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Asheville's Dining Out for Life event returns Thursday

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4/25/2012 - Asheville's Dining Out for Life event returns Thursday
by Casey Blake - Asheville Citizen Times

 ASHEVILLE -- It was nine years and close to a million dollars ago that Harry Brown brought Dining Out for Life to Asheville, but he still speaks about what he finds in those little donation envelopes as if he's unwrapping presents on Christmas morning.

 Thursday, the 10th occurrence of the popular fundraiser, could be the year the total raised over the years hits the million-dollar mark. The event is the year's largest for the Western North Carolina AIDS Project.

Brown, the special-events coordinator for WNCAP, said he isn't setting that mark as an official goal, but the nonchalance of his "It would be pretty great if it happened" isn't very convincing.

"We are nearing the $1 million mark, having raised $859,000 in the first nine years," Brown said.

"We don't want to set that as a goal this year, but if we can just raise $3,000 more than last year's record-setting total, we would be there," he said. "It's hard not to hope for that."

More than 100 eateries in Asheville, Sylva, Black Mountain, Hendersonville, Saluda, Brevard, Waynesville, Maggie Valley, Weaverville, Woodfin and, this year, Highlands will donate 20 percent of their gross sales Thursday to WNCAP.

The event begins at dawn with breakfast at many restaurants and continues through lunch and dinner on to late-night dining.

WNCAP, which provides resources and support to more than 330 HIV/AIDS patients, as well as coordinating HIV education and prevention, will join groups in 50 other cities across the country and in Canada for today's benefit.

Record amount raised

Last year's Dining Out for Life raised more than $135,000, setting a record for both diner and restaurant donation. More diners participated than ever before.

"At this point we're actually No. 1 for dollars raised per capita of any Dining Out event in the country," he said. "It's a pretty incredible feeling."

A restaurant in Highlands, in Macon County, joined the ranks this year at the suggestion of a WNCAP client from that area, and some restaurants will be "adopted" by other companies that will staff the eateries with their ambassadors.

Keller Williams has already provided 10 agents to work the crowd at Pack's Tavern, for example, and Town & Mountain has adopted Table, among many other volunteers.

Elements of success

Asheville is No. 5 in actual dollars raised among 60 cities across the country and in Canada, beating out cities including San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago, Miami, Palm Springs, Atlanta and Houston.

Brown said the success has been due in part to Asheville's fabulous food scene, but it also has to do with a generous community of patrons and businesses. He said most cities have participating restaurants sign contracts and jump through legal hoops to ensure the proper donations are funneled correctly.

In Asheville, the business donation model is "handshake."

"Asking people to go out and eat in Asheville is a pretty easy sell in and of itself," Brown said. "But it definitely helps that this is such a handshake kind of business community. People just really want to help."

The event has seven veteran participants whose restaurants have participated every year since its inception almost a decade ago, including Tupelo Honey Café owner Steve Frabitore.

"As a business owner and especially restaurant owner, you have to be careful not to donate yourself out of business in a community where so many causes are really worthy," Frabitore said. "But this has always been one we've wanted to be a part of."

But the event is infused with newcomers each year as well, including the popular new tapas eatery Curaté joining the ranks for this year's event.

"The amazing thing about places like Curaté taking part is that it's not as if they need this event to up their sales that day," Brown said. "They would already be booked even without the bump."

But Curaté owner Elizabeth Button said she was just excited to be a part of the smash fundraiser.

"When I heard how vast this event was, I was on board," she said. "I think it just speaks to how much this community values treating each other as human beings, and we w ant to support what Asheville believes."

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