Whether the mantra is to be chef-driven or locally sourced, today’s restaurants are quick to communicate their ethos and let guests know what they value. At Jack Allen’s Kitchen in Austin, Texas, the restaurant group proudly calls itself community-driven. “We wouldn’t be able to do what we do, how we do it, without our neighbors,” says Shannon Sheffield, who works for the farm-to-table, Southern-inspired restaurant group that has three locations in the city. This love of their community inspires Sheffield and her team to give back through fundraising and volunteering for local charities throughout the year. For instance, last year the group raised $150,000 for the Lone Star Paralysis Foundation, a local nonprofit that raises money for paralysis research and offers therapy for paralysis patients.
“We could not do it without the staff that we have here,” she says. “They are 100 percent behind what we do.” She advises restaurant owners who want to contribute to start by looking at their teams for inspiration. “Find an organization that speaks to you and partner with them,” she says. Ask staff about the charities they care about or what groups they have worked with in the past, and learn about where they would like to contribute to. Creating personal connections to nonprofits makes it easier to get everyone on board with fundraising. Sheffield also schedules time for charity representatives to come in and speak to her staff so they can hear how their hard work is going to good use.
Sometimes the connection is even more personal. When an employee of Jack Allen’s Kitchen was diagnosed with leukemia, the company came together and raised $13,000 last year.
When it comes to charity, every little bit helps. “Every donation doesn’t have to be on a grand scale,” Sheffield says. Space in a restaurant and volunteer hours are also very valuable. “We give space in front of our restaurant to Girl Scouts and it costs us nothing, but they’re so grateful,” she explains. A portion of the lobby or even the parking lot can be a boon for a local charity and introduce diners to a cause that they may want to support as well.
Volunteering as a team can also be a great way for a restaurant to help a local nonprofit—and it usually amounts to minimal cost for the restaurant. Every Thanksgiving the team at Jack Allen’s Kitchen volunteers to feed local firefighters who are working and can’t be at home with their families for the holiday. A single dollar can make a significant difference for a local charity. At Jack Allen’s Kitchen $1 of every sale of the Layered Chunky Queso Dip goes to the Lone Star Paralysis Foundation, and a footnote description lets diners know that part of the cost of the dish is donated to the nonprofit.
For Sheffield, the restaurant group’s fundraising is essentially a “thank you” to the local community. She encourages other restaurant owners to get involved however they can. “Just put the word out there and do what you can to help,” she advises. “If you’re thinking about helping, you should just do it.”