February 20, 2014 10:03:44 AM
Members of the Starkville Convention and Visitors Bureau picked three finalists Wednesday for the upcoming Restaurant Week's charity aspect but declined to reveal their identities until next week.
This year's Starkville Restaurant Week is scheduled for March 17-23, the week following spring break. The event, launched last year, targets Mississippi residents who live within a 60-mile radius -- about an hour's drive -- and attempts to bring them to Starkville, show off the city's culinary prowess and plant the seed for future trips.
To help bring diners to local restaurants, the Partnership created a friendly competition between local charities for a cash donation. The public was allowed to nominate local charities, and the CVB narrowed the field to three finalists. Each time a patron orders an entree from a participating Restaurant Week business, he or she is allowed to vote for one of the charities.
Last year, three Golden Triangle organizations -- Sally Kate Winters Family Services, Oktibbeha County Humane Society and the Reclaimed Project -- vied for the $5,000 first prize.
Cadence Bank again will sponsor the $5,000 first prize, but the Partnership was able to secure local funding for second- and third-place prizes. SGK Landscapes Inc. and Insurance Associates will donate $1,000 and $500 respectively to runner ups.
The Partnership collected about 500 unique nominations for this year's competition, which collectively backed about 35 charities, Greater Starkville Development Partnership CEO Jennifer Gregory said.
"Several factors went into selecting the top three -- primarily the number of nominations, but also the charity's ability to mobilize their supporters and get them to the restaurant to eat and vote. We want to see that the organizations use social media -- any type of media and communication, really -- because a big part of Restaurant Week is promotion. The more the charities get out the vote, the more Restaurant Week, restaurants themselves and Starkville benefit," she said. "The local component is the last part. We don't define 'local' specifically because it doesn't have to mean Starkville or the Golden Triangle. Ideally, we want a charity that services the Starkville area. That's what we look at: Will the efforts of the charity benefit the local community?"
Last year's winner, OCHS, declined to participate in this year's competition, thereby paving the way for a new winner.
Thirty-two Starkville restaurants participated in last year's event. Currently, 27 businesses have committed to this year's incarnation, Gregory said.
The Partnership is limiting participating restaurants this year to only its members. Officials also dropped a rule requiring participating locations to develop special menus during the event, a change aimed at easing demands placed upon the businesses.
Last year's event was measured financially when Starkville recorded its second-highest March in regard to 2 percent food and beverage tax returns. The city previously averaged about $132,000 in those returns until it collected $142,697.36 last year. The increase represented an 11.52 percent boost in 2 percent revenues from March 2012. Many restaurant owners and managers estimated they saw a 15 percent to 20 percent increase in business.
A portion of 2 percent revenues return to the city; the remaining monies are split between various organizations, including tourism initiatives, Starkville Parks and Mississippi State University student programs.
Starkville's special food and beverage tax is set to expire in 2015. State lawmakers are expected to deal with the city's renewal request next legislative term.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch