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story.lead_photo.caption BrunchFest co-chairs Joyti Lal and Gerald D. Thomas toast their fundraiser’s expected success in mimosas at Raduno Brick Oven & Barroom, one of nearly two dozen participants in Saturday’s inaugural event.

Joyti Lal and Gerald D. Thomas are the hosts with the "mimos-test."

They're the co-chairs for the inaugural Little Rock BrunchFest, celebrating "the area's best brunch food and beverages" and benefiting the Centers for Youth and Families, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday at Heifer International, 1 World Ave., Little Rock.

They're also members of the Centers for Youth & Families' "Emerging Leaders" young professional's group, which came up with the novel-to-this-area idea of a brunch-centered benefit.

"We've been meeting since earlier this year," Lal says. "And we were looking to create an event that involved food, drinks and a good time, so folks with friends could enjoy themselves and not take off from work."

A brunch-centered event fit the bill ideally.

"Every organization has a gala or a tasting event," Thomas says. "We did some small research in larger cities," including consulting millennial groups in Chicago and Atlanta. "A great event for them was something that was fun, inexpensive, something you could call up friends and say, 'Let's grab a bite to eat.'"

Lal and Thomas acknowledge that holding it on Saturday means that for most of the participating restaurants, it wouldn't interfere with their normal Sunday-brunch business.

They say it has blossomed in just six weeks.

"It was supposed to be small," Thomas says. "It's turning out to be one of the biggest festivals around."

Patrons will be able to sample brunch food, brunch adult beverages (including bloody Marys, mimosas and specialty cocktails) and soft drinks from nearly two dozen restaurants and food vendors. The list, still in the process of firming up: 42 bar & table, Allsopp & Chapple, @ the Corner, Bar Louie, Boulevard Bread Co., Cache, Cantina Laredo, Cathead's Diner, Ceci's Chicken & Waffles, Count Porkula, EJ's Eats & Drinks, Graffiti's, Guillermo's, JAM Confection Company, La Terraza, Leiva's Coffee, Loblolly Creamery, The Pizzeria, the Popcorn Spot, Raduno Brick Oven & Barroom and Star of India.

The "menu" will consist of brunch favorites from the participants and the possible introduction of new dishes. And yes, there will be plenty of fare for vegetarians.

Volunteers are still needed for setup, tear-down and assorted other tasks; perks include a discount on the ticket price: $25 for a No Frills BrunchFest Pass, which includes sample-size portions of brunch food and only soft drinks; $35 for a BrunchFest Pass, food samples and all beverages; and $45 for a BrunchFest VIP (also includes early 10:30 a.m. admission and a "BrunchFest swag bag" of customized gifts). Visit e.givesmart.com/events/dRp.

Lal and Thomas say they anticipate 350 people showing up, with a net goal-to-raise of $20,000, including corporate sponsorships. "We will have fun, and we will sell out," Lal says.

Centers for Youth & Families provides specialized prevention, intervention and treatment services promoting emotional and social wellness for children and families in Arkansas.

Lal works for Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield (which is one of the BrunchFest sponsors) as a sales operations and marketing project manager. Thomas, whose day job involves marketing for a Little Rock health-and-wellness firm but who doubles in artist management -- has worked for BET Entertainment and is the publicist for two cast members on the network's new docu-series Hustle in Brooklyn.

They had seen each other at various fundraising events, and they have mutual friends. But they hadn't met until they started working with the "Emerging Leaders" group, which is aimed primarily at professionals in the 21-39 age range. However, Lal says, there's no strict age limit -- they're happy to admit "late bloomers."

Lal also has a family connection to the restaurant business: Her father, Sammi Lal, owns Star of India.

Photo by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/JOHN SYKES JR.
BrunchFest co-chairs Joyti Lal and Gerald D. Thomas sample a pizza on the deck of Raduno Brick Oven & Barroom. Raduno will be serving brunch items alongside nearly two dozen other area restaurants and food, drink and dessert purveyors.

High Profile on 09/08/2019

Print Headline: Brunch benefit helps nonprofit that treats children's difficulties

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