T.K. Martin Center for Technology and Disability Director Janie Cirlot-New thanks sponsors and ceremony attendees after the center received first place and a $5,000 check at the concluding ceremony of the 2nd Annual Starkville Restaurant Week at the Cadence Bank plaza in Starkville on Tuesday.
Photo by: Mary Alice Truitt/Dispatch Staff
March 26, 2014 10:23:50 AM
Representatives of Mississippi State University's T.K. Martin Center for Technology and Disability collected Starkville Restaurant Week's $5,000 grand prize charity donation Tuesday after the organization received more than 6,000 votes during last week's competition.
Greater Starkville Development Partnership CEO Jennifer Gregory's prediction that diners would set a high benchmark for future competitions came true as officials tallied 16,228 certified ballots from more than 30 restaurants during the weeklong event.
This year's total represents a 54 percent increase from the amount collected in 2013.
Two other local charities -- Homeward Bound Project of Mississippi and Starkville Pregnancy Care Center -- were awarded consolation prizes. Homeward Bound received a second-place, $1,000 donation for its 5,385 votes, while Starkville Pregnancy Care Center's 4,696 ballots earned it $500 for third place.
Janie Cirlot-New, T.K. Martin Center director, said the entire donation would go into the organization's vehicle fund.
"We go out into the community to provide many of our services. One of our vehicles is 17 years old -- we think it's time to replace it," she jokingly said after her organization received an over-sized check from Cadence Bank. "We didn't think we would even be a finalist. We were so excited to just be nominated because that gave us the opportunity to give exposure to the T.K. Martin Center and show people what we do in the community.
"To win? Oh my gosh! We're just blown away. It's huge for us," Cirlot-New added. "We want to thank everybody that went out to eat and voted for us. This is phenomenal."
This year's Starkville Restaurant Week hit its inaugural total Friday with two days left in the competition. Gregory predicted an influx of visitors in town for the MSU-University of Vanderbilt baseball series would drive its final tally higher than organizers previously expected.
Even Gregory's expectations fell short of Tuesday's final tally. She predicted Sunday that the event would yield 12,000-13,000 votes.
"We are blown away by the success of the second annual Starkville Restaurant Week. It remains the largest restaurant week in the state of Mississippi, which is a true testament to the strength and diversity of our restaurant community," she said. "Starkville is a restaurant destination in our geographic region, and this event aims to showcase that culinary strength that is so unique to our area."
Organizers scheduled the event for the week after spring break since its inception to help boost lagging sales tax returns. Success was measured last year when the city recorded its second-highest March on record in terms of 2 percent food and beverage returns. Many restaurant owners and managers estimated they saw a 15 percent to 20 percent increase in business during last year's event.
"As with most of promotions at the Partnership, this event aims to drive spending in our community. There is a specific strategy with an estimated economic impact in mind that we keep center to this major event," Gregory said. "We're hoping for another record March ... (and) we have high hopes that this promotion will benefit our local businesses and the community as a whole."
The Partnership also awarded the Good Eats, Do Good Award to Starkville Cafe for its contributions during the event. Organizers considered the restaurant's total number of ballots generated versus the amount of tables available, its event promotion and spirit shown last week.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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