"Not only are we doing a good thing, but we're educating people at the same time," said Michael Oian, the Dining Out for Life ambassador at restaurant on Nicollet Avenue.
The annual Dining Out for Life event took place Thursday, April 28. Here's how it worked — participating Minnesota restaurants offered to give a percentage of the day's profits to a selected AIDS-related charity. By eating out at certain places, folks sent much-needed funds to Minneapolis' , which directly serves and supports those living with HIV/AIDS across the state.
It's a great, celebratory occasion, with local restaurants lending a hand to a charity that provides people with meals, a food shelf, case management, and complimentary services like acupuncture, massage and more. Above all, The Aliveness Project gives those with HIV/AIDS a place to go and someone to talk to about what's happening to them.
For the restaurants that take part, there are multiple rewards — they've raised awareness about a serious issue, a great organization and their own establishments. Southwest Minneapolis had many eateries that took part in the event at various levels. Platinum sponsors gave 35% or more, with gold, silver and bronze designations for those who gave lower percentages of their profits.
"I could write a check to a publication (for advertising) or I could write a check that could totally change someone's life," explained Gail Mollner, owner of the Blackbird with Chris Stevens, when asked about their 40% participation level, which was one of the highest in the program.
Other Southwest spots had their own take on the festivities. , a 25% donator, has been a participant for many years. The owners had musician Michael Jon playing guitar and singing for folks and two MCTC students as volunteer ambassadors. coffeeshop took a laid-back but generous approach — the red I ATE stickers and informational brochures were unattended and yet the busy place donated 30% from the full day's breakfast, lunch and dinner receipts.
(a 30% donator) enjoyed a daytime visit from Kare 11's Sven Sundgaard, one of the Twin Cities most famous proponents of Dining Out for Life (he's on the poster), according to server Lucy Conroy. She said the small place was busy at lunch and basically booked up for dinner because of the event. Arezzo Ristorante (a 20% donator) on France Avenue also planned on a busy Dining Out for Life evening. Owner Adam Smith said they've been a part of the program for many years.
"We get a different clientele that night," Smith told Patch, which he said, makes it good for everyone. Arezzo was one of the few spots in and around Edina that were participating (Beaujo's and Eden Avenue Grill were the only others).
Super ambassadors took over and El Meson, where where both had bona fide dinner crowds. Bruce Andrews and Tim Welsh hosted at Ena, and offered an extra special raffle prize of a three-hour Lake Minnetonka cruise with food by Hector and Erin (owners of Ena and El Meson) for those who gave additional $50 donations to The Aliveness Project. Lyle Jaeger wore the Dining Out for Life red apron proudly at the very busy El Meson. He gave away a set of Valleyfair passes as an extra incentive.
St. Paul residents Bonnie Landrum, Emma Johnston and Michael Johnston found their way to El Meson because, "It was in the neighborhood and it was platinum," according to Michael. They wanted to take part in the occassion somewhere near his daughter's piano lesson and did not mind waiting for a table.
Over at the corner of West 38th Street and Grand Avenue, both and had waiting lists and full reservation books. A group of Macalester students braved Victor's patio in order to take part in Dining Out for Life. They made the trek from St. Paul to their favorite spicy Cuban joint because they knew it was at the 35% donation level.
Tim Marburger, the Director of Fundraising and Special Events for The Aliveness Project, said that 2010's Dining Out for Life raised $161,000 or 14% of their entire budget.
Surely the Southwest neighborhoods, with over 15 restaurants taking part, (also including (35%), El Paraiso Mexican Restaurant (20%), (20%), (15%), (15%) and (15%)), helped to contribute to the 2011 totals, which are still being calculated and turned in.
Will one of our local restaurants take the crown for most donations? Stay tuned to find out.