A Gift They Won’t Return

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - December 20, 2006
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I love Winston Churchill’s quote, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” I try to think about it most of the time, more so during the holiday season when it seems as though my stress level is going through the roof and making a Bailey’s cocktail seems like the best solution.

But what grounds me, makes me stop and take a deep breath, and reminds me that this is a time to give thanks and be grateful, is watching my friends in the restaurant industry at work.

Planning a fundraiser this year? I have no doubt you’ll be calling one of your favorite restaurants for a donation. Nine out of every 10 restaurants in Hawaii participate in fundraising and charitable events almost every month of the year. If you’re Colin Nishida, the owner of Side Street Inn, or Don Murphy, the owner of Murphy’s Bar and Grill, or Russell Siu, the owner of 3660 On the Rise, or Roy Yamaguchi and the crew from more than 30 Roy’s Restaurants around the world (to name but a few), you’re likely involved in giving something back every single day you’re open for business.

“We get about five to 10 requests a week for donations,” says D.K. Kodama, chef/owner of d.k’s Steakhouse, Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar, Vino and Hiroshi’s. “The first thing we do when we get a request,” he says, “is ask ourselves if it’s a charity we believe in. Turns out we believe in about 90 percent or more of them!”

Kodama is not alone. At Roy’s the requests for donations sometimes inundate the staff, but every request is read and evaluated, and then taken care of. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars a year that restaurants contribute to charitable causes here in the islands. And that’s only with gift certificates. Most of the chefs operating above the mom-and-pop level will turn up in person, offer cooking demos, dinners for 10, pupu parties for 50 or even turn up at your house to cook if they think they can earn more money for a great cause.

“If it’s something we really believe in, and an opportunity to help, we often try to give something big,” says D.K. He’s speaking for almost all his colleagues when he adds, “basically we do whatever we can. It’s our community. Of course we’re going to be there if we can.”

Even our farmers and fishermen donate whenever they’re asked. Nalo Farms, Tropics Fish and Vegetable, Brooks Takenaka at the United Fishing Agency, to name but a few, are just a phone call away when people need donations of fresh fish, local produce or simply great ideas.

The Hawaii Foodbank has an annual fundraiser at Restaurant Row, where the city’s top restaurants participate. Chefs donate time, food and energy, always without question. The phrase that I hear over and over again when I call to ask for donations on behalf of charities is, ” Hey, thanks for thinking of us - please remember and ask us again next year, this is such a great cause.”

So here’s my point: This year, instead of fighting for a parking spot at Ala Moana Center, driving myself crazy waiting in line in dozens of stores, and worrying about my identity being stolen while I’m shopping on the Internet, I’m buying restaurant gift certificates for everyone on my list. It’s a small way of trying to give back to the industry that I see giving so much. Denominations can be large or small, wrapping is a snap and the whole process is stress-free. You can give gift certificates for breakfast, lunch or dinner, plan surprise parties or even gift a cooking class.

Everyone loves to eat. Doesn’t it make perfect sense to give the gift of a great meal? And at many restaurants they’ll give you a bonus certificate back with every group you buy. Something for the restaurant, something for the “giftee” and something for you.

Look at it this way. Did you ever see anyone standing in line at Ruth’s Chris Steak House on Dec. 26 trying to return their gift?

Happy eating and merry Christmas!

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