Restaurant Week feeds into local community

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Aromas Cafe, which will be serving meals like this jumbo black tiger shrimp over white bean cassoulet at the $29 price point, is one of nine restaurants to join Restaurant Week for the first time this winter. Photo by Tom McGovern Aromas Cafe, which will be serving meals like this jumbo black tiger shrimp over white bean cassoulet at the $29 price point, is one of nine restaurants to join Restaurant Week for the first time this winter. Photo by Tom McGovern

As you scramble to make your Restaurant Week reservations, as you finally get to your table and lay a napkin over your lap and lift your fork to your lips, take a moment to reflect on how your dinner is more than a treat for your taste buds. It’s helping feed thousands of people right here in Virginia.

One dollar from each Restaurant Week meal served will go to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, this year’s charity partner beneficiary.

Charlottesville Restaurant Week has partnered with the BRAFB in years prior, and it’s been an enormous help, says Millie Winstead, director of development at the food bank. In winter 2015, Charlottesville Restaurant Week donated about $23,000 to the food bank.

BRAFB’s four branches—Charlottesville, Verona, Lynchburg and Winchester—serve more than 25,000 individuals via 200 partner agencies throughout 25 counties and eight cities. For every dollar the food bank receives, 96 cents goes toward programming, Winstead says. In previous years, the money went into the food bank’s general fund.

But this year, the money will go to the Agency Capacity Fund, a new initiative intended to help BRAFB partner agencies meet increasing demands. In March, the BRAFB will issue a request for proposals from its partner agencies, which can submit applications for money from the fund for things such as shelving, refrigerators or coolers.

“Hunger is something that unfortunately persists in our communities,” says Abena Foreman-Trice, director of communications for the BRAFB. “We’re still seeing more neighbors on average per month coming to our partner agencies than we were before the Great Recession.”

Most of the food bank’s agencies are small and run by volunteers; many of them are faith-based organizations supporting a pantry or kitchen that feeds maybe 50 families every other week, serving “a group of people that wouldn’t otherwise have [food],” Winstead says. While the agencies receive regular food donations, Winstead says that pantries often need help meeting physical and organizational needs.

For example, food cannot be stored on the floor; it must be kept on shelves. A $100 shelving unit may not seem like much, Winstead says, but it’s an awful lot for a kitchen with a $1,500 operating budget.

“Food banking is changing,” Winstead says. “Back in the day, when it was starting, it was a lot of canned food items. Now, about one quarter of the food we distribute is fresh produce, so the ability to have a cooler, a refrigerator or a cooler blanket to drape over produce” in the pantry or during distribution to families is key.

Restaurant Week is the chance for the community to “understand how their support can make an impact for someone who is trying to make ends meet,” Foreman-Trice says. “When someone falls short, we’re here to try and make sure they have one less worry, to make sure that they know there’s at least somewhere where they can get food to eat to get them and their families through.”

Winstead says she’s “blown away constantly by the giving nature of the restaurant community here,” noting that they receive donations from restaurants throughout the year.

This time, a record-high 44 restaurants are participating in Restaurant Week, and instead of the usual seven days, the event will run for nine, from Friday, January 20, through Sunday, January 29.

First-time participants include Blue Ridge Café, Los Jarochos, Maharaja, Mono Loco and Petit Pois all at the $19 price point; Aroma’s Café, Heirloom at The Graduate Charlottesville and Timberwood Taphouse at the $29 price point; and Water Street at the $39 price point.

Changes at IX

Last week, Shark Mountain Coffee Co. announced the sudden closing of its location at the Studio IX in an emotional Facebook post written by Shark Mountain owner Jonny Nuckols. Nuckols chalks up the dissolution of the café, which closed January 11 after a year and a half in operation, to “irreconcilable differences between Shark and management of Studio IX.” Shark Mountain will continue to operate its café in the iLab at UVA’s Darden School of Business and will look for a potential new café location.

And Sweethaus has moved out of its West Main Street location and into a space at IX, next door to Brazo’s Tacos. A post on the bakery’s Instagram account states it hopes to open in its new spot by this weekend.

Taste of what’s to come

Junction, Melissa Close-Hart and Adam Frazier’s long-anticipated TexMex restaurant, will open Thursday, January 26, on Hinton Avenue in Belmont. Look for more details on the restaurant in next week’s Small Bites column.

Eat up!

We have three Restaurant Week gift certificates to give away. For a chance to win, leave a comment about which restaurant’s menu you’re most excited about and why.

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