Sel Restaurant chef Branden Levine

Sel Restaurant chef Branden Levine is one of 15 local chefs hosting fundraiser dinners organized by Cloth & Flame.

Within less than one month, a local events company known for its picturesque pop-up dinners has raised nearly $20,000 for 15 local chefs.

“We believe that restaurants function as one of the most important frames through which we experience our community, and we want to help support them the way they quietly support all of us during this time of need,” said Olivia Laux, co-founder of Cloth & Flame. 

Laux founded Cloth & Flame in 2016 with husband Matt Cooley and together have hosted countless farm-to-table dinners in unique, scenic settings.

Those settings have included northern Scottsdale and Gold Canyon among the towering Superstition Mountains. 

On May 8, Laux and Cooley announced the Arizona Community Dinners Fundraiser, comprising 10 future outdoor dining events that will feature menus by top local chefs.

Participants include Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco, Cat Bunnag of Glai Baan, Branden Levine of Sel Restaurant, Nick Campisano and Joshua James of Born & Raised Hospitality, Erik Syhre of Fox Restaurant Concepts, Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Café;

Also among them are Stephen Jones of the larder + the delta, Jeff Kraus of Crepe Bar, Eric Ramirez of Upward Projects, Tamara Stanger of Cotton & Copper, Dara Wong and George Murkowicz of Shift Flagstaff, Genuine Concepts, and Juan Zamora, Kyle Kent, and Jade Montoyal of Chula Seafood.

As part of the fundraiser, future guests donate at least $50 to the restaurant of your choice. All funds donated will immediately go to that restaurant.

Once it’s safe to dine out in a group setting again, Cloth & Flame will email attendees with the dates, locations and additional dinner details. 

“What drives our business is the community. Without their support and trust, we would not be here,” said Mandy Heflin, co-owner of Chula Seafood, which has a location in Scottsdale.

Heflin added that the Cloth & Flame fundraiser will help support the Chula Seafood employees who have been laid off or lost their jobs.

“We are doing whatever we can to give back to them and let them know they have a home with us when this is over,” Heflin said.

Layoffs and reduced hours have been the biggest COVID-19 impacts on Glai Baan in central Phoenix as well.

“We don’t usually have a lot of turnover, so these people have been with us for a while, both front of the house and back of the house, and it was difficult having to let them go,” said co-owner Cat Bunnag.

Bunnag will co-host a Cloth & Flame dinner with chef Branden Levine of Sel Restaurant in Old Town.

“It’s a partnership and connection that I enjoy having with him. And that’s what this dinner is really about: connection. We want to go back to connecting with not only guests, but with other chefs and workers in the Arizona food community,” Bunnag said.

Cloth & Flame launched the fundraiser on April 22 with a goal of $50,000.

In 21 days, they raised a little more than $19K.

“These small businesses statewide have been losing money for weeks and many are taking on additional costs to continue to serve and nourish us safely through pickup and to-go programs, many of which don’t yield enough revenue to continue to pay cooks, dining room service team members, or bartenders,” Laux said.

Each dinner will seat 100 people on a first-claimed basis, and all dinners will occur on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.

Once the dates and locations are scheduled, attendees will pay an additional $95, which will go to the site landowner, service staff, production team, dishes, and more.

Cloth & Flame will accept no profit for any of the dinners.

Three participants — Bianco Restaurants, Fox Restaurant Concepts, and Upward Projects — chose to donate all proceeds to the other restaurants benefiting from this fundraiser.

“Being included in the Community Dinner Fundraiser provides the opportunity to lessen the blow of COVID-19 and lets us give back to all the local restaurants we’ve come to know and love,” said Erik Syhre, who leads the culinary team for Culinary Dropout and the Yard at Fox Restaurant Concepts. 

“Without our staff to spend service with and great spots to spend our days off at, there’s an integral part of the culture that is missing,” Syhre added.

To book and donate, visit clothandflame.com.