HRW donation change

Houston Restaurant Weeks makes notable change to donation process

Houston Restaurant Weeks makes notable change to donation process

Houston Restaurant Weeks, check, Cleverly Stone, Mayor Annise Parker, October 2012
Mayor Annise Parker recognized Stone's volunteer work in 2012. Photo by Clifford Pugh

Houston’s most popular charity dining event has made a notable change to its donation procedures. Houston Restaurant Weeks still supports the Houston Food Bank, but it’s no longer the all-volunteer effort it had been when founder Cleverley Stone was alive.

Throughout its history, Stone repeatedly emphasized that Houston Restaurant Weeks operated on a purely volunteer basis. While Stone always announced an overall donation total for Houston Restaurant Weeks, participating restaurants made their donations directly to the Houston Food Bank on an individual basis. Stone would verify that a restaurant had made its donation in order to be eligible to participate in the following year's event.

Since she never interacted with the donations, Stone never earned any income from her role as HRW’s founder and organizer. Her volunteer status enhanced her reputation in the community; for example, Houston Mayor Annise Parker declared a Cleverley Stone Day in 2012. 

In the wake of Stone’s death last year, her daughter, professional poker player and media personality Katie Stone Cappuccio, established the Cleverley Stone Foundation as a non-profit corporation with her husband, Joseph Cappuccio, and local publicist Melissa Stevens as the organization’s three directors, according to online records. The foundation’s stated mission is “to continue the mission and legacy of Cleverley Stone by supporting Houstonians in need,” which it does by producing Houston Restaurant Weeks.

Beginning in 2020, the Cleverley Stone Foundation quietly instructed participating restaurants to submit their donations to it rather than directly to the food bank. Neither Houston Restaurant Weeks nor the Cleverley Stone Foundation has made a public announcement about this change in the donation procedures. Rather, CultureMap learned about it through sources in the restaurant industry

Cappuccio declined CultureMap’s request for an interview about the reasons for this change. Instead, Stevens provided CultureMap with a statement that confirmed the foundation has implemented a new donation procedure.

“Donations are made by participating restaurants, based on the total number of eligible meals sold during the event,” the statement reads. “All donations from the restaurants are sent to the Cleverly Stone Foundation, which then sends all proceeds to the Houston Food Bank, minus the cost associated with administering and producing HRW.”

What exactly those costs are and the extent to which they’ll affect the total donation are still unclear. In a follow-up email, Stevens clarified that those costs do not include a salary for Cappuccio. She, like her mother was before her, is still an HRW volunteer.

In addition to the statement about the donations, Stevens also noted that The Cleverley Stone Foundation may expand its scope beyond Houston Restaurant Weeks to produce additional events.

“The foundation will also serve as a vehicle for future charitable endeavors designed to support the greater Houston area and beyond,” the statement reads. “In this way, the foundation seeks to live up to its namesake by continuing to support and serve the Houston community that Cleverley so loved, and devoted so much of her life to.”

To gauge the perspective of restaurateurs to this new procedure, CultureMap contacted Berg Hospitality founder Ben Berg. B&B Butchers, Berg’s luxurious steakhouse on Washington Avenue, has long been among the single locations that make the largest HRW donations.

“I don’t care, to be honest,” Berg says. “I know the majority is all going to the food bank. It is still going to be the single largest donation to the food bank. If [Cappuccio] wants to add money to go to some restaurant charities or to cancer research for her mother, I’m fine with it.”

Amy Ragan, chief development officer for the Houston Food Bank, expressed a similar sentiment. She provided the following statement through a representative:

“We are happy to work with Katie on Houston Restaurant Weeks. She has made some positive changes for the event, and since she has become the chairperson of HRW, it has become much more of a third party event than it was previously, and has streamlined roles. The event still benefits Houston Food Bank and we will receive the net proceeds. Houston Restaurant Weeks has become such a popular mainstay that we anticipate the community will continue to support it and that the donation amount will grow as well.”

Having grown from a handful of restaurants when Stone founded the event to over 200 participating locations in 2021, perhaps the time had come for HRW to pay for its expenses. With the support of both its participants and its longtime charity partner, Houston Restaurant Weeks and the Cleverley Stone Foundation seem poised to continue growing the event.