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Diners lift forks, raise money

Dine for America organizers estimate that a single night of eating out has netted more than $20-million for victims of the terrorist attacks.

By CHRIS SHERMAN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 24, 2001


In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Americans eager to do something, anything, to help lined up across the country to give blood.

A month later, they found something else they could do: eat.

On Oct. 11, countless Americans lined up for lunch or dinner at more than 12,000 restaurants to raise money for the Red Cross and victims of the attacks in Washington, New York and Pennsylvania and probably broke all records in restaurant fundraising.

Although the tally is not completed, the benefits that day are likely to raise more than $20-million.

The biggest single contribution will be $8.5-million raised by Tampa-based Outback restaurant, which donated 100 percent of sales from its various restaurants plus contributions from employees and executives. Lone Star Steakhouses, which also donated 100 percent, raised $2.1-million. The Darden group of restaurants, which includes Red Lobster and Olive Garden, accounted for an additional $1.5-million.

Outback executives Chris Sullivan and Paul Avery were major forces in organizing Dine for America, which included almost 8,000 restaurants, including most of the major chains and many independents.

"Right now I would assume there are probably 5,000 accounting departments feverishly working to crunch the numbers. We've got between $13.5- and $14-million now, but we should wind up around the $20-million mark," said Will Powers of Restaurants Unlimited, the Seattle restaurant group that instituted Dine for America.

On the same night, many diners contributed to a second benefit, Windows of Hope, organized by New York chefs to support the families of food service workers killed at the Windows on the World restaurant and other eating places in the trade center.

That effort, which was joined by 4,000 restaurants, has raised $1.4-million so far, but because many of those restaurants are independent, collecting and calculating the total raised will take longer. In the Tampa Bay area, they range from the Lobster Pot in Redington Shores to Pepin's in St. Petersburg to Dad's Diner in Spring Hill to Bern's Steakhouse in Tampa.

Numbers have not been added up yet at many restaurants, but Bern's has calculated that it will donate $3,000 based on the night's sales.

Chip Roehl of Splash in North Tampa, one of the first local restaurateurs to get involved with Windows of Hope, said patrons were glad to be part of the event and some asked to contribute directly. "It was a really nice feeling" that night, he said.

At the LongHorn Steakhouse in Largo, manager Marion Wolfe III said people didn't mind waiting that night. "It was very festive. I visited a lot of tables, and people were talking and discussing a lot," more so than the usual Thursday night family dinners.

Xavier Adames, a manager at Lone Star Steakhouse in St. Petersburg, gave credit to the customers and noticed the kind of thing that restaurant managers notice: "People were very generous, ordering top shelf items so they could donate more."

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