Event Recap: Brighter Days Ahead Kickoff Dinner in Charleston
Heritage Radio Network is based in Brooklyn, but as a network that broadcasts worldwide, our mission reaches far beyond the borders of New York.
HRN and Slow Food USA Board member Julie Shaffer calls Charleston, South Carolina home. When Julie introduced us to Pay It Forward Charleston, the strong alignment between our missions was immediately clear. Pay It Forward Charleston began as a collaboration between farmers, restaurants, and community members at the start of the pandemic, then grew into a non-profit organization providing need-based grants, individual support, and food-based relief for members of the food and beverage industry. On Friday, September 9, 2022, we teamed up for a joint-fundraising event to kick off Pay It Forward Charleston’s Brighter Days Ahead campaign.
Starring High Wire Hat Trick Botanical Gin cocktails, the Brighter Days Ahead campaign brings together more than 25 Charleston-area bars and restaurants who feature a cocktail on their menus until September 25, 2022, to benefit Pay It Forward Charleston's Emergency Relief Fund.
Heritage Radio Network Executive Director Caity Moseman Wadler, Head of Growth Frank Mentesana, and the hosts of HRN’s Processing podcast, grief counselor Bobbie Comforto and her daughter, chef Zahra Tangorra, journeyed to Charleston for the kickoff event.
The evening’s rain couldn’t dampen the festivities. Acclaimed bartender Megan Deschaine served specially crafted cocktails featuring spirits from our hosts, High Wire Distilling Co.
Megan filled glasses with Better Days watermelon punch with High Wire Vodka; sparkling Shishito Beach with Hat Trick Gin, shishito peppers, and verjus; and Stiff and Stir Crazy with High Wire Rye, blackberry, orange, clove, and bitters. A Parch Agave cocktail was a delicious zero-proof option.
Mike Quinn, Dave Grimm, Alex Kellner, and Stu White provided two sets of jazz and funk for the event, matching the fun and festive tone for the evening.
We heard from Pay It Forward Charleston’s Executive Director, Carrie Larson, and their Founder and Chair, Michael Shemtov. Carrie and Michael spoke about the importance of community and serving those who serve us, emphasizing the unique stories of those who make the diverse food and beverage community so vibrant.
Ben Ellsworth, founder of Gigpro, highlighed the importance of organizations like HRN and Pay It Forward Charleston that strengthen food communities on both broad and local levels.
Not only did GigPro sponsor the Kickoff Dinner, HRN and Pay It Forward Charleston used the platform to hire skilled food and beverage professionals for the event. Gigpro matches employees with employers in the food and beverage industry for shifts at restaurants and events, easing staffing hurdles and offering flexible work options.
As dinner neared, the HRN crew flexed their culinary muscles and took over the prep station. Bobbie, Frank, and Zahra plated Zahra’s dinner course of gazpacho with roasted cherry tomatoes and goat cheese crostino.
After ladling and garnishing, tables were set with gazpacho and an incredible multi-course dinner began.
In front of High Wire Distilling Co.’s neon signage, each chef introduced their course, all presenting dishes influenced by comfort and seasonality.
We sat down to Zahra’s gazpacho, Jacques Larson’s shrimp cappelletti with charred scallion and chili pangrattato, and Vivian Howard’s Carolina Gold rice and butterbean purloo with air-dried sausage, spicy tomato lime butter, and Thai basil salad.
While we dined, Bobbie and Zahra took a moment to address the crowd. They struck on the universal thread of community and the unifying power of food. Bobbie and Zahra urged everyone to support Pay It Forward Charleston and Heritage Radio Network:
“When we are alone with the troubles that life can hold, we feel alienated, ashamed, scared, and on the edge of falling into an abyss. When we have family, friends, and community in support, we feel more connected, grounded, safer, less fearful, and better equipped to manage what lies ahead. Our own background and experiences have taught us that preparing and enjoying food is collaborative, nostalgic, creates and connects to memories, is a coping strategy, continues bonds of love, can be a meditation, and can deepen connection and cooperation... We must all spread the word that people help people, kindness matters, and survival is a community event.”
Zahra and Bobbie shared the power of educational storytelling and community support via a glimpse into the story of Luka Romonova, a Pay It Forward Charleston grant recipient and recent guest on their HRN podcast, Processing.
“Luka told us the story of their family immigrating from Kazakhstan and their experiencing of unimaginable trauma, loss, alienation, and pain. They described how the preparation of Eastern European foods with their family was one of the only healing aspects of growing up. Luka talks about their struggles as a queer person and their hard work to heal and become their authentic self. Luka has a depth of character and resiliency… and Pay It Forward Charleston helped to change Luka’s life at a time when they really needed it.”
Zahra activated the crowd with a call to action, asking guests to remember times that they needed a hand up and to make a donation to HRN and Pay It Forward Charleston, supporting the work of uplifting people of the food and beverage community. HRN’s Caity Moseman Wadler then thanked attendees and sponsors, ending the night on a sweet note.
Before we left, Megan Deschaine whipped up a delicious Counter Culture Coffee and High Wire Southern Amaro cocktail; High Wire Distilling Co. provided carrot cake bites and cookies alongside HERO Doughnuts— all on gorgeous Le Creuset serveware; and we received traditional benne wafers and Counter Culture coffee as parting gifts.
Listen to Bobbi and Zahra's interview with Pay It Forward Charleston grant recipient, Luka Romonova:
Thank you to bartender Megan Deschaine; chefs Zahra Tangorra, Jacques Larson, and Vivian Howard; Bobbie Comforto; our hosts at High Wire Distilling Co.; the band and producer Paul Joliet; and the rockstar staff and Gigpro pros who made the Heritage Radio Network and Pay It Forward Charleston Brighter Days Ahead Kickoff Dinner possible. It was a joy collaborating with Pay It Forward and their Executive Director, Carrie Larson.
A huge thanks to our sponsors:
Stay tuned for our next events. When you become an HRN member, you’re the first to know about events and receive early access to tickets. Become a member here.
Photo credits: HRN staff and Jai Jones.