Patrons pulled up to The Diner in Vancouver on Thursday evening, not to eat at the restaurant but to pick up one of 150 curated meals from Savor the Couve. The multiweek event has supported local establishments since the pandemic began.
The week’s theme — backyard barbecue, with beer, entrees and sweets collected from restaurants across Clark County.
Among the dishes served was smoked barbecue ribs from Hickory Restaurant + Bar. Thursday’s event was Hickory’s sixth time participating in the program, and that participation has brought in new business to the Camas restaurant.
“Our servers ask our tables when they come in how they heard about us and if it was their first time,” said Emily Sandblast, food and beverage manager at Hickory. “And we’ve had a handful of guests that said they came because they had our food during Savor the Couve.”
The event, which is produced by the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce and Visit Vancouver Washington, has helped expand restaurants’ reaches during the slowdown of the pandemic. Participating has gotten Hickory’s name out to a crowd that may not have otherwise heard of it.
“We’re located in the Camas Meadows Golf Course (at 4105 N.W. Camas Meadows Drive), so we’re kind of hidden and off the beaten path. You can’t just drive by it,” said Sandblast.
Savor the Couve has featured 35 local restaurants since the current program started in the fall. During each week of the event, customers can order the five-course meal for two at shopgvchamber.com and then pick it up Thursday evening at The Diner Vancouver, 5303 E. Mill Plain Blvd. The meals consist of two crafted cocktails, wine or microbrews, appetizers, soup or salad, entrees with sides and desserts. This year, customers also received a $20 promotional play certificate to use at ilani, one of the sponsors for Savor the Couve, along with Columbia Credit Union.
Meals are curated weekly based upon a theme. The remaining themes are: Hawaiian inspired, Latin inspired, the best of Asia, tailgate week, Mardi Gras and dinner for two highlighting operators who are women or people of color. The event runs through Feb. 24.
Sandblast and her team have helped prepare the meal bags for distribution on a couple of occasions.
“It was fun to see all of the restaurants come together and see everything going in the bag from separate places.”
The program has so far brought in more than $77,000 for local restaurants and nonprofits, according to the Greater Vancouver Chamber. It started in 2020 as a response to help restaurants during the pandemic. It continued this year with a 16-week event, which launched in November, to continue promoting local restaurants.
One such establishment is Killa Bites, a small gourmet baking and catering company at 510 Pioneer St. in Ridgefield. It’s known in its own north Clark County community, but participating in Savor the Couve helped the restaurant reach out and stop being what founder and chief executive Laura Jhaveri calls “Ridgefield’s best kept secret.”
“While it is fun to be that, it is not a profitable business model,” said Jhaveri.
There have been multiple upsides for Killa Bites to participate in the Vancouver program. The company is more well known in the community for making desserts but less well known for offering full course meals.
“Savor the Couve has given us the opportunity to share things like our vegetable lasagna, pulled pork and cheesy grits,” said Jhaveri. “We have gotten inquiries about catering for events as a result.”
Killa Bites also takes advantage of the event to test new concepts, most recently salted caramel cakes and pineapple upside down cake. The chamber always gets feedback from customers after the events, which the staff uses to improve their products. And it’s helped keep her team busy during the slow times of the pandemic.
Jhaveri isn’t just a restaurant contributor to Savor the Couve; she’s also been a consumer.
“It introduced me to restaurants that I had not eaten at before,” she said. “From that standpoint, Savor the Couve is great advertising for the businesses that participate.”
A portion — $25 of the $125 paid to buy a meal for two from Savor the Couve goes to support local nonprofits.
“Good food that benefits a good cause. I don’t think you can have a better date night dinner than that,” said Jhaveri.
Evergreen Habitat for Humanity is a member of the Greater Vancouver Chamber. The organization applied and was chosen to be one of the benefitting nonprofits for the first Savor the Couve program in 2020. The chamber reached back out to Habitat for Humanity this year and assigned the organization a week as a benefitting nonprofit.
“We’re so thrilled to get to do it again,” said Lindsi Smith, development director at Evergreen Habitat for Humanity.
The work that Habitat for Humanity does has been impacted by the pandemic. The organization is thankful for the financial support and how the event spreads the word about Habitat for Humanity’s work.
“I love that the chamber is taking this really unique collaborative opportunity not just to highlight local restaurants — many of which are struggling — but also to elevate nonprofits through this really difficult season,” said Smith.
The chamber also reached out to Pet Peace of Mind and asked if the organization wanted to be a benefitting nonprofit for Savor the Couve this year. The program gave the organization a way to raise awareness about its efforts in the community.
“We were thrilled to say yes,” said Christy Bork, national program manager at Pet Peace of Mind. “It’s a great event to support local restaurants, and it’s also really nice that they thought of nonprofits as well.”
Pet Peace of Mind is a nationwide nonprofit based out of Salem with two partners in Vancouver, Community Home Health and Hospice and Peace Health Hospice. The organization partners with hospices and home health care agencies, providing pet care assistance to patients who are no longer able to take care of their pets. And if the patient passes without any family members able to take the pet, the organization helps to find a new home for it.
Pet Peace of Mind has been operating for 13 years and relies on individual donations to keep going.
“So, events like this are really special to us,” added Bork.
And for the restaurants that chose to participate, the chance Savor the Couve provides to get their name and food out to new customers is not lost on them.
“This offers us an opportunity to feed 300 people. And that is 300 people to try our food that weren’t there before. That’s what that means. It’s incredible,” said David White, co-owner of Hidden House Market , 100 West 13th St., Vancouver, in a statement to the press.