Restaurants serve up help to state’s nonprofits

The New Hampshire Food Bank, Animal Rescue League of New Hampshire, the Palace Theatre and CASA. As diverse as these nonprofit organizations seem, they have one thing in common: Each has been on the receiving end of the generosity and philanthropic efforts put forth by members of New Hampshire’s restaurant industry.

That generosity was fully on display in May, when culinary masters from 50 New Hampshire restaurants and 25 beer, wine and spirit purveyors demonstrated their commitment to ending childhood hunger by donating their time, talent and creations to Share Our Strength’s 2009 Taste of the Nation event in Manchester.

The annual event drew a crowd of nearly 800 people happy to purchase a ticket in exchange for an evening of good food and fine drink and the satisfaction of knowing they were supporting a worthwhile cause.

“We are so fortunate to live in this generous community,” said E.J. Powers, vice president of Manchester-based Montagne Communications and public relations and marketing chair of Manchester’s 2009 Taste of the Nation event. “New Hampshire’s restaurant owners are always willing to lend a hand when we ask them, especially when it comes to battling childhood hunger. This is an issue that hits close to home for them, and one they know they can do something about.”

The New Hampshire Food Bank, Children’s Alliance of New Hampshire and Nesenkeag Farm Inc., a nonprofit educational farm located in Litchfield, will all share in the proceeds of this year’s event.

Taste of the Nation Portsmouth will be held Wednesday, June 24, at Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth.

While the annual Taste of the Nation event has grown in popularity since it began, it is only one example of how members of New Hampshire’s restaurant industry extend a hand to nonprofits throughout the Granite State – even as the recession hits the bottom line of so many eateries.

Commitment to community

For Quentin Keefe, owner of the Commercial Street Fishery in Manchester, giving back to the community just seems like the right thing to do.

“It’s the way I was brought up,” said Keefe, a Manchester native and graduate of Central High School. “I always believed that those of us who are lucky enough to enjoy some success are obligated to give back.”

Keefe’s involvement with Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation reaches back to before he opened the doors three years ago to Commercial Street Fishery.

“There is something wrong when children are going to school hungry in a nation as wealthy as ours,” said Keefe. “Share Our Strength just does great work. It is a natural fit for all of us in the restaurant business.”

In addition to his passion for feeding people, both as a restaurant owner and community volunteer, Keefe serves on the board of directors of the Palace Theatre in Manchester.

“The Palace Theater is a cultural icon,” said Keefe. “We bring great productions to the community and do wonderful work with kids. It’s just a great asset to the people of New Hampshire.”

According to Helen Costello, program manager for Recipe for Success, Tom Puskarich, owner and chef of the Elm Street restaurant “Z” in Manchester, has offered ongoing support to her organization and the students who attend her culinary training program.

Puskarich once a month opens the restaurant’s kitchen to would-be chefs and their culinary ideas and his dining room to the guest chefs’ friends and families. Puskarich donates a portion of the proceeds collected on these evenings to the Food Bank. In addition, Puskarich provides Costello’s students with hands-on experience by inviting a few of them each month to staff these events.

Other restaurants and dining facilities throughout the state, including T-Bones Great American Eatery in Manchester and the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton, also offer internships to Recipe for Success students. And those internships, Costello said, go a long way toward helping the students secure stable employment after graduating from the training program.

While organizations like the Food Bank and Share Our Strength are a natural fit for restaurants, the industry reaches out to a much more diverse range of nonprofits around the state.

The Common Man Family of Restaurants has nurtured a culture of “doing well by doing good” since opening the doors of its first Common Man Restaurant in Ashland in 1971. The company now has 15 eateries throughout the state, from Windham to Claremont and Merrimack to Lincoln. The company’s philanthropic efforts, which began with small acts of kindness extended to its earliest customers, now reach throughout the state and beyond.

CASA, New Hampshire’s Girl Scouts, the American Red Cross, the New Hampshire Food Bank and Plymouth’s homeless shelter are among the long list of nonprofits supported by The Common Man Family.

In addition, Common Man founder Alex Ray recently transformed the historic Daniel Webster homestead in Franklin into the Webster Place Recovery Center, a nonprofit facility offering support, guidance and care to individuals living with alcohol and drug addiction. He also is in the process of building a culinary school in Honduras.

While commitment to the community begins at the top of the Common Man family, it is embraced at all levels.

“Beyond the financial contributions is the support the employees are given to devote company time to nonprofits and encouragement to participate on boards,” said Erica Murphy, director of communications and community relations for Common Man.

“Our managers and employees share in the belief that it’s important to show our loyalty to the communities that support us,” said Jason Lyon, chief executive officer of Common Man. “As one of the largest hospitality families in the state we have the obligation to demonstrate to other businesses what can be done and we encourage other employers to join us in being socially conscious.”