The Oregon Bankers Association, partnering with Independent Community Banks of Oregon and Oregon Business, announced Sybaris Bistro as 2016 recipient of the Community Applause Award.
Founded in 1996, the award competition is open for banks doing business in Oregon to nominate their business customers in recognition of their contributions and service to their community. An independent panel of judges reviewed each nomination and selected this year’s winner. Since their inception, 39 Oregon businesses have been recognized, including this year’s honoree.
At an awards luncheon held December 5 in Seattle in conjunction with the Northwest Bank Executive Conference, OBA President and CEO Linda Navarro presented the Community Applause Award to Matt and Janel Bennett, co-owners of Sybaris Bistro. The award ceremony included a video showcasing Sybaris Bistro and their community involvement.
Sybaris Bistro was nominated for the award by Willamette Community Bank, which is headquartered in the same community into which the Bennett’s have dedicated their time and energy to make better.
As part of the award, the Bennett’s also received a $1,000 check payable to a nonprofit organization of their choice. The Bennett’s chose to give their $1,000 donation to Fish of Albany, a nonprofit that provides emergency services to those in need, including food, clothing, shelter, transportation and medicine. The funds will be used to support Fish’s Snacks for Packs program which discretely provides children with food in their backpacks on Friday afternoons to sustain them over the weekend when meals are scarce. It is projected that this program will assist 400 students in the Albany school district this year.
The story of Sybaris Bistro began when Matt and Janel met while working at a restaurant in Salem. A few years after getting married, they were ready to open a restaurant of their own. They set out to find the perfect location and came upon a former auto repair building in downtown Albany that had been transformed into a restaurant. One peek in the window and the Bennett’s new this was the spot. Sybaris Bistro opened its doors in 2001 and has been pleasing palettes with local seasonal ingredients ever since.
Within the first year of starting the restaurant, the Bennett’s knew they wanted to help their newly adopted community. Since that time they have worked tirelessly to address the issues of hunger and poverty.
The Bennett’s are involved in several community organizations, volunteering their time and expertise while also serving as powerful advocates and fundraisers. For example, Janel took the initiative to contact local schools to determine the greatest needs of students. The response was overwhelming: not only did children need food, but coats and shoes as well. For many, a coat was a luxury item. The thought of a child missing recess due to the lack of proper outerwear was unfathomable to Janel. Working with Fish of Albany, she developed the Coats for Kids program, which to-date has delivered over 1,800 coats to Albany children. One school principal stated that the effect on the students from receiving a coat was “transformative.”
The ABC House, a nonprofit that works with children and their families to overcome the crisis of abuse and neglect, has received the Bennet’s support in many forms, from collecting donations, to preparing meals, to recruiting volunteers. Perhaps most notable is the annual Thanksgiving dinner hosted by Sybaris Bistro to benefit the ABC House. Now in its 13th year, this fundraising event donates all proceeds to ABC House, thanks in part to the Sybaris Bistro staff who volunteer their time and tips. This year’s benefit raised $4,400 for ABC House.
Matt, a classically trained chef, is also passionate about improving child welfare. He believes education is at the heart of combating poverty and has instituted several education programs. He partners with SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), which facilitates getting fresh, nutritious food to struggling families. He also works with Linn Benton Community College by offering students with an interest in the culinary arts the opportunity to start with an entry level position at Sybaris Bistro. Matt views this as a way to instill a work ethic and showcase the vast array of career opportunities available in the field.
The Bennett’s philanthropy stretches far and wide, as showcased by an artful poster displayed in the restaurant’s window. “It’s all about Community,” the poster reads, which goes on to list the “donations you made possible simply by doing business with us.” Those donations total over $140,000 and include beneficiaries such as the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, Albany Fire Department, American Legion, Farmer’s Market SNAP program, Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, among many others.
Willamette Community Bank’s nomination of Sybaris Bistro was supported by several letters of recommendation, including one from Albany Mayor Sharon Konopa, who wrote, “You cannot find another family as caring and giving as Janel and Matt Bennett. Every individual who personally knows the Bennett’s absolutely love them, including myself.”
Holly Ryan, executive director at Fish of Albany, wrote in her letter, “The Bennett’s understand and embrace the work of our organization and challenge others to do the same. They are mindful of the needs of the families we serve. They work side-by-side with our volunteers and staff, including providing direct client services. Matt and Janel Bennett act on ideas and follow-through with plans. They get the job done and see the work through from beginning to end, without fail. Their impact on Albany is far-reaching and long-lasting.”