New fundraising event showcases local restaurants

Midland Restaurant Week is almost here and with it, a chance to eat out – and often – at 28 local participating restaurants and feel extra good about doing so, regardless of meal chosen and calories consumed.

The event begins Monday, April 25 and ends Saturday May 7, actually lasting almost two weeks. It is this year’s signature fundraising event of Shelterhouse, a non-profit serving Midland and Gladwin Counties. Its mission is “Empowering survivors of domestic and sexual violence by providing refuge, hope and healing.”   

Bringing food and community together is a Shelterhouse fundraising staple, dating to pre-Covid days, according to Denise Berry, executive director. “’Chefs for Shelterhouse’ was an amazing event,” she says. “It brought a diverse group of local chefs to one place, for one evening, to prepare their specialties for guests to sample and enjoy – so many different cuisines in one place.”

COVID-19 restrictions halted that effort in 2020 and 2021. In a “lemonade from lemons” turnaround, Shelterhouse bought gift cards from the chefs’ restaurants and gifted them to clients those two years.

But what to do this year? In its fundraising and service activities, Shelterhouse has long  recognized the energy inherent in bringing together food and community and the ensuing conversation -- and action -- that results with smiles on the faces of those involved.

This past winter, staff reached out to dozens of restaurants about its idea of a restaurant week in early spring when winter-weary people were ready to get out of their homes – and enjoy themselves with something other than errands.  

“We got lots of ideas from local chefs and listened closely to their needs and.   They  still had to be profitable but liked the idea of supporting us,” according to Alison Baldree, director of fund development.

Baldree says local chefs were receptive to the idea of a restaurant week.  Each restaurant would decide how they would contribute to the overall campaign. Some chose a “round up” to the nearest dollars, while others offered a percentage of sales.  Some offered a percentage off certain entrees, she says. This, then became the restaurant’s philanthropic contribution to the overall campaign.

Local businesses and organizations were also asked to be sponsors, Baldree says, and almost 30 stepped up to do so, thus offering a solid financial base to build on. 
With the framework in place, agency staff devised ways to make the campaign fun for all.  It launched its website that details the logos, names, addresses and other facts about each participant.  It also highlights names and logos of sponsors.

Taco-U offers a taco with sliced beef.
A printable “passport” is also included.  And this becomes the entry for prizes.  The passport has six graphic circles where the participating restaurant acknowledges the visit. “The idea was to make this more fun with the passport,” Berry says.  “Enjoy your meal, have them stamp the passport and then bring it in (or mail) to either of our two resale shops at 1830 S. Saginaw Road or 1900 S. Saginaw Road (both in K-Mart Plaza)."

The grand prize is 16 tickets to the  Tri-Star Club for one Great Lakes Loons home game at Dow Diamond. Other prizes include gift cards from participating restaurants.  Also, an online silent auction is being offered throughout the week. 

Taco Universe, 3305 N W River Road  in Sanford, is among the participating restaurants.  It was previously known as Black Creek Kitchen. Richard Verdoni, a former Navy photographer and with Mexican circuses in his blood, opened the restaurant in December 2018.  The 2020 flood caused little damage, he said, and he was able to reopen just one week later.  

His menu replicates, he says, what is easily found from street vendors in Mexico City, where he lived for several years.  “All of my recipes are original to Taco-U,” he says, “taken from traditional recipes of Mexico City street vendors and family stuff.”

His signature item is the “G-Taco” (for gourmet), he notes.  “The pork is cooked for 10 hours along with onions, oregano and garlic – it’s the best-tasting taco you will ever have.”  

Why participate in Restaurant Week? “Basically, I like to feed people with good, healthy food.  I want to be part of the community so if I can help and I can make this a holistic service, contribute to the cause and help in other ways, why wouldn’t I?”  
This is one of the restaurants participating in restaurant week.
Restaurant Week coincides with new weekday specials, according to Vendoni.  For example,  Tuesday offers one free G-taco with purchase of two and Thursday, two sliced beef tacos for $5.   

Back in Midland, Rimpy Navkirandeep, owner of Cinnamon Indian Cuisine, 225 W. Wackerly, is also participating.  She opened the restaurant in August 2017.

“My restaurant, we make it all from scratch, fresh – nothing is frozen.  The recipes are intensive in ingredients and cooking time.” She says she is offering clients 50 percent off appetizers during Restaurant Week.

Visit for more details, including a list of participating restaurants and sponsors, download the Restaurant Week passport, and share photos to win daily giveaways. 

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Read more articles by Ed Hutchison.

Journalism, teaching journalism and gardening are passions that continue to delight Ed Hutchison, a Midland native and resident for most of his life. He is the author of the book “Digging in the Dirt …Friendly Tips for the Gardener in All of Us” and hundreds of newspaper-published garden columns.   He has worked at The Saginaw News and  Dow Corning Corporation and taught at Delta College and Central Michigan University.