Going once, going twice: Luxe restaurant auctions raise money for local food bank

Lampo co-owner Loren Mendosa says the auctions are a great way to give back to the community. Photo by Rammelkamp Foto Lampo co-owner Loren Mendosa says the auctions are a great way to give back to the community. Photo by Rammelkamp Foto
By Meg Irvin

Brewing a Charlottesville beer with Champion. A holiday party for 50 at Duner’s. The ultimate tailgate party from Maya. These experiences and many more will be available to the highest bidder in a series of restaurant auctions, which kicked off June 17 and benefit the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.

Simon Davidson, an attorney (and occasional C-VILLE contributor) who runs local food blog Charlottesville 29, first held the auctions in 2016, a result of wondering what would happen if the 29 restaurants he highlights each year could give back to the community in some way. That “what if?” surpassed Davidson’s wildest expectations, and ultimately raised approximately $80,000—the equivalent of about 320,000 meals—for the food bank.

The auctions paused for two years, in part because Davidson was sensitive to the fact that many of the items were a big ask for restaurant owners. But this year, several of them expressed interest in bringing the campaign back to life. “The restaurant industry is known for pretty tight margins,” Davidson says. “The fact that restaurants would be so generous in creating these experiences speaks to how special the food community in Charlottesville really is.”

Special scarcely begins to describe Lampo’s contribution—the brick-by-brick construction in the winner’s backyard of a pizza oven designed like the one at the restaurant. When the installation is complete, sometime in 2020, the Lampo team will provide all the ingredients and on-site cooking for a pizza party. The value of the package is about $30,000.

“This seemed like a cool way to be able to share our knowledge of pizza ovens and give back,” says Loren Mendosa, co-owner of Lampo. “I’m excited about the materials and working with Corry Blanc from Blanc Creatives.” (The company has been recognized for its excellence in creating hand-forged iron cookware.)

Other partnerships can be found throughout the auction. A Szechuan Corkage Dinner for 10 at Peter Chang’s will include custom wine pairings selected by Erin Scala, owner of Keswick’s In Vino Veritas. “I’m honored to be involved and to team up with such a great restaurant to raise money for the food bank,” Scala says.

Though bids can run high—one has already reached more than $12,000—group bidding is encouraged to make the extravagant experiences more accessible. In that spirit, Bodo’s Bagels wanted its addition to the auctions to reflect its “everyone is welcome” philosophy. The result? A raffle, where for $5 a pop one lucky winner could win the opportunity to chow down at Bodo’s every day for a year.

“The auctions provide a wonderful financial boost, and the awareness is tremendous,” says Millie Winstead, director of development for the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. “Our clients are one illness or a really harsh weather month away from not being able to get food on the table. I’m just blown away by those who are so willing to share their skills and their connections so more people can eat.”

Ready to bid? One auction is announced each day on charlottesville29.com, and stays open for at least 30 days. With events like a margarita party at Al Carbon, an Indian feast for 50 at Milan, a Super Bowl bash at Oakhart Social, and “the wine dinner of a lifetime” at Fleurie still available, the incentive is pretty strong.

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