Seattle Restaurants Aim to Make A Difference By Giving Back

The restaurant business isn’t just about serving food. It’s about serving people.

Sometimes service extends beyond the dining room, into the realm of social responsibility. But social responsibility isn’t just about doing good. It’s about good business.

According to Michael Stroik, manager of Research and Analytics for the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP), corporate philanthropy has become an integral part of business. Stroik reports, "Many companies link giving budgets to business performance among companies giving at least 10% more since 2010, median revenues increased by 11% while revenues fell 3% for all other companies.”

Moreover, Stoik contends, “Corporate giving is being used as more than a way to manage reputation and stockholders, but as a growth driver, platform for innovation and a way to drive a corporate culture."

Here, Foodable WebTV Network spotlights Seattle food and beverage industry leaders practicing successful social responsibility while enhancing business.


“Great Food. Better Lives.” Seattle’s FareStart transforms the lives of homeless and disadvantaged people through its culinary training and placement program.

How? By utilizing a brilliant, self-sustaining business model that incorporates hands-on learning with real-life food service.

It works. Now in operation for over twenty years, FareStart provides trainees kitchen skills and acquisition of nutritional guidelines, safe food handling, and meal planning through active participation at its downtown 7th and Virginia restaurant, catering venues, and contract meal fulfillment.

FareStart contract meals nourish homeless shelters and daycare facilities like Head Start 365 days a year. The FareStart restaurant serves lunch weekdays 11 am - 2 pm.  And catering includes both on-premise at Beacon Hill’s Cafe@PacificTower, and off-premise. Moreover, FareStart also runs an eight-week Youth Barista Training Program, in conjunction with Youthcare, at FareStart Cafe@2100 in Rainier Valley. Proceeds from the restaurant, catering and contract meals go back into the training and placement program.

But perhaps FareStart’s greatest success revolves around its popular, reservations-only Guest Chef Night. Each Thursday, program trainees assist culinary luminaries in the preparation of a gourmet 3-course meal at the downtown restaurant. At $29.95, many consider the Guest Chef Dinner one of Seattle’s best bargains. To date, the Guest Chef Dinner has raised over $4 million in program funds.

More than just a meal, Guest Chef Night involves celebration. Trainees who successfully complete the rolling 16-week program strut onstage after dinner service for a spirited graduation ceremony; many graduates have jobs waiting for them with participating restaurants.

For chefs, it’s a chance to give back, and empower. Past guest chefs include Becky Selengut and Lynn Vea of PCC Natural Markets, Holly Smith of Cafe Juanita, and Ethan Stowell of Ethan Stowell Restaurants.

FareStart Culinary Training Program  | Credit FareStart

FareStart Culinary Training Program | Credit FareStart

Megan Karch, FareStart CEO explains, “Ninety percent of our students are getting jobs after graduation due to being well trained and ready to work in the food service industry. We are fortunate to have the support of many chefs and restaurant owners in the Seattle region and find that they are not only happy that they hired a FareStart grad, but they do so knowing that providing that job is instrumental in transforming a life and strengthening our community.”


“What is the role and responsibility of a for-profit corporation?” asks Howard Schultz, CEO, Starbucks in his 2014 Global Responsibility Report.

For Starbucks, mixing people with profit works. From ethical sourcing, green buildings, and carbon footprint reduction, to clean water, hygiene and youth work placement programs, the coffee company engages in social responsibility on a global scale.

But what about small business owners without the international reach and interests of a food and beverage giant like Starbucks? Such a multi-layered model for social responsibility may offer insight into what’s available for those with limited resources but an unlimited desire to help.

For example, community service ranks among the most accessible means of carrying out social responsibility. In 2014, Starbucks employees donated 520,000 hours of volunteer service worldwide. Their 2014 April Global Month of Service engaged almost 60,000 volunteers in over 30 countries, benefiting approximately 1.4 million people at a value of $5.3 million to communities.

More importantly, for every hour contributed by a Starbucks employee, almost two additional hours came from a customer brought along on to help volunteer, thereby strengthening the bonds of community through the shared journey of giving back.

Starbucks also partners with local cultural, athletic and social services groups such as ArtsFund, Bumbershoot, Seattle Art Museum Seattle Foundation, Seattle International Film Festival, Seattle Seafair, Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Sounders FC,  Seattle Theatre Group, United Way of King County, and University of Washington.

Another format for social responsibility derives from Starbucks Community Stores. Initiated in 2011, today Starbucks boasts eight storefronts, including Seattle’s Central District Community Store at 23rd and Jackson. Designed to dispense community service and job training while teaching leadership, community stores provide life and job skills in a positive learning environment. For example, the Central District Community Store partners with the YWCA East Cherry Street Branch to support their GirlsFirst and Young Parent Program.

Another compelling opportunity arises at Starbucks’ Seattle’s SODO Kitchen, run by Bon Appétit Management Company . At SODO Kitchen, Starbucks fights food waste and hunger through participation in Operation Sack Lunch  and the Food Recovery Network . Operation Sack Lunch provides meals to the food insecure at organizations like First Church Overnight Shelter, Roy Street Shelter, and Peace on the Streets by Kids on the Streets. 

While only a partial list of Starbucks Global Social Responsibility blueprint, these offer a glimpse of options available to those interested in entering the giving arena.

King County Food: Too Good To Waste | EPA Food Recovery Challenge

In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Recovery Challenge offers business owners ways to prevent and divert food waste in their establishments. By following the Food Waste Hierarchy, participants only cut down on waste, but also on waste collection costs.

Clearly, as these Seattle venues demonstrate, social responsibility improves not just lives, but business viability.