The Coast News Group
The Burger Bench in Escondido is one of the 30 restaurants participating in Dine Out Escondido!, beginning Jan. 22. Courtesy photo
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Dine Out offers a perfect recipe for restaurants, diners

ESCONDIDO — It’s a way to break the annual January depression some restaurants face.

On Jan. 22, the city will engage in its fourth annual Dine Out Escondido! Restaurant Week to celebrate local eateries and their offerings.

In addition, those businesses in participating will also donate portions of their proceeds to the Food 4 Kids Backpack Program, according to Escondido Tourism and Marketing Administrator Katherine Zimmer.

Also, January is California Restaurant Month, which aims to assist in picking up business in a notoriously slow month, Zimmer added.

Prior to Zimmer’s arrival in the city more than four years ago, Escondido did not have an official sponsored event. With her prior experience working for local government, she created the event in conjunction with the state’s efforts.

In the first year, Zimmer explained, the city conducted a month-long effort, but it’s since scaled it back to one week.

“The impetus for it is pretty much economic development, culinary tourism and getting people to focus on our amazing restaurants,” Zimmer said. “A big thing for me is to let the locals know what we have here. They have their favorites … and they don’t try new things.”

The city has secured 30 restaurants this year, compared to 18 four years ago. They range in style and location, although most are downtown.

“I wanted to keep it open, in geography and menu,” Zimmer said. “They can do whatever they want be where they are. The restaurants love it.”

Part of Zimmer’s plan has been to avoid using themes as a way to gather more businesses. She said some cities use a theme, such as Burger Week, so those outfits that don’t serve hamburgers can’t participate. It is free for restaurants to participate.

Instead, it is the Escondido restaurant owners who have been thinking outside the box to increase traffic — and their donations.

The city has also partnered with Lyft, the ride-sharing company, to provide a 30 percent discount to customers, old and new.

As for the charitable effort, she said each business donates $1 from their event special to the Food 4 Kids Backpack Program, which is the first year for the city and program to join forces.

The program, meanwhile, is part of the San Diego Food Bank’s North County Food Bank Program. The money raised goes toward filling a backpack of healthy food for low-income students.

“Locally, it involves Lincoln Elementary,” Zimmer said. “They supply backpacks full of food on a Friday so the kids can eat healthy over the weekend. They identify at-risk kids who are not getting fed when they are not in school.”

EscoGelato’s co-owner Suzanne Schaffner is one of the restaurateurs that has participated in the event since its beginning.

She said supporting the city is important for their business at 122 S. Kalmia St.

“It’s a nice way to give back,” Schaffner said. “It’s a small mom-and-pop shop and I source as much as possible from local vendors.”

Those local vendors are Schaffner’s hook for finding and creating flavors. During dine out week, she is offering three gelatos as specials. They include a lemon cream with shortbread, maple red walnut and a Mayan chocolate.

“The flavors we are serving that week are our specialty flavors,” she added. “We try to buy as much from our neighbors.”