Straw, Octavia Street's home to carnival-style food and the tilt-a-whirl booth, does more than just serve up cinnamon buffalo wings and mini corn dogs. Behind the operation and unusual menu is a commitment to supporting the community, in the form of Non-Profit Monday.
When owner Ari Feingold opened Straw four and a half years ago, he did something most restaurateurs don't do: he included donations to non-profits in his budget. Ari had worked both in non-profit sectors as well as in the restaurant industry for years, and from his experiences noted two things: 1) non-profits are in dire need of cash and exposure, and 2) restaurants almost never have spare cash, as it's a tight margin business.
Exterior of the non-profit-funding carnival fare restaurant. (Photo: Straw)
To create a solution, from the get-go Ari made sure that donating to non-profits was in his budget. "We wrote it into the budget just as if it were a phone bill, case of romaine, whatever. Ten percent of all Monday sales, regardless of profit, would go to a local non-profit. "I look at that bill just like I look at every other bill," says Ari.
Over the years, that ten percent has really added up. Straw averages about $500 a month in donations, which as Ari points out, can really help a smaller non-profit that is only bringing in $400,000 a year. So far Straw has donated over $25,000 to non-profits, mostly locally, but also nationally.
As popularity for Non-Profit Mondays has increased, the selection process for curating the year's non-profits has gotten trickier. 97 percent of the non-profits that Straw donates to are ones that have approached them. Overall Ari tries to make the list as diverse as possible—one month Straw might donate to LGBT youth, the next organic farming, and stray dogs the month after that.
The non-profit recipients for the rest of 2015 are as follows:
- June: New Directions for Youth
- July: BAWAR: Bay Area Women Against Rape
- August: SF Guardsmen
- September: Raising a Reader
- October: Friends of the SFILSP
- November: HAND: Help After Neo-Natal Death
- December: For World Thinking
Due to the overwhelming response of non-profits to the program, Straw has decided that for 2016, decisions will be made via a lottery system, perhaps combined with a party to build awareness about the non-profits and help get them exposure. If you'd like to submit your non-profit for consideration, email Ari [at] strawsf [dot] com.
Non-profit work aside, there's another piece of news about Straw that may interest the neighborhood: a new menu. Launching today, it sticks true to its carnival-inspired roots while mixing things up a bit.
Pizza soup, one of Straw's newest menu items. (Photo: Straw)
New menu items include things like pizza soup. "We start with a simple traditional pizza crush with cheese," says Ari. "It looks like French onion soup, but instead of french baguette it'll be pizza dough, which you can break into a tomato-y Italian-seasoned soup."
Fried pickles have also joined the menu, as have lamb cupcakes with beet-stained mashed potato icing (served with a candle, of course). And as always, a fish bowl cocktail can round off the meal.
Stop by Straw to check out the full menu—or if you can wait, hold off until Monday, when ten percent of your meal will be donated to this month's local non-profit: Project Open Hand.
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