Food-focused business owners play an important role in the Seattle area through charitable giving and volunteer activities.

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CHEFS AND RESTAURANT OWNERS create a sense of community every day in their establishments, by providing food and drinks that lure business associates, friends and family. But these business owners also play an important role in shaping the larger community through charitable giving and volunteer activities.

At school auctions and charity events, chefs step up by offering their time, food or donations. Many restaurant websites have a community or giving page where donation requests are accepted. Some offer gift-card matching programs for nonprofit causes.

In a region where business leaders in all sectors are active philanthropists, chefs play an integral role in the fabric of our community, largely focused on feeding and caring for others. Many chefs sit on boards of local organizations, work as guest chefs at FareStart or serve meals at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission. Hundreds of establishments donate food on a regular basis to groups that fight hunger, such as Operation Sack Lunch and Food Lifeline.

Their food and gifts fuel charity benefits large and small, from Jubilee REACH’s annual ATTY Awards sports banquet, at which El Gaucho Bellevue feeds some 700 children, to the Amara Soirée fundraiser, where Ethan Stowell Restaurants feeds more than 300 people.

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Angela and Ethan Stowell give about $250,000 in time, material and money each year. “We love our city and care about how it’s growing,” Ethan Stowell says. “Instead of buying ads to promote our restaurants, we make donations. It’s a win-win.” The couple is serving as co-chairs of the United Way of King County’s campaign this year.

“I’m so pleased that Angela and Ethan Stowell are leading our fundraising campaign this year,” says United Way CEO Jon Fine. “They bring great energy and passion in engaging people in a new way. Chefs and restaurateurs are incredibly philanthropic in the Seattle area.”

Stowell credits chef and restaurateur Tom Douglas for inspiring him to get involved initially. “When I was starting out, Tom was at every charity event. He was a great role model.”

Douglas and his wife and business partner, Jackie Cross, have a strong giving ethos. In 2016, Tom Douglas Seattle Kitchen donated to more than 130 local nonprofit organizations, totaling more than $1 million in cash and in-kind items. “As a company, we have always believed in the value of community, and most of all feeding people whether they can afford to come to our joints or not,” Douglas says. “Chefs have a nurturing nature.”

But it’s not only well-known chefs like these — along with Matt Dillon, Renee Erickson, Josh Henderson, Maria Hines, John Howie and more — who are active in the community. In every corner of the region, small business owners are giving back as well. A couple of examples are Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream, which provides milk to needy families and gives 1 percent of sales to food banks and other nonprofits, and Hello Robin Cookies, which supports children and schools on Capitol Hill.

Family-run Tai Tung, Seattle’s oldest Chinese restaurant, helps out Wing Luke Museum, Kin On Nursing Home and other organizations in the International District. “We always try to do what we can,” says owner Harry Chan.

In Hillman City, Tess Thomas, owner of Emma’s BBQ, gives to the Rainier Valley Food Bank and Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, where her great-granddaughter goes, even though her eatery has been open only a year. “I’m big on helping the community. If we all work together, we can get this done.”

Chefs are dedicated to taking care of people, and clearly that means those beyond their own doors. As the holiday season approaches, Stowell sums it up: “We’re in the business of making people happy.”