Dining

Delicious charity

Restaurants across the Valley are partnering up to provide you with a great meal and help the hungry at the same time

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Julie Murray and Scott Hamilton at the Three Square food bank.
Photo: Iris Dumuk
Grace Bascos

These days, it can be expensive to eat out. But often we forget that there are those who don't even have that option. There are hundreds of thousands in our Valley who starve in their homes. Now you have the opportunity to do your part.

From September 1-7, you can purchase special prix fixe menus from restaurants throughout Las Vegas, including L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Bradley Ogden and RM Seafood, for either $25.08 or $50.08, and a portion of the proceeds go to help Three Square in the fight against hunger. It's all part of Restaurant Week, a collaborative effort between Vegas' hospitality and gaming industries and Three Square, the local food bank.

Last year Restaurant Week began as an effort to expand the client base for MGM Mirage restaurants by offering significantly reduced prixe fixe menus for a week, says Scott Hamilton, director of food and beverage at MGM Grand and Restaurant Week chair. The idea of working toward that common cause evolved into creating an altruistic aspect to the week, and eventually it expanded beyond MGM Mirage restaurants to include eateries at other gaming properties as well as off-Strip. It seems natural that a week about feeding others should involve helping to feed everyone. (Though other cities such as LA, Chicago and New York have been holding their own Restaurant Weeks for a while now, those are organized by the National Restaurant Association, a lobbying group, so their versions never directly benefit the community.)

Realizing it's a struggle to get most locals into Strip restaurants because of the high price tags or a general aversion to the Strip, Hamilton sees Restaurant Week as an opportunity for the casinos to reconnect with Vegas residents. "Working with Three Square really allowed us to do that," says Hamilton. "They had a need as we had a need, which was to get the message out there for their cause. Not only are we helping them raise funds, but the big piece is really awareness for them."

The Three Square organization was already working in symbiosis with the hospitality industry. In 2003, Eric Hilton, grandson of Conrad, upon learning that a local group working to feed the hungry had closed, commissioned a study to determine the scope of hunger in Las Vegas. The 2004-2006 study discovered some 210,000 men, women and children in the Las Vegas Valley living in poverty; for those 210,000 people, a food bank should be providing 234 pounds of food per person, or 49 million pounds of food, per year. When Three Square officially became a legal entity on September 1, 2006, its board of trustees was already filled with head honchos from all the major gaming corporations.

And as it goes with gaming corporations, the executives sought to run Three Square as a business. Knowing that it requires more than passion and determination to feed more than 200,000 people, the board addressed practical issues such as budgets, transportation and the demographics of poverty. As one of the largest purchasers of food in the world, Las Vegas' hospitality industry can effectively pass the savings on to Three Square, either in the form of vendor donations or requesting that their vendors allow the nonprofit to purchase food at the hotel's price points.

"The way we're able to succeed in our battle against hunger is if the community collaborates," says Julie Murray, Three Square CEO. And their mission is much more than just raising money and providing food—it includes raising awareness of who exactly is hungry in Las Vegas. "It's not the homeless man with the street sign. It's innocent children, seniors, working families. We need to change the perception of who the hungry person is, because if the community doesn't know who's hungry, they can't engage to help."

As Three Square grows, so does Restaurant Week. Recently a second, 70,000-square-foot building was donated to the Three Square campus, and the organization is on track to provide 10 million pounds of food this year, still working toward its goal of 49 million. Last year, 50 restaurants participated in Restaurant Week, and raised approximately $25,000, which equates to 25,000 meals served. This year almost 80 restaurants have joined the effort, and properties such as MGM Grand have added after-hours events. "In keeping with the tradition of Restaurant Week," Murray says, "enjoy some fine dining while giving back.

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