Q&A: The force behind Restaurant Week

When she’s not running her Cary Street restaurant, Acacia mid-town, Aline Reitzer is busy perfecting the recipe for another growing local enterprise.

Reitzer is the founder and organizer of Richmond Restaurant Week, a twice-yearly event to showcase the area’s independent restaurants and raise money for a charitable cause.

Aline Reitzer inside Acacia midtown. (Photo by Michael Thompson)

Aline Reitzer (Photos by Michael Thompson)

Between Oct. 21 and Oct. 27, dozens restaurants across town offered fixed menus for $25.13, with $2.13 from each meal going to FeedMore, the umbrella organization for the Central Virginia Food Bank and Meals on Wheels.

The event was founded in 2001, and 40 restaurants participated this year. Reitzer and her staff work up to 65 hours during Restaurant Week – to help everyone at Acacia get through the week, Reitzer passes out “bribe bags” with painkillers, chocolate and liquor inside.

Richmond Restaurant Week has raised $260,000 for FeedMore, helping the organization give away 1 million meals last year, Reitzer said.

BizSense caught up with Reitzer last week to find out how the event has grown, why it’s so popular and why she thinks it’s good the city.

The following is an edited transcript.

Richmond BizSense: How has Richmond Restaurant Week grown since it began in 2001?

Aline Reitzer: We started with nine restaurants, and we raised $5,000 the first year. We’ve grown consistently each year. It was always in the fall in the last week of October, and we added the last week of April, so it became a biannual event. Last year, we raised just over $56,000. The numbers aren’t in for this year.

We keep a waiting list of restaurants who contact us each year that want to participate, and we’ll look and see how well the event did, how many restaurants we have on the waiting list, how many we’re going to add and grow the event that way for the following year.

RBS: How do you explain that kind of growth?

AR: It’s a unique event. I think when we started it was one of the first, if not the first, that offered the charitable aspect to it. There are a lot of cities that do restaurant weeks, and it’s [just] to promote the restaurants and get the diners to go out and eat. Richmond is a very charitable city. Restaurateurs work very hard, and they’re constantly asked for donations to events that are going on. We wanted to offer something that would let the restaurants showcase what they do and be able to raise money and donate to a cause that’s in line with our business, which is food.

Two, I think it’s a value for the money. $25.13. Most of the cities are $30, $35 or $40 for dinners like this. It’s a grouping of local restaurants, and I think that there is support for that. We do Saturday numbers, if not more, every single day of the week. It’s an opportunity for restaurants’ names to get out there and an opportunity to gain new guests on a regular basis.

Acacia mid-town on Cary Street.

Acacia mid-town on Cary Street.

RBS: How is Richmond Restaurant Week structured between the organization and the restaurants?

AR: We’re looking for restaurants that can support a $25 menu. We’re looking for a restaurant to be open for a year, which shows good faith. They have to be able to offer a three-course menu. There are a couple of other guidelines. We do the marketing and advertising, we take care of the website, we offer menu paper, we put posters out and we offer little postcards they pass out.

A lot of the events in other cities are run by a convention center or by a marketing company or by a restaurant association, and this is something that is organized by me. One hundred percent of the proceeds go to the food bank, and there is no fee to participate. A lot of the cities have fees from $800 to $1,000 to participate in something like this. Being a restaurateur, that was something that was very important to me, that it is on a volunteer basis on my part and it’s something that is done for the restaurants essentially by a restaurant.

RBS: So Richmond Restaurant Week as an organization doesn’t make any money?

AR: No. It doesn’t make any.

RBS: It’s just that much fun?

AR: It’s my charitable aspect for the food bank, which I believe in.

RBS: Is it more about restaurants getting the word out, or are they actually making some good business off of this?

AR: It’s about banding together a group of local restaurants that work hard each and every day, and it’s about promoting locally owned and operated restaurants. It’s about offering the guests an opportunity to go to a restaurant that they might not typically go to with their perceptions being that it might be too expensive or they maybe haven’t heard about it. This is an opportunity to get names out there, and it lets the guests go into the restaurant for a set a price. They know what they’re going to spend, and it’s up to each of the restaurants to offer their ideal dining experience. The hope is to gain new clientele, new repeat guests.

RBS: Why is Restaurant Week good for the city?

AR: We’ve noticed guests coming from Charlottesville, Williamsburg, Virginia Beach and Washington, D.C. In 2010, we partnered with some of the [bed and breakfasts] that were in town – they were offering special rate for guests that were coming to dine. I think people are very aware of food banks, and I think FeedMore is an amazing organization with the amount of people that they feed, and the programs that they do for children are impressive for Richmond.

It has momentum, and it has just continued to grow, and the amount of people that are in Richmond who support an event like this is tremendous.

Reitzer will be one of five local restaurateurs featured at Kitchen Confidential II, a panel discussion and networking event Thursday, Nov. 7. Click here to register.

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