insisted on making a generous donation anyway. When one food business owner learned she had outbid another food business owner to win a restaurant’s auction, she invited him to join her for the experience she won. A group of husbands won an auction for their wives as a ladies night out. A chef postponed a career move so that a bidder could surprise his wife with a birthday dinner. The two largest donors in all of the auctions – $8,150 for The Ivy Inn and $6,500 for Fleurie – asked not to be identified, choosing generosity over notoriety. A restaurant owner sparked a bidding war for his auction after vowing to volunteer one hour of service at the food bank for every 100 meals it yielded. And, even after the auctions ended, a restaurant not in the auctions created a dinner to reward a multi-time runner-up, creating even more meals for the hungry.

A Special Food Community

Earlier this year, I asked the restaurants of The Charlottesville 29 if they would be willing to create a VIP experience to auction off to the highest bidder, in support of the food bank. They all said yes. A few months later, we have more than 315,000 meals for the hungry.

How is that possible? It is possible when you have a food community as special and compassionate as Charlottesville’s. Entering the auctions, my goal for total donations was $29,000. Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of the restaurants, the total amount raised, including supplements to the winning donations, is $79,730. This is because each restaurant created an amazing experience that would never be available to a typical customer, and donated the entire thing, allowing every dollar bid to go directly to the food bank. I first arrived in Charlottesville nearly twenty five years ago, and I’ve never seen a greater outpouring of generosity by our food community.

If you’re like me, you may be wondering how you can show your appreciation for the food community’s generosity. The greatest tribute would be to enhance the fruits of their labor, and create even more meals for the area’s hungry. In short, you can thank the restaurants for their efforts by improving their already amazing ROI. Below is how to make a donation to the food bank in gratitude for our food community’s amazing work.

Thank you in advance for your support. Let’s help the restaurants feed even more of the area’s hungry.

  • Online (3% fee): On the Donate page. To show your appreciation for the food community’s efforts, you may “dedicate” your donation to “The Charlottesville 29 Restaurant Auctions.”
  • By Phone: (540) 213-8406. To show your appreciation for the food community’s efforts, you may state that your donation relates to The Charlottesville 29 Restaurant Auctions.
  • By Check: Payable to “Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.” BRAFB, PO Box 937, Verona, VA 24482. Again, please note on your check that it relates to The Charlottesville 29 Restaurant Auctions.

Auctions End with Maximum Vangelopoulosity

Angelo

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!

auction menu 7.19 pdf