All Together Now

Altruistic dining pop-up, Service RVA, is using the restaurant community to help nonprofits.

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Service industry workers are accustomed to being put through the fire, especially in the past year and a half. They hang in there because they love the work, the restaurants, (some) diners and their colleagues. But they typically hang in longer when tips are involved.

The city’s latest itinerant concept, Service RVA, takes monetary compensation out of the equation. The pop-up asks that local servers, bartenders, restaurant owners and cooks donate their time and talent for one evening, with all proceeds, tips included, going to an area nonprofit.

We sat down with industry vet and Susie and Esther co-founder Yael Cantor to discuss Service RVA.

Style Weekly: What was the impetus to launch Service RVA now?

Yael Cantor: It all started with just a thought that I had a few years ago when I was working at Saison. I always wondered if there was a way we [service industry workers] could volunteer with our skills, but I was a little too intimidated to even start. But then after this last year, and after my husband and I launched Susie and Esther, I realized if I want to do something I can just do it. It can only be done with the community – I’m just planning it

What has the community response been since you created that Instagram page at the end of July?

Our first event [on Sunday, Aug. 8] we have a server from Helen’s, a server from Sabai, a bartender from the Jasper and a bartender from Lemaire. It’s all completely different people, some don’t know each other. Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits has donated Campari and tequila and Ashley Patino from Pizza Bones is making fresh pita bread out of her pizza ovens to go with our hummus plates. Donnie [Glass, Grisette owner] has been so great to open Grisette for us on the day they’re closed. He was nice enough to work with us to put all the tables outside, just to be safe with everything going on. I imagine it’s very stressful to have people in your restaurant!

Why did you choose MAD RVA (Mutual Aid Disaster Relief) as your first nonprofit partner?

I used to volunteer with MAD and I really like their message. It’s necessary for a community to find mutual aid through solidarity, not charity. We are sticking with these people, we are one together. This is not government-based. It’s just people taking care of one another. For future events I will get with everyone who has volunteered to participate to see what nonprofit we want to donate to next.

What’s the plan going forward for Service RVA?

I’ve had people and restaurants reach out so hopefully I should have events lined up (details to be announced) through October soon. We’d like to do this once a month or once every six weeks. It is hard because restaurant workers have been through hell and back for the past year and a half. The fact that there are still people who want to help out and volunteer is really, really cool.