The idea of local restaurants raising money for our city’s nonprofits no doubt generates positive vibes, but it also makes great business sense. Diners enjoy delicious food, the economy benefits, and worthy causes gain support. Town&Style talked with a few area venues that give back to find out how (and why!) they stir up good eats and goodwill in the StL.
baking with purpose
Work opportunities for area homeless are on the rise at the nonprofit Bridge Bread, thanks to a new partnership with The Chase Park Plaza Royal Sonesta Hotel and AB Mauri North America, makers of Fleischmann’s yeast. Located on Cherokee Street, the bakery encourages independence by hiring those in need to learn breadmaking, and the products are sold to area restaurants and hotels.
The Chase recently agreed to take part in the effort by purchasing 30,000 brioche and multigrain rolls each year for its banquets and events. Matthew White, food and beverage director, says the partnership will allow the baking company to hire two new employees.
“So far, the bakery has employed 40 people affected by homelessness,” he says. “We learned about the program from AB Mauri’s president, who is on the nonprofit’s board. Bridge Bread helps people learn a valuable skill, access transitional housing and employment coaching, and find other resources, including future jobs. It has a huge impact on everyone involved.” He adds that AB Mauri’s food scientists have helped the bakery develop high-quality breads that can be produced on a large scale.
White says The Chase is encouraging other area hospitality businesses to join the program and help it expand. “We are an important part of the neighborhood,” he says. “We need to give back and make the St. Louis region better for everyone.”
a piece of the pie
For restaurateurs Katie and Ted Collier, giving back is about paying it forward. They launched their first Katie’s Pizza and Pasta Osteria location in Rock Hill through a Kickstarter campaign and were so moved by the community’s support that they wanted to reciprocate the generosity. The result was Giveback Tuesdays, a program that shares proceeds from the Colliers’ original spot and new Town & Country restaurant with area charities.
On the fourth Tuesday of every month, all profits are donated to a charity to use how it chooses. “We rotate the program between the two locations and select a different nonprofit each month,” Katie Collier says. “Besides raising money, it’s also a way of thanking customers who’ve supported our family business and the 200 people we employ.” So far, the effort has brought in a total of nearly $200,000 for organizations like Variety the Children’s Charity, Stray Rescue of St. Louis, Wings of Hope and Safe Connections.
“As we seat guests, we tell them about the day’s charity, and the response is always great,” Collier says. Regular diners gladly step up to the table, and local businesses make a point to place catering orders on those days to support the effort, she notes. Each fundraising Tuesday brings in between $2,000 and $4,000 for the selected charity.
“We think the program works well because it’s positive and fun,” Collier says. “Everyone loves to enjoy themselves while helping a worthy cause. We work with some larger nonprofits, but also smaller ones that sometimes get overlooked.” Her criteria for choosing charities are pretty simple—they must have a good reputation and serve a critical, immediate need like helping foster families or hospitalized children. “A lot of the smaller organizations get especially excited about being involved,” Collier says. “We tell them, ‘This is your day,’ and they bring a lot of energy to it by encouraging their employees and friends to dine with us. It’s a simple way to do a wonderful thing.”
grounds for optimism
Philanthropy is so deeply rooted at Lola Jean’s Giveback Coffee in the Southampton neighborhood that it’s part of the pop-up shop’s identity. Chef and owner Russell Ping says the breakfast/lunch joint was born out of a desire to be a quiet force for change in the region. He opened the shop in 2018 and also operates Russell’s cafes in St. Louis city, Chesterfield and Fenton.
The restaurateur originally planned to open a wood-fire pizzeria, but he says the bones of a philanthropic business idea had been rattling around in his head for a while, so he used the space for Lola Jean’s instead. He asked his contacts at Kaldi’s Coffee to help by donating equipment, and they agreed.
Ping chooses different charities to receive 100 percent of the shop’s profits for a month and keeps his overhead low so he can share as much as possible. He doesn’t boast about what he does at Lola Jean’s but says the concept is working well. “We’ve found that any amount we can give is helpful and appreciated, whether it’s $500 or a couple thousand,” he notes. So far, nonprofits like the St. Louis Area Foodbank, Habitat for Humanity and the American Heart Association have benefited from Lola Jean’s efforts. Ping says he also enjoys working with smaller, lesser known charities like Grace My Feet, which donates shoes to local students in need.
He adds that the coffee shop concept intentionally involves both give and take. “My idea was always to have the charities do most of the legwork to get people in the door,” he notes. In appreciation of his support, the organizations gladly promote Lola Jean’s through their newsletters, email lists, social media and events. “Serving coffee and the community is a good combination,” Ping says.
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