They gave ME an Honorary Lifetime Membership

Twenty-seven years ago, I opened my restaurant with a local restaurant legend, Jim Campbell. He gave me my start. At 29, it was my first restaurant and I thought I knew everything. I didn’t. And one of the things we disagreed on was community involvement. I thought owning a business was a one-way street; sales and profits were supposed to come to me, and success was based solely on good food and good service. I didn’t understand that integrating into the community (where your current and potential future customers live) was THE MOST powerful way to gain long-term customer loyalty.

Jim was heavily involved in the local Chamber of Commerce, the local city council and other volunteer organizations that served the community. It seemed that he freely donated MY time, our advertising dollars, and gave generously to all community programs and organizations that asked. At the time, I only saw community freeloaders enjoying my hard work and expensive food. And it made me angry.

Today? I’m IN DEBT to Jim for showing me this important part of business ownership and responsibility. Back then, I just didn’t know the power of supporting local organizations. But fortunately, after I was able to buy him out of the partnership, I didn’t stop donating.

It wasn’t until last week that I fully realized the power of what Jim taught me. The local Chamber of Commerce CEO invited me into her office and explained that later that day they were going to give me an honorary lifetime chamber membership for the years of service I had provided the community. I was stunned. In disbelief. (My first reaction was that this is what they give to “old” people and wondered if this meant I was now officially “old.”) And then, understanding what this honor represented, I felt gratitude to Jim for showing me how a business can be a part of the community, and humbled that my seemingly meager efforts qualified me for such an honor. To put this into perspective, this chamber has been in existence since 1912 and I will be the 4th member to have this designation. My mentor, Jim Campbell, also received this honor.

How did this happen? I would love to share some of the things we have done over the years to be involved in our community.

Say No

We NEVER Say No To A Donation. That’s right. NEVER. And today, it would be impossible to know how many donations we have given over the years (thousands!!). And we certainly learned along the way. At one point, it became so time-consuming to deal with the requests, we had to create a system to manage it. Establishing this system was KEY to reduce the workload and run-around that can often happen with donations. We do not deviate from it. The basics? A written request is required, and donations are sent via mail one day a week ONLY.

You Can

Donations Are Variable. Not all groups all the same – they can vary greatly in terms of membership numbers and exposure. For that reason, they don’t all receive the same donation – for some it’s $25, and for others $50 or $100. For your business, a FREE item or product to raffle might be the best fit. Whatever it is, reduce the need to evaluate every request individually by creating a simple guideline and following it.


Large Groups Deserve Special Consideration. When approached by large groups, it’s often worth a conversation to see what type of items they are looking for and to, ideally, donate something that can benefit them AND you.

Don't Be

Be Creative! One of the MOST successful donations ever was created specifically for a group with a large reach, our local school district. What did we donate? The naming rights to an item on our menu! It worked so well, we did it for the next 5 years. One year, it sold for $10,000. And it resulted in one of our best-selling items, still on our menu today – The Hernandez Quesadilla Salad. (Rumor has it, the menu item was part of the couple’s divorce negotiations years later…)

Take A

GO BIG! Several years ago, we were recognized with a prestigious local service award for our community involvement – we had raised over a million dollars for our community. Together with a local band we created a donation item of “Tacos and Tunes” – a fully catered party with margaritas and a live band. This one donation raises close to $50,000 a year for local organizations. We set a limit of donating to 15 parties per year. It is requested so often we have a waiting list for it! PLUS, this item advertises our catering services. In fact, every time one of these donation parties is held, we get calls for catering. Turns out, giving this donation has become our #1 way to promote and grow our catering business.


Be Involved. There are opportunities to serve, give, and be involved in your community EVERYWHERE. Think of the local Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, etc., etc., etc. For me, serving in this capacity has become a “priceless” way to create loyal customers for YEARS.

More Ideas. We just finished “Guac Week”. As part of this celebration, we invited the local Royal Court (precursor to the Rose Parade Queen’s Court) to be guest guacamole makers for a night and donated the proceeds of every guac they made to their scholarship fund. Another time we did this with the Mayor and awarded him the official “spoons” to the city.

There are COUNTLESS ways to become involved in your community. The result? Well, not only will it help grow your profits, raise employee morale, increase branding, and lift your reputation and competitive hiring position, it provides free publicity and increases your networking.
And it also comes with its own rewards. By showing your community that you care and are invested in their well-being long term, you will build strong connections, make real differences in other people’s lives, and will reap the rewards for YEARS to come.