Raleigh restaurant combats world hunger with charity event

sgilman@newsobserver.comNovember 28, 2013 

— In the empty streets of Glenwood South on Thanksgiving Day, Plates Neighborhood Kitchen bustled with activity.

The Raleigh restaurant partnered with the international organization Stop Hunger Now to serve a holiday feast from 1 until 6 p.m. Of the $38.33 customers paid for a three-course meal, $30 will feed hungry people worldwide.

Stop Hunger Now packages meals for a cost of 25 cents each and ships them to countries around the world. According to its website, www.stophungernow.org, the organization has shipped more than 1.6 million meals to the Philippines to help victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

Plates owners Kate Day, who is a member of the board of Stop Hunger Now, and Stephen Day wanted to help. When they opened their restaurant Nov. 1, they already had planned the event.

Menu items Thursday included roast turkey breast and turkey leg rillette with gravy, green bean gratin casserole, sweet potatoes and sticky toffee pudding with Armagnac – a French brandy – crème fraiche.

“When you do something like this in a restaurant, you lose money on it,” Plates manager Brandon Horton said. “But Stop Hunger Now will benefit.”

The Days expected about 100 people to dine on Thursday, which Stop Hunger Now will parlay into about 12,000 meals. By about 1:30 p.m., at least 30 diners sat over their steaming Thanksgiving food.

Thankful to be giving

Some said the quality of the meal brought them to the restaurant.

“The food is delicious,” Richard Wilson said, his fork poised in midair.

He and his wife, Mary Wilson, drove the 35 miles from Bailey for their lunch. They had visited two or three times before, so when they knew it would be just the two of them for Thanksgiving, they chose Plates.

“We knew it was going to be a wonderful meal,” Mary Wilson said. “The bonus was that it is a Stop Hunger contribution.”

The fact that most of the cost of the lunch would go to the charity was “incredibly selfless,” she said.

She said the two of them ordered different menu items so they could sample as much as possible.

Rob Villar and Gina Rhodes sat at a small table by the north wall and scanned their menus. Villar is a sergeant in the Army stationed at Fort Bragg. Rhodes attends the University of Miami School of Law. They became engaged six months ago and met up for Thanksgiving.

Neither had ever been to Plates.

“I was poking around online,” Villar said. “It seemed like the best option out of everything. We like the whole charity event kind of deal, so it seemed like a no-brainer.”

Villar and Rhodes planned to order a bottle of white wine with their turkey, potatoes, and green bean casserole.

Globally inspired

Plates boasts complementary themes of Southern-style cooking and international flares.

A pile of suitcases lies beneath the menu board, clocks on the back wall show the times for New York, London, Paris and Tokyo, and the bathroom walls are plastered with postcards from all around the world.

“We are globally inspired, locally produced,” Kate Day said.

The Vietnamese sandwich, for instance, contains locally raised pork.

Many of their ideas and decorative items came from the 30 countries where she and her husband lived during the 15 years she worked for Cisco Systems. While she worked in London as the vice president of a college graduate hiring program, Stephen Day got his diploma from Cordon Bleu.

He had a background managing Taco Bell restaurants in San Francisco before they moved to North Carolina. But when they came here, he gave it up.

“We had small children, and it wasn’t really conducive to a family life,” he said.

In North Carolina, he took on a few sales jobs, which he abandoned with the move to London.

There, he came alive. His first day working at a restaurant there was memorable. It was at a restaurant called Le Gavroche, where he said 26 chefs and 26 waiters served up to 65 diners.

“The first day, I walked in and knew it was meant to be,” he said.

The Days knew they wanted to start a restaurant when they returned to the U.S., but in the meantime, they collected international ideas, flares and friends. At one Thanksgiving dinner in London, their guests represented 15 countries.

Settling in North Carolina

In 2009, they moved back to North Carolina. For several years, Kate continued to work for Cisco Systems, and Stephen worked for local restaurants.

“I knew I needed to meet some people in the business,” he said. “I didn’t feel comfortable opening without knowing anyone.”

Their dream of a laid-back setting came from their time in Europe, Kate said.

“We missed the atmosphere where you come, just sit and talk, and you’re not rushed. You have to ask for your bill in Europe,” she said.

The business, the Days said, has been successful. They are packed each day and keep six chefs working in the kitchen preparing gourmet food.

Though Kate dodged waiters and waitresses and greeted diners on Thursday, she laughingly referred to herself as the “weekend help.” She will start a new job at MetLife in December, and Stephen will be the primary business operator.

Guests can enjoy drinks from the bar, eat on the cafe-style patio or dine inside at a table. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday, and for brunch on Sunday.

Hours and the menu are available on the website, www.plateskitchen.com.

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