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Closed on Mondays Uses a Restaurant's Down Time to Cook Up Funds for the Community

A new kind of pop-up eatery opens in restaurants on the night that they've closed to the public, and raises money for local food groups.

Today is Monday, and that means it's a night off for much of the restaurant world. But for a group of Los Angeles friends, all those vacant kitchens represented a resource: fully-equipped spaces to host fundraising dinners for causes they loved. Closed on Mondays was launched a few months ago at the Los Angeles restaurant Canelé to put those unused stoves to good work.

After volunteering for various causes, friends Savita Ostendorf, Aliza Miner, and Marjory Garrison (pictured above) realized they could do more by combining their skills. Miner is the brunch chef at Canelé, Ostendorf is a graphic designer, and Garrison works on PR campaigns for national nonprofits like Save Darfur. Together, they were like a functioning restaurant without a home. They approached the owner of Canelé with the idea to use the restaurant space when it was closed to the public, and she enthusiastically agreed.

Each Closed on Mondays dinner is $35 and is organized around a loose theme; a recent meal featured three Mexican-inspired courses with dishes like Yucatan pulled pork and included homemade tortillas made to order. After covering their costs, they've made $7,000 over three dinners. It's not a huge amount yet, acknowledges Garrison, but it was enough to help their first beneficiary, Micheltorena School Garden, fund its community-school partnership that recently opened in the nearby neighborhood of Silver Lake.

Although members of the nonprofits always attend the dinners, these aren't pitch sessions for their causes. "No one's going to give a speech," says Garrison. "We just want people to come and eat." However, attendees will likely walk away with a token of appreciation from the nonprofit, she notes. The Milagro Allegro Community Garden recently provided seedlings for all attendees. Closed on Mondays also likes the idea of having those who are benefitting from the dinner take part in the experience of cooking it. For a dinner to benefit RootDown LA, a nonprofit that engages high school students in growing and preparing their own food to prevent obesity, Closed on Mondays hosted the students in the kitchen, where they made lemon curd and onion confiture that was served at the dinner itself.

While the idea of holding a fundraising dinner isn't new, using an established and supportive restaurant space has myriad benefits. Canelé's waitstaff, dishwashers, and cleaning staff get to pick up another shift; the restaurant gets to use leftovers, like the red butter lettuce left behind after the last dinner; and the event organizers don't have to worry about securing and preparing a new space each time. The Closed on Mondays trio also serves Canelé's beer and wine, and lets the restaurant keep the cash. "Everybody profits," says Miner.

After just three dinners, other L.A. chefs have approached Closed on Mondays about bringing the concept to their restaurants. But it's a simple enough idea that anyone could try it. One could even see these becoming a movement, with little pop-up fundraisers happening all over the city. Maybe even the country. Soon Monday could be the biggest restaurant night of the week.

Closed on Monday's next dinner is April 4 for the Garden School Foundation. There are no reservations; dinners are first-come, first-serve. Details here.

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