The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Tornado: Donate & volunteer

July 20, 2011

DONATE: Ray’s Boathouse nets money for Joplin; Seattle chefs have ties to Joplin

SEATTLE, Wash. — When news of the May 22 Joplin tornado reached Peter Birk and Mike Chase, they knew they had to do something.    Both men are Joplin natives who now work as chefs in Seattle, Wash. Birk is the executive chef at Ray’s Boathouse in Seattle, and Chase works for a catering company called Tuxedo and Tennis Shoes.  

Birk’s wife, Amy, heads up the restaurant’s catering business. She said she and her husband were well aware that the folks at Ray’s Boathouse have always been a generous bunch. The restaurant, which has been operating for 75 years and been under the same ownership for 38 years, makes a point of supporting Seattle-area charities and frequently holds fundraising events. Peter Birk wondered if the restaurant might do the same for victims of the Joplin tornado.

“Peter said ‘I have to do something’ so he had a conversation with our general manager, and, of course, she supported it,” she said.

Birk and Chase decided to prepare a dinner based, in part, on their Joplin roots. The idea was to combine dishes with a Joplin-area connection with local Seattle favorites. Amy Birk said the goal was to sell 300 tickets to the event, which was held on June 15, and raise $13,000.

“We actually sold 301 tickets and raised about $22,000,” Amy Birk said.

Preparing the event, Peter Birk said, unleashed a flood of childhood memories for him. Birk’s parents owned the Spring River Inn in  Riverton, Kan., and he pretty much grew up in the restaurant’s kitchen. So, when he was putting together the menu for the Seattle fundraiser, he included items like the famous Spring River Inn fried chicken and squaw bread.

“All of the smells and flavors (of the food) took me back 30 or 40 years,” he said.

No Joplin-based feast, of course, would be complete without a plate of Fred and Red’s Spaghetti Red, and Birk and Chase did their best to include a close facsimile of the local favorite.

“Our memories might be a little off balance but I think we got it pretty darn close,” he said.

Birk said he was overwhelmed not just by the response for the people who bought tickets and turned out for the event but also the generosity of the restaurant employees and the vendors who supplied the food, drinks and materials that made the fundraiser possible.

“It’s not that I didn’t expect it (the generosity), I just didn’t expect as much generosity. The extent of it was amazing. Literally everything associated with the dinner was donated,” he said.

Birk, who plans to visit Joplin in September, said the $22,000 raised at the dinner will be donated to the American Red Cross Tornado Relief fund and to the Joplin Humane Society.

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Tornado: Donate & volunteer