Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Connie Diemoz won’t be eating at Mesa Grill anytime soon. But the dishes the chefs at the Caesars Palace restaurant prepare next week will help put food on her table.
Mesa Grill is one of more than 100 local restaurants participating in Las Vegas Restaurant Week, which begins Sunday and ends a week later. Now in its sixth year, the event offers discounted meals for diners at some of the city’s top restaurants, with a portion of the proceeds going to charity.
Three Square food bank has received $500,000 in donations since Restaurant Week began. Organizers hope to raise another $100,000 this year.
”So often, people who eat at restaurants on the Strip aren’t thinking about hungry people,” Three Square President Brian Burton said. “This is a good way to call attention to the needs of the community.”
Since 2006, Restaurant Week has provided more than 1.5 million meals for people in need.
How exactly does a plate of veal scallopini translate into a hot lunch for a needy family? Here’s a look at where diners’ dollars go:
More than 100 restaurants, in and out of casinos, on and off the Strip, will participate in this year’s Restaurant Week.
Each has planned a set-price, three-course meal for which diners will pay between $20.12 and $50.12. Of that, the restaurants will donate between $4 and $6 from every meal sold to Three Square.
Last year, Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill donated $12,240 — enough to feed 101 people three meals a day for a year.
“Until you really live in the community, you can’t sense the devastating effects that the economy has had here, which are still lingering,” said J.P. Francois, the restaurant’s general manager. “This is something our staff takes pride in doing.”
The chefs say they take special care in planning the menus because they want to attract repeat customers and increase donations.
“We want to give people real value and not make it a chicken-and-salmon week,” Francois said. “We want to give them the flavor of Mesa Grill and some of the great recipes Bobby develops.”
The strategy has worked. Mesa Grill has almost doubled its Restaurant Week orders over the past three years. It sold 1,183 in 2009 and 2,068 last year.
Three Square takes the money donated from the restaurants and uses it to pay for food, storage and transportation.
Every day, 17 box trucks leave the Three Square warehouse in North Las Vegas to collect food from more than a dozen grocery stores across the valley. If not donated, the food would spoil on the grocery store shelves.
“We’re helping the communities and also helping the stores stay a little bit greener and cut down on their waste,” said John Livingston, chief operations officer for Three Square.
About 95 percent of Three Square’s food is donated. But the organization still has costs. It has to pay for gas, warehouse space and staff.
The agency also supplements collected items by buying food in bulk. Charities pay a small fee for those items but not enough to offset their cost.
Money collected during Restaurant Week also helps pay for meals that Three Square prepares and cooks for children in after-school and summer programs.
About 200 agencies receive food from Three Square and distribute it to needy people in the valley. About 93 cents of every dollar donated to Three Square goes directly to feed people, agency officials said.
One of the agencies that receives food from Three Square is the Sunrise Southern Baptist Church, which runs a food pantry and teaches other nonprofit groups how to do the same.
When the church, located near Lake Mead and Nellis boulevards, opened in 1964, its food pantry was a closet. Today, the pantry fills a fellowship hall and several storage rooms. Ten thousand hotdogs wait in a freezer for an upcoming neighborhood Halloween party.
Last year, Sunrise gave away 863,000 pounds of food on an $18,000 budget. This year, the church hopes to give away 1 million pounds.
”We serve six ZIP codes up here,” Deacon Kenny Johnson said.
On a slow day, the line for food runs 130 people deep. Busy days can bring 200 people or more.
Diemoz suffers from a severe lung disease that prevents her from working. Her disability check barely covers rent on her two-bedroom apartment in North Las Vegas, she said.
So, twice a month, Diemoz visits Sunrise Southern Baptist Church to pick up a large box of fruit and vegetables and a bag of canned and boxed goods. The food comes from Three Square and is partially paid for by Restaurant Week dollars.
“It gives me enough food to help me get through the month and make sure my daughter gets three meals a day,” Diemoz said.
Three Square officials estimate that 1 in 6 Las Vegans worries about having enough to eat each month.
”Fresh fruits and vegetables are so expensive in the store, and I wouldn’t be able to get them if I didn’t come here,” Diemoz said. “I’m a diabetic, so I need that. We eat lots of salads.”