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Eat for Relief

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The tsunami in the Indian Ocean is one of those events that makes for a confusing set of emotions--empathy, fear, a longing to do something to relieve the suffering. We want to help but we don't know how; some of us volunteer, some of us donate, some of us feel we can't afford to donate. A few restaurants in the Triangle are looking to make it really easy on us. On Wednesday, Jan. 19, a group of locally owned restaurants will be donating 20 percent of their profits to help victims of the tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

Pop's, Nana's, Starlu, all four Q-Shacks, Nana's Chophouse, Enoteca Vin, Elaine's on Franklin, Pazzo and Lantern will all donate 20 percent of sales to Direct Relief International. Both Foster's locations will donate 8 percent of sales for the day to the organization. This is an event that has been conceived and planned completely by the restaurants themselves, and it speaks of a community that is coming into its own on a number of levels.

In many senses, ours is a restaurant community that is growing up. In the last few years a second generation of Triangle cooks and servers have flourished, starting their own restaurants and becoming owners. On a personal level, it is intensely gratifying to see people who came to the restaurant business 10 or 12 years ago, as waiters or cooks just trying to pay the rent, come to realize that this is their calling and their passion, and they want to do more with it than just work for someone else. For these folks, the growing up they are doing is literal, along with the evolution of their menus and service. Many of the area's best restaurants are now owned and operated by people in their 20s and 30s, and it's these folks, led by Matthew Beason and his partners at Pop's in Durham, who have banded together to do something for the victims of the tsunami.

Matthew Beason sits at the bar at Pop's and talks about the conversation that led to the benefit night. "Right after New Year's, John Vandergrift [one of Pop's co-owners and co-chefs] and I were talking about how crazy and catastrophic the situation was, and he looked at me and said, 'We should do a benefit.' It just seemed appropriate to both of us," Beason recalls.

"So I started calling my restaurant friends and everyone was really into the idea. I only had one person that I contacted say they just weren't interested. Which is amazing, seeing as restaurants work on profit margins that aren't the same as other businesses," Beason says. "For all these places to say they'll give 20 percent of sales, when many restaurants have a profit margin of around 15 percent, means that most of these places aren't just giving up their profits for the evening--they're donating on top of that."

It's a response that is heartening for a number of reasons. Many of these restaurants are still young and, if not financially vulnerable, then at least still watching their profit margins closely and anxiously. Triangle restaurants, in particular this group of restaurants, have always participated in various benefits. But it's one thing to participate in RSVVP, the event that happens every year to benefit food banks across the state, or to show up for the Toast to the Triangle, which benefits the Tammy Lynn Memorial Foundation; it's another thing to organize an independent Triangle-wide benefit for an international disaster.

It's obvious that these restaurant owners care deeply about causes in their community, and there's a certain benefit to having your name associated with these hometown charity events--your name gets out there, and you become known to people in the community who care about these things and are involved. All charity work is admirable--whenever a restaurant gives up time, talent or money for a cause, it's reason to be proud. But it's pure concern for people far away that's driving Tsunami Relief Night.

"The fact that Matt has organized this whole thing, it's definitely inspiring to the rest of us," says Elaine's on Franklin's maitre d' Aubrey Ziniach, who spent her honeymoon last year in Thailand and has spent a lot of time with her husband tracking the destruction there. "I think if it were the Red Cross asking people to do this the response might not have been so positive, but because this was on a local level and a local business owner reached out to his community, that inspired people to really want to do this."

For the restaurant-goer, it's a pretty great way to give. "I think everyone wants to give in some form, and taking your wallet out isn't that easy," Beason says. "But everyone's got to eat. This is a great way to combine a good meal with doing something positive. The tsunami was so amazingly catastrophic, I think it speaks to everyone. It's not a question of 'Should we help?' but 'How much should we help?'"

Restaurants participating in the Jan. 19 Tsunami Relief Night
Elaine's on Franklin
454 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill 960-2770

Enoteca Vin
410 Glenwood Ave., Suite 350, Raleigh 834-3070

Foster's Market
2694 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd., Durham 489-3944
750 Airport Road, Chapel Hill 967-4383

Lantern
423 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill 969-8846

Nana's
2514 University Drive, Durham 493-8545

Nana's Chophouse
328 Davie St., Raleigh 829-1212

Pazzo!
700 Market St., Southern Village, Chapel Hill 929-9984

Pop's
810 W. Peabody St., Durham 956-7677

The Q-Shack
1850 Renaissance Parkway, Suite 930, The Streets at Southpoint, Durham 281-2811
2510 University Drive, Durham 402-4227
2430 Hillsborough St., Raleigh 832-4227
4120-135 Main at North Hills Street, North Hills Mall, Raleigh 786-4381

Restaurant Starlu
3211 Shannon Road, Suite 106, Durham 489-1500

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