The pop-tops on cans of green beans and yellow corn are, for most of us, a mere convenience. They save us from rummaging through that one drawer in our kitchen that contains a can opener and about 100 other things we don’t realize we need until we need them.
For others, however, those pop-tops are a necessity. Mundane as it is, a simple can opener is a luxury not everyone can afford — just like the meals many of us take for granted.
But Richmond’s local restaurant scene, including its owners, chefs, servers and kitchen staff, plus the community of food lovers who patronize the area’s growing independent restaurant network, is working to make meals more accessible for those in need.
Richmond Restaurant Week begins Monday and runs through Sunday, April 28.
In short, it means patrons can visit any number of this year’s 41 participating restaurants, dine on a three-course meal for $29.19 per person, and actively help someone who has far less.
For each meal purchased, $4.19 goes directly to Feed More, the food bank distribution center that serves 34 localities throughout central Virginia, and then on to hungry individuals and families throughout central Virginia through programs such as Meals On Wheels, Kids Cafe, Summer Food Service Program, School Market and more.
For every $1 donated, Feed More can provide four meals.
“That dollar is so far-reaching,” said Suzy Rohler, Feed More director of brand, marketing and communications, during a Feed More tour Wednesday for restaurant week participants. “The reach and impact restaurant week has on us is incredible.”
Richmond Restaurant Week started in 2001 as the brainchild of Aline Reitzer, co-owner of Acacia. In the 18 years since, it’s raised more than $818,000, which equates to roughly 3,272,000 meals for needy individuals.
“We wanted to do an event that supported Feed More at an in-need time,” she said, not that there’s ever a time when hunger isn’t present throughout the community. Spring, however, is a good season for such efforts because the food bank is gearing up for summer, when children are out of school and families are hungry, she said. A second restaurant week is held in October, to help with the holiday season.
“There [are] a lot of restaurant weeks that happen in January and August,” Reitzer said, “and it’s just to drum up business [and] put the restaurant name out there, and that was not going to work for us because we want to be able to … raise a lot of money.”
Five restaurants — Acacia, Bacchus, Millie’s Diner, Helen’s and La Grotta — have participated all 18 years, she said.
Contributing to Feed More’s extensive programs and seeing first-hand what they do, particularly for children, “it touches a different cord,” she added. “It’s truly amazing what they do here.”
From a chef’s perspective, Mike Ashley of Brenner Pass said the week is both hectic and exciting.
“It’s an amazing week for us — the restaurant is full, Monday through Sunday,” he said. “The template makes it really easy to be able to make a menu for the entire week that you can cost out, so its viable for us, and still, we’re able to donate.”
Dale Reitzer, Aline’s husband and Acacia co-owner, said the week typically draws a lot of new customers.
With a set price and smaller menus at each location, restaurant week “seems to make restaurants like Brenner Pass and Acacia more approachable for people,” he said, whereas other times new customers would be “a lot more cautious.”
“It creates a good energy, a good buzz,” he said, adding that “the customers are very gracious.”