Table for 200, please: The story behind “Dinner on Main”

“Nothing like this has been tried before, certainly not in Midland.”

Derek Grimaldi and his team had an idea.

Somehow, they wanted to serve 200 people dinner in the middle of Main Street on a family-style table spanning the length of an entire city block. As general manager of The H Hotel in Downtown Midland, Grimaldi thought it would be a great opportunity for his staff to try a new challenge and help promote the hotel in addition to helping a nonprofit partner.

Floral arrangements were provided by Allora Floral in Midland.

On the evening of September 12, the idea was realized with the inaugural Dinner on Main. By all accounts, it was a huge success.

“Our staff had never tried anything like this before, so to pull it off with a sold-out event is something we’re very proud of. We chose to partner with Cancer Services of Midland, Clare & Gladwin, because several of our employees have been helped by their services, and we can’t thank their team enough for working with us on such a unique event,” says Grimaldi. “Working with their planning committee and staff to help us pull this off was an absolute pleasure.”

Live music playing for guests in the courtyard of The H Hotel.

On the night of the dinner, guests first arrived to the H Hotel courtyard to enjoy drinks, appetizers and live music. Many had already gotten a sneak peak of the impressive table setup along Main Street, but The H Hotel staff did their best to keep it hidden until the doors to the courtyard were opened and seating began.

“I had never seen anything like it,” says Shannon Forshee, who attended the event with her husband and several friends. “It was such a great idea – they definitely pulled off the wow factor.”

“I had never seen anything like it,” says Shannon Forshee, who attended the event with her husband and several friends.

The impressive table setup and a fresh caprese salad were waiting for guests before they sat down. With beautiful flower arrangements created by Allora Floral, place settings and table uplighting by The H Hotel, and a slight mist in the air, attendees knew they were in for something special. However, the real surprise came after salads were cleared from all 200 place settings.

Cancer Services and The H Hotel each secured 50 volunteers to serve the main course. The planning payed off, as event attendees were shocked to realize they would all be served the main course at the same time. 100 volunteers filed out of the courtyard and lined up behind attendees as bagpipes played. Once signaled, they each set their dishes down to serve the massive table all at once.

Julie Nunn, Executive Director of Cancer Services speaks to dinner guests as the event kicks off.

“We couldn’t believe it,” says Forshee. “We recognized so many of the volunteers as our friends and neighbors – it was just such a cool experience.”

Julie Nunn is the Executive Director of Cancer Services. Their office in Downtown Midland serves clients in Midland, Gladwin, and Clare counties with a variety of cancer-support needs. They offer counseling services, support with non-medical urgent needs, financial assistance for basic bills like utilities and rent, prosthetic bras, wigs and more.

“We’re here to help cancer patients with all of the things most hospitals are unable to,” explains Nunn. “We focus on quality of life while our clients are dealing with one of the hardest things in their life.”

Volunteers line up to serve all guests at once.

When Nunn met with staff from The H Hotel last fall, she fell in love with the idea of Dinner on Main. Apparently, so did everyone else, because with just a few advertisements, the event sold out in under two weeks.

“We did very little marketing prior to the event selling out, so we’re very thankful for that,” says Nunn.

“We also had no major challenges, which really speaks to the expert staff at The H and our volunteer planning committee – they pulled this off flawlessly.”

Guests chat over dinner on Main Street in Downtown Midland.

The goals for Dinner on Main were a little different from most ticketed nonprofit events.

“We try to be cognizant of over-asking our stakeholders,” says Nunn. “Our goal was to attract a different friend base to avoid donor fatigue and be respectful of our current donors and their busy schedules.”

Thus, most guests were new supporters to Cancer Services. Among the 100 volunteers included many existing supporters, a testament to the impact of the work of Cancer Services.  According to Nunn, the goal of the event was certainly accomplished.

Downtown Midland was lined with lights as night fell.

“It gave us an opportunity to introduce ourselves and the agency to people less familiar with the many services we provide local people as they fight cancer.”

For Cancer Services clients like Ron Shauger, the support means everything.

“You’re going through your life, you’ve got the bull by the horns, everything’s going right, you just get married to the love of your life, then all of a sudden this comes in and kind of puts stop to everything,” Shauger said about his esophageal cancer diagnoses. “Your life is turned upside down. It’s like, what do we do now?”

Cancer Serivces serves clients in Midland, Gladwin, and Clare counties with a variety of cancer-support needs.

“With the volunteers that come to the house and take Ron to and from appointments, I didn’t have to leave work,” adds Ron’s wife, Vickie. “I now have enough time built up to be able to spend time with him during his last days – when he is going to most need me at home.”

“I know that I’ll leave this earth knowing that I was loved,” says Ron. “Knowing there are people who care – it’s an awesome feeling.”

“Our staff had never tried anything like this before, so to pull it off with a sold-out event is something we’re very proud of."

Next year, Grimaldi and his team are hoping to grow the event by a few seats and fine-tune what made the gathering work so well, but otherwise wouldn’t change anything major.

“Overall, there’s not a lot we would do differently – and that’s a testament to the planning team,” says Grimaldi. “We’ve got some time to come up with some new ideas that will really wow people, and we’re looking forward to bringing the event back next year.”

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