Guests began arriving about 6 p.m., entering South Coast Plaza at the enormous black and white glass-encased Bloomingdale's Wing.
On a recent Thursday night on the Orange Coast, 12 people dedicated to Serving People in Need (SPIN) were welcomed to dinner at the chic Asian bistro AnQi, opposite Bloomie's. The men came in jacket and tie and the ladies wore summer dresses and proper heels. Fashion still can remain a sign of respect in a very relaxed world.
Elizabeth An, the impressive restaurateur who along with her mother, Helene, and extended family have created a celebrated dining experience centered around their refined Vietnamese fusion cuisine at House of An restaurants in San Francisco, Beverly Hills and Costa Mesa, welcomed her guests who had come together with a serious purpose.
SPIN, which has roots in Orange County dating back to 1987, was originally an acronym for Street People in Need. Its founders rolled up their sleeves and went out onto the streets to offer food, clothing and more to people who had lost just about everything.
Motivated by religious faith, SPIN volunteers lived the term "a servant's heart." They made sandwiches, and collected coats and blankets for distribution. On a regular Thursday night they would head out in an old donated van and try to change lives. It was not glamorous. Their work did not lead to social and business connections.
Sometime later the group's name would transition to Serving People in Need. The change was a sign of great hope. The people they served were getting back on their feet, no longer living on the street.
Fast forward 25 years and the organization led by super dynamic Jean Wegener and a tight-knit staff, and dedicated board of directors and volunteers still heads out on the streets every Thursday night with food, supplies and plenty of respect for the people they serve.
Today SPIN also has programs that include counseling, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, job placement and training, transitional housing, and more. Ninety two cents of every dollar raised supports these efforts.
The 12 guests at AnQi came to share the SPIN and thank Elizabeth An for agreeing to serve as the guest chef at SPIN's Oct. 13 gala dinner fundraiser at the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort, Huntington Beach.
Both Elizabeth and Helene An will join Hilton Executive Chef Jeff Littlefield creating a red carpet moment of fabulous cuisine. Littlefield and Hilton staff under the leadership of owners R.J. and Rhonda Mayer have supported the SPIN cause for some 15 years. The combined passion and talents will no doubt take the gala over the top in 2012.
Elizabeth An will accept nothing less than absolute perfection. At AnQi, the SPIN 12 were greeted with servers offering a selection of appetizers and an AnQi signature cocktail known as the red Riviera. Elizabeth An said her special mixture of tequila, pomegranate juice and some "secret" Asian ingredient is for the annual Riviera Magazine Margarita competition.
Al DeGrassi, former chairman of the board of Untied Way and current SPIN board chairman, arrived with his charming wife, Susan. Respected Newport Beach builder-developer Dick Crawford and his wife, Kim, serious SPIN advocates and former board chairman, joined the Mayers and Littlefield. Event producer Terri O'Lear from Knockout Productions who will assist with the planning and execution of October's dinner shared a toast with SPIN's director of development Kim Frazier and her husband, John.
A magnificent four course dinner followed with an entrée selection that included misoyaki butterfish, Mongolian barbecue lamb lollipops, organic chicken curry and the most amazing South African jumbo gilled shrimp possibly ever served on the planet.
Cocktail conversation quickly transitioned to serious dialogue as Elizabeth An shared her personal involvement volunteering Saturday mornings at a homeless shelter/kitchen in Santa Monica.
"I see the same people on a regular basis, and there is one particular older gentlemen who always greets me with a big smile," she said. "He doesn't know me or know what I do. He is just happy to see me, to spend a little time, one-on-one, person to person. That's what really matters."
"That is probably the most important thing that we give to people," Kim Frazier said. "A person-to-person, human connection. We go out on the street and we see the same people. We get to know them. We look them in the eye. We relate as people helping another human being. They may be down, but they still deserve respect and dignity. It means so much."
Indeed it does.
Tickets for the SPIN gala are $175 per person. Sponsorship opportunities are available. For more information, call (888) 552-1900.
THE CROWD runs Thursdays and Saturdays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.