Dining Out for Life returns to Tampa Bay for 14th year

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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TAMPA BAY | A record number of restaurants and bars will participate in the 14th annual Dining Out for Life (DOFL) in Tampa Bay on April 11, benefiting Empath Partners in Care (EPIC) in the organization’s fight against HIV/AIDS.

Founded in 1991, DOFL is an annual dining event which raises money for community-based organizations serving those impacted by HIV. To raise the funds, establishments donate at least 25 percent of their sales on a specific date to local organizations like EPIC.

In 2018, over 50 HIV service organizations across the U.S. and Canada partnered with 3,000 participating restaurants, 3,000 volunteers known as ambassadors and over 300,000 diners to raise $4.1 million. Around $30,000 of that benefited EPIC in Tampa Bay last year, Executive Director Joy Winheim says, raised from generous diners at over 30 area restaurants.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to tell people about what EPIC is doing in the community,” she explains. “We’re paying attention to the services that aren’t in our area and we’re strategically working out ways to make sure we’re bringing those services here. It’s a great way to get the message out to those who we might not ever cross paths with again.”

To help spread the word on a national level, DOFL enlists the help of volunteer spokespeople like Ted Allen. The Emmy award winning host of Food Network’s “Chopped” and the former food specialist on Bravo’s original “Queer Eye” has worked with organizers for over a decade.

“The only thing different about the event year to year is that it grows, which is exciting,” Allen says. “Like every HIV/AIDs event, what we’re hoping for is for us someday to not need to exist—but we’re not there yet.”

He adds that DOFL thrives because the restaurant industry understands its importance in the community. “Restaurateurs by nature are generous people,” he says. “They want to help.”

Over 40 restaurants from Clearwater, Dunedin, Gulfport, St. Petersburg and Tampa will participate this year, like The Honu in Dunedin. The LGBTQ-owned and Hawaiian-themed eatery, described as a “lei’d back cafe,” has participated since 2016.

“We’ve been open for three years and this will be our third year doing it,” owner Kimberly Platt says. “We try to up our contribution a little bit every year. Being a small, mom and mom shop it can be difficult to be able to give back—but this is a cause we really care for.”

DOFL Tampa Bay wouldn’t be possible without the hard work of its ambassadors, EPIC Special Events Coordinator Molly Robison says, adding that they will provide diners with “additional donation” envelopes during the event. The envelopes will give diners the chance to win prizes, whether they’ve made an additional donation or not.

Two prize collections will be available to win: “Delightful Dunedin” and “Sensational St. Pete,” each valued at $1,000. The Dunedin collection includes gifts from The Fenway Hotel, Saddlebrook Resort Tampa, PRP Wine International, V’s Collection, Dunedin Lanes, Salon GW, The Tropics Boat Tour, and The Tea & Spice Exchange. The St. Pete collection includes gifts from Key West Express, Vertical Ventures St Pete, 13 Arrows Tattoo, make me Studio, Museum of Fine Arts St. Pete, Amy Dalzell Therapeutic Massage, Serendipity Wellness Spa, The Modern Man, Beach Dirty and PRP Wine International.

Robison adds that sponsorship from St Pete Pride, The Milkey Family Foundation and Blount & Curry Funeral Home at Garden of Memories is also essential to making DOFL Tampa Bay a success. “We’re so grateful for everyone’s support,” Robison says. “This will be one of our most successful years yet!”

The 14th annual DOFL Tampa Bay is scheduled for April 11, 2019. For a full list of participating restaurants and additional information, visit their website and Facebook event page. For more information about EPIC, click here.

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