Houston’s most popular charity event has made a notable change to its fundraising process. Houston Restaurant Weeks still supports the Houston Food Bankbut it is no longer the purely voluntary effort that it was when founder Cleverley Stone was alive.
Throughout its history, Stone has emphasized that Houston Restaurant Weeks is run on a purely voluntary basis. While Stone always announced a total donation amount for the Houston Restaurant Weeks, the participating restaurants donated directly to the Houston Food Bank on an individual basis. Stone would check to see if a restaurant made its donation to attend the following year’s event.
Since she never interacted with the donations, Stone never generated any income from her role as founder and organizer of HRW. Her volunteer status improved her reputation in the community; For example, Houston Mayor Annise Parker proclaimed a Cleverley Stone Day in 2012.
After Stone’s death last year, her daughter, professional poker player and media personality Katie Stone Cappuccio set up the Cleverley Stone Foundation as a nonprofit, with husband Joseph Cappuccio and local publicist Melissa Stevens as the organization’s three directors, according to online records. The foundation’s stated mission is to “continue the mission and legacy of Cleverley Stone by helping Houstonians in need,” which it does through the production of Houston Restaurant Weeks.
As of 2020, the Cleverley Stone Foundation quietly instructed participating restaurants to send their donations to them rather than directly to the blackboard. Neither Houston Restaurant Weeks nor the Cleverley Stone Foundation have publicly announced this change to the donation process. Rather, CultureMap found out about it through sources in the catering industry
Cappuccio declined CultureMap’s request for an interview about the reasons for this change. Instead, Stevens provided CultureMap with a statement confirming that the foundation has implemented a new donation process.
“Donations will be made by participating restaurants based on the total number of eligible meals sold during the event,” the statement said. “All donations from the restaurants go to the Cleverly Stone Foundation, which then sends all proceeds to the Houston Food Bank, minus the cost of managing and manufacturing HRW.”
It is still unclear what exactly these costs are and to what extent they affect the total donation. In a follow-up email, Stevens made it clear that these costs do not include a cappuccio salary. Like her mother before her, she is still an HRW volunteer.
In addition to explaining the donations, Stevens also noted that the Cleverley Stone Foundation could expand beyond the Houston Restaurant Weeks to host additional events.
“The foundation will also serve as a vehicle for future charitable endeavors that support the greater Houston area and beyond,” the statement said. “In this way, the foundation seeks to live up to its namesake by continuing to support and serve the Houston community to whom Cleverley loved so much and to whom she dedicated so much of her life.”
In order to assess the restaurateurs’ perspective on this new process, CultureMap contacted the founder of Berg Hospitality, Ben Berg. B&B Butchers, Berg’s luxury steakhouse on Washington Avenue, has long been one of the single locations with the largest HRW donations.
“To be honest, I don’t care,” says Berg. “I know the majority goes to the board. It will still be the largest single donation to the board. If [Cappuccio] wants to add money to go to restaurant charities or cancer research for her mother, I agree. “
Amy Ragan, Chief Development Officer of the Houston Food Bank, made a similar statement. She made the following statement through a representative:
“We are excited to be working with Katie at Houston Restaurant Weeks. She made some positive changes for the event, and since becoming the chair of HRW, it has evolved into an outside event much more than before, streamlining the roles. The event will continue to benefit the Houston Food Bank and we will receive the net proceeds. Houston Restaurant Weeks has become such a popular mainstay that we assume the community will continue to support it and that donations will increase too. “
After HRW grew from a handful of restaurants to over 200 participating locations in 2021 when the event started, maybe it was time HRW had to pay for its expenses. With the support of its attendees and longtime charity partner, Houston Restaurant Weeks and the Cleverley Stone Foundation appear poised to take the event further.