Charity Is Not Greek to Dennis Flint

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Tallahassee, Florida restaurateur Dennis Flint donates time at local soup kitchen Dishing Out Hope, which serves some 9,000 hot lunches every month to the homeless and low-income families.

I don’t think I could have really enjoyed [my restaurant] knowing there were people in this community who were starving.

Dennis Flint marked two special anniversaries this week: one year as a restaurateur, and six months as a volunteer at Dishing Out Hope.

The 38-year-old restaurateur realized a lifelong dream when he opened the doors to his Spyro Grille in January 2011. But Dennis Flint, who studied at the Florida Culinary Institute in West Palm Beach, said something was nagging at him from the moment he debuted his restaurant, even though the eatery – which specializes in Greek and Mediterranean dishes – was “successful from the day we opened.”

At first, Dennis Flint couldn’t put his finger on what was bothering him. But by mid-summer, with the tourist season in full swing and his new business sizzling, he realized what it was.

“Driving to the restaurant every day, I would pass Dishing Out Hope,” Dennis Flint said. “And sometimes, the line was out the door.”

Even with a new, busy restaurant to occupy him, he couldn’t continue turning a blind eye to the soup kitchen and its clients. He even tried taking a different route to work, Dennis Flint noted, but the knowledge that he had a special talent that might be especially useful to a soup kitchen wouldn’t go away.

While he studied professional cooking at the Florida Culinary Institute, Dennis Flint credits his understanding of Mediterranean cooking to his mother, Adonia, and her brother, Uncle Niko. He also credits his mother and uncle with instilling in him a sense of charity and caring for others, so one day in July the chef stopped on his way to work and asked the operators of Dishing Out Hope if they needed a hand.

They did indeed. The soup kitchen relied on just two cooks, a $500 monthly budget and as many donations as local individuals, restaurants, markets and churches could muster to provide some 350 hot lunches, six days a week, for homeless adults and low-income families. All told, Dishing Out Hope serves over 9,000 meals a month – and its operators were thrilled that a professional chef was willing to lend a hand.

“Dennis was a godsend,” said Stacey Blackley, who along with her partner, Mellisa Bohm, opened Dishing Out Hope in 2005. “We’ve always struggled to meet demand, whether it was obtaining enough food to prepare or having enough time to prepare it. It’s always been like pushing a boulder uphill. Having Dennis Flint on the team has been a real help.”

Among other things, the professional chef has been able to apply some uniquely useful training to the cause. Not only is he familiar with the requirements of preparing large amounts of food for several people (Spyro Grille, he noted, will produce as many as 50 servings of chicken souvlaki in a single day), but he is expert in combining ingredients in ways Blackley and Bohm would never have considered – a particularly useful skill for a kitchen forever skirting the edge of ruin.

“We’ll have maybe two dozen tomatoes left and nothing else, and no idea what to do with them,” Blackley noted. “And then here comes Dennis with a few pounds of rice from his restaurant, and some mint and onions, and the next thing you know we’re serving the most delicious stuffed tomatoes you’ve ever had.

“And our clients are so grateful,” she added. “They might be less fortunate than some other people, but you can see in their eyes that if you serve them one more dish of tomato soup, they’re going to go nuts.”

On January 8, to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Spyro Grille’s grand opening, Dennis Flint and his Dishing Out Hope partners hosted a special luncheon for the soup kitchen’s patrons. Everyone who attended lunch at Dishing Out Hope on Saturday, January 7, was given a coupon to come to Spyro Grille at 11 a.m. on Sunday, January 8 – when the soup kitchen was closed – and enjoy a special Greek buffet prepared gratis by Dennis Flint and his staff.

“It turned out to be a terrific party,” the chef said. “More than 200 people showed up, all ages, and they wound up eating pork cutlets and omelets and gyros and Greek salad. And the looks on their faces, especially the kids … it was like a special holiday, just for them.”

Coincidentally, January 9 marked Flint’s six-month anniversary preparing food at Dishing Out Hope – and as busy as his Spyro Grille keeps him, he said he has no plans of stopping his charity cooking anytime soon.

“As fulfilling as it is to finally own my own restaurant, nothing makes me prouder than working with Stacey and Louisa at Dishing Out Hope,” Dennis Flint said. “And as happy as I am that my restaurant is a success, I don’t think I could have really enjoyed it knowing there were people in this community who were starving … literally starving.

“I have a great kitchen staff [at Spyro Grille], so if I come in an hour or two later a few days a week because I’m helping [at Dishing Out Help], it’s not the end of the world,” he added. “The truth is, I just couldn’t ignore this calling. My mother and Uncle Niko taught me better than that.”

About Dennis Flint
Dennis Flint, 38, is a graduate of the Florida Culinary Institute and owner of the Spyro Grille, a Greek and Mediterranean restaurant in Tallahassee, Florida. A lifelong Floridian, he and his wife, Jennifer, reside in Tallahassee, where he is a volunteer at the Dishing Out Hope soup kitchen. Dennis Flint is an avid boater and deep-see fisherman.


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