Foodie Philanthropy: Dining Out for a Cause

Fort Worth nonprofit organizes dinners out for charity.

It’s worked for seven years since Michael Crain launched the idea in China. So why not in Fort Worth?

Crain, who lived in China for several years after moving there to serve as chief of staff at the U.S. Embassy, launched Chi Fan for Charity – restaurants donate a table for 10, including all food and beverage, Chi Fan charges a prix fixe price for seats at the table, and proceeds go to a charity. Chi Fan, launched in 2006, has raised $900,000 for Chinese charities through dinners in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, Crain says.

Crain, who moved back to the United States and is now an agent at Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International in Fort Worth, and friends are now launching the same thing in Fort Worth through Foodie Philanthropy, a Fort Worth 501(c)3. Its first event: a Feb. 20 dinner at 14 restaurants across Fort Worth. Restaurants donated tables with the food and beverages included. Tickets cost $60-$160, with proceeds going to Girls Inc., whose mission is “inspiring all girls to be strong, smart and bold.” (The event was held after press time for this article.) Foodie Philanthropy assigned hosts to lead each table, with Girls Inc. board members hosting some of the tables. The evening-ender: a free after-party in the West 7th district, with the space donated by the West 7th development and beverages by Rahr & Sons Brewing Co., Times Ten Cellars and The Acre Distillery.

The event taps into what many consumers are doing on Saturdays, Crain says. “You’re going to dinner with friends, old friends, new friends,” he says. “Then you go to a party afterwards and see other friends.” And it’s a way for restaurants, which are always under pressure to make donations, to channel their giving, Crain says.

“Fort Worth has a great food scene,” Crain said. “The owners and chefs want to do philanthropic things. Fort Worth loves to give back a lot.”

Restaurants giving to this year’s event: FW Market + Table, Brewed, The Capital Grille, Magdalena’s, Swiss Pastry Shop, Z’s Café, Piola Italian Restaurant & Garden, Clay Pigeon Food and Drink, Max’s Wine Dive, Grace-Fort Worth, Cannon Chinese Kitchen, Los Vaqueros Restaurant, Joe T. Garcia’s and La Perla Negra.

To sign on, restaurants agree to contribute at least a three-course meal and two glasses of wine or cocktails. “A lot of the restaurants end up going above and beyond,” Crain said.

Foodie Philanthropy’s goal was 10 restaurants the first year, Crain said. The organization – led by Crain and his wife Joanna and a steering committee including key members Staci Kirpach and Victoria Puente - wants to do the dinner annually. He’s also been contacted by people in Southlake and Dallas about putting on the same kinds of events in those cities, he said. “There’s really no reason why this can’t be done elsewhere,” he said.

Selling the concept to restaurants was easy with some, difficult with others, Crain said. “Once the people understand the concept, that it’s really a table for one night, I think they’ll embrace it,” he said.

Chi Fan – to have a meal in Mandarin – started with 16 restaurants in Beijing and 20 in Shanghai, Crain said. The organization had 64 restaurants for its Beijing event last year, and 50 for Shanghai. The Hong Kong event has 25 restaurants.

Charities routinely chosen as beneficiaries for the events in China and Hong Konginclude migrant children’s schools, orphanages, and women’s empowerment organizations, Crain said. “That’s why partnering with Girls Inc. (for the first Fort Worth dinner) is a no-brainer,” Crain said. “We’ve all had doors opened for us.”