Restaurants Support Causes in the Communities They Serve
When E. D. (Elbert) Mondainé, senior pastor at Celebration Tabernacle Inc., moved his small congregation to Portland’s street-tough Kenton neighborhood in 2007, he knew that there would be challenges on the road to salvation. Mondainé, who also operated Fridays Espresso with members of his flock, spent many mornings picking up needles and condoms not far from his pulpit and kitchen, yards from a bus station that often brought more trouble to an already troubled part of town.
Eventually, he and a team that included current Executive Chef James Bradley transformed the Denver Avenue coffee shop into Po’Shines Cafe De La Soul, a nonprofit, church-operated Cajun-style restaurant that religiously shut down its fryers on Sundays to serve a much higher calling. The combination of good food and good works nourished a community in desperate need.
These days, Pastor Mondainé still embraces the neighborhood that he helped revive, hugging anyone warm enough to make eye contact on the way to a table at his funky soul food joint. A little sheetrock and the Sabbath are the only things separating a church choir singing Amazing Grace tomorrow morning and the Earth Wind and Fire tunes playing next door at Po’Shines on a warm Saturday night. There are good vibrations everywhere, and the staff is busy doing what they do best: ministering to the needs of the hungry patrons on hand.
Po’Shines commitment to worthy causes, which goes beyond good old fashioned Southern cooking, led to a 2015 Restaurant Neighbor Award. Each year ORLA, in partnership with the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF), recognizes generous businesses (like the four restaurants featured in this article) with awards for exemplary community service. The NRAEF’s program honors the many ways foodservice companies support and enrich America’s neighborhoods. The impact is widespread, with an estimated 90 percent of the industry participating in some form of philanthropy. The high level of commitment is no different in Oregon, where the causes that its restaurants support are typically right in their own back yard ‒ the communities that they serve by plate as well as support with a helping hand.
The giving process starts in the heart. “We want our expression of love and service to reflect who we are,” explains Mondainé. “During the Thanksgiving holiday, we feed hundreds of people right here in Po’Shines and in our church,” he reports, quickly adding, “with the help of our vendors and others who are quite gracious!”
Although Mondainé’s plans have always included sharing meals, he takes special interest in teaching individuals how to provide for themselves. For years, Po’Shines has been hiring those who are down on their luck, helping them rebuild broken lives. “Our goal is always to train people to do better and become bigger,” says the evangelistic restaurateur. “That program is called ‘Teach Me to Fish’. We want to teach people to help themselves. People with no skills, people with no diploma, recovering drug addicts, those are the people who seemingly fall in our path. By the grace of God, we’re able to help those particular types of people. It’s about giving them a second chance, moving them in directions that seem impossible for them.” He hints that there are “bigger fish to fry,” maybe opportunities to expand the real-world classroom outside Po’Shines’ small kitchen and open bona-fide culinary school someday.
Todd Schuetz learned just about every type of job in the restaurant business, but he hadn’t been an owner until he opened Café 440 in Eugene. “I hadn’t realized how many non-profit groups would just come through the door and ask for help,” recalls Schuetz. “It was a little bit overwhelming because I didn’t really have that in my budget. So I started helping people and realized I could turn this into a cause marketing program.
“Five years later, me and my crew have helped 142 organizations and every school in town, every band program, like 12 different times. It’s first-come first-served, and we have so much to give away. A couple of the things are very personal to me, but the majority of them are people that have come through the door that have asked for help, and the program took off. Now I don’t even know everybody that we help.”
There is plenty of need in nearly every corner of Oregon. “When we first got going nearly 15 years ago, we always felt that this was important,” says Chris Holen, co-owner/chef at Baked Alaska. “We felt so fortunate to live in a community like Astoria that there was never a question about giving back or doing everything we could to support causes that needed support.”
Bill and Jinny Neiswanger, owner-operators of The Cattlemen’s Saloon in Rogue River, have made a point to get involved in “anything and everything” that they hear about locally. That includes a special cause that brings joy to their hearts each winter. “The Christmas project is our baby and a labor of love,” shares Jinny. “We work all season soliciting donations for food, money, volunteers and supplies for our themed Christmas tree auction. All money that is raised goes to purchasing gifts, turkeys and hams to our local families we serve. After the money is raised, my husband and I suit up as Mr. and Mrs. Claus to deliver food and gifts. The light on the faces of the children and their overwhelmed parents is priceless! It keeps us going every year. The project served some 244 families and Cattlemen’s gifted 144 children with toys last year.”
The number of lives that northwest foodservice companies have an impact on is inspiring. In 2014 alone, Café Yumm! donated over 50,000 meals to FOOD For Lane County (FFLC), according to Edward Gerdes, vice president and general counsel. Café Yumm! has been a donor of FFLC for more than 15 years and supports many other community causes, including education.
Since 2007, Café Yumm! has donated tens of thousands of dollars to over 40 public education programs at K-12 schools and at Oregon universities. Café Yumm! has sponsored two travelling exhibits at the Science Factory Children’s Museum to help teach how good nutrition leads to better health in ‘The Healer Within’ and how good nutrition improves strength, stamina, and performance in ‘Eat Well, Play Well.’
The restaurant chain’s employees are often willing to go the extra mile, delivering on promises even when it requires overcoming obstacles. “In June 2014, the Willamette Riverkeepers held their annual clean-up on the Willamette River at Ross Island in Portland,” reports Gerdes. Café Yumm! donated a catered lunch for the volunteers. The challenge was how to deliver the meals across the Willamette River to Ross Island, which is inaccessible by bridge. “Judy Harrison, the Manager of Café Yumm! at SW 3rd and Morrison in downtown Portland and an avid kayaker, brought her kayak to work, loaded the prepared lunch, paddled to Ross Island, and served Yumm! casseroles, using her upside down kayak as a serving platform,” he recalls. “In addition to supporting clean-up programs along the Willamette, we support groups and clean-up efforts along the McKenzie and Deschutes Rivers.”
Café 440 has taken special interest in supporting Drive for a Cure, a fund and awareness raiser for the American Cancer Society. “I was approached by a group of ladies that were all survivors,” shares Schuetz. “They wanted to throw a golf tournament to help raise money for their own chapter. It really touched home because my father-in-law was in the process of dying of cancer. My wife was pretty distraught, and we were not in a very happy place in that moment in our life. So I got involved, sponsored a hole, brought a bunch of gift cards and helped them out in planning.
“Five years later, we just threw the fifth one, and it has helped my wife tremendously. It really helped us place the energy that was lost and displaced with fear and anger into something very positive. When it was all said and done, we raised $11,800 and gave it away in Papa Don’s name. That’s something that if I wasn’t an owner and hadn’t built a platform, I wouldn’t be able to accomplish.”
Causes aren’t always so personal, but Schuetz continues to listen to those in need. “Some of these groups I didn’t even know they were out there,” he confesses. “Then I find out what they’re doing. Really what it’s done, is it has brought to our restaurant a lot of very giving, caring, educated people that are involved in so many different things that they have common themes in their lives ‒ they’re giving back. These people gather in my restaurant, and it brings a fabulous energy. I get to introduce like-minded people doing similar things for different organizations.”
Philanthropy touches everyone involved, sometimes as part of a healing process. “Almost all of our local fundraisers come with a lot of emotion and gratitude, as it’s usually for someone in which our entire community is tied to in one way or another, whether they were our children’s school bus driver, friend, family, or your local waitress that has been serving you every Sunday as far back as you can remember,” says Jinny Neiswanger. “There is this one story that will stick out forever. Last summer, a local family lost their seven-year-old boy who drowned in the river. It is always devastating when these things in the community happen. Wimer’s Fire Chief Bill Fuller knew the family. He took the special request from the six-year-old sister for her Christmas presents. Being only six months after the incident, the family was still in a very depressed state and hard on their luck financially. It was Mr. and Mrs. Claus’ last stop, and it was received with a lot of thanks and tears. His sister received her gifts and everything she asked for, which was a plaque in his honor. Such a simple request from a heart-broken little girl.”
Schuetz learned the value of community service in the nation’s heartland, growing up in Hiawatha, Kansas. “For me, it started with Meals on Wheels with my grandma,” he recollects. “I was the five-year-old boy that would be taking hot plates out of the kitchen up to folks that couldn’t really get out of their home. So at a very young age, I saw people who were so thankful for just a little bit of attention and that someone made them a meal.” He didn’t realize the life-long influence it would have on him, a desire to serve that he would pass along so many others.
“I’m helping teach a whole other generation that you can really affect change if you are consistent and dedicated and have integrity,” says Schuetz. “This program has really brought my group together. They get people they don’t know coming up and telling them, ‘Thank you for a fundraiser’ that we got involved with a month ago. It makes them feel proud.”
Chef Holen believes that when he and his team donate time, food and effort to the community, it makes everyone better. “I think that by providing opportunities for our staff to participate in community events, it helps them see the big picture as well,” he points out. “If you kind of use that concept in life, where we have these opportunities presented to our staff to go out and volunteer, to participate in an event for no monetary return but for a greater good, that’s kind of the key element. I’d be amiss to say everyone understands that concept, but most of them get it.”
Ever grateful to the loyal locals who support his business, Holen and his wife Jennifer put a priority on community service. “People need to understand that we exist because of the town and this community that we live in,” he says. “When other restaurants don’t participate, I feel like they’re missing the big picture, the opportunity to be part of something bigger than themselves.”
Café Yumm!’s philosophy, developed by Founders Mark and Mary Ann Beauchamp, is to balance profits with public service and its effect on the environment. “We believe in doing well, by doing good,” states Gerdes. “What I mean is that the purpose of any business no longer can be solely to maximize profits for the benefit of shareholders. Business today must be focused on improving the community, while being environmentally neutral. Only in this way will we improve the lives of our team members and the communities we serve. And, yes, that means investors may take a hit on their financial return. But, think of the beneficial return to their spirit and health!” That philosophy motivated Café Yumm! to become one of the first 29 businesses in Oregon to receive formal registration as a Benefit Company whose core value is philanthropy.
What goes around, often comes around. “Everyone, at some point in their lives has received help for something by someone,” observes Bill Neiswanger. “At every level of life, every one person has needed to lean on someone for something ‒ even if it is counseling, an illness or financial.” He doesn’t have to look far for a good example.
Before she and Bill met, Jinny faced her own crisis. “At one point, I was on the receiving end of a gift basket from our community center,” reveals Jinny. “I had no idea my name was on the list. I was a single mother of three at the time. I really was in need but too proud to ask. Someone I knew submitted my name. To this day, I don’t know who. I was overwhelmed with relief that I was going to be able to have the traditional Christmas meal with my children that we were accustomed to. There were also gifts for the children. That is where the example was set.
“Since then my life has bounced back. I have been serving our community ever since. I have been forever thankful!” The kind-hearted restaurateur suggests, “Just remember to always pay it forward.”
Good deeds produce returns that don’t show up in a restaurateur’s bank account. “Success is not measured by dollars and cents, but by how much we help others and by how much we help the Earth,” observes Gerdes. “Ralph Waldo Emerson says it well, ‘It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely help another without helping himself.’ Café Yumm! exists to make a difference in the world, or at least our small corner of it. We know our actions make a difference.”
Making a real difference requires sacrifice. “Philanthropy is hard,” concludes Mondainé. “It’s hard not to be selfish. It’s difficult not to go for the gold. I like elegance, but not at the cost of somebody else’s livelihood.” The preacher side of his personality often wins out, leading the businessman by example. “I want to bring as many people along for the ride as I can,” he smiles. “I activate people to do greater things.” Sometimes that involves a leap of faith, taking a chance at turning society’s outcasts into star soul food chefs. Sometimes it’s a simpler act of kindness, like spreading the spirit of philanthropy to a few guests over a basket of deep-fried catfish, hush puppies and a glass of sweet, hibiscus-accented Sorrel. As Oregon’s Restaurant Neighbor Award winners know, nothing tastes more satisfying than giving. | KIRK RICHARDSON