By Dave Fidlin
Two new Hillcrest businesses jump in for the cause
Before he even opened the doors to his new Hillcrest establishment, Ron Kazemaini knew he wanted to do more than serve beverages and his signature “light bites.”
“I want my business to be a part of the community,” said Kazemaini, who opened The Kouch Lounge on Fourth Avenue on April 1. “Because the community is so important to me, I think this should be a place that gives back in any way possible.”
The Kouch Lounge is one of nearly 70 bars, coffee shops and restaurants throughout the city taking part in this year’s Dining Out for Life San Diego fundraising event, which is in its 11th year.
Many participants are veteran businesses in Hillcrest and other communities across San Diego. But entrepreneurs such as Kazemaini with young operations are also taking a leap of faith with their infant businesses.
Patrons visiting participating restaurants on Thursday, April 27 will have an opportunity to combat HIV/AIDS by way of The San Diego LGBT Community Center’s prevention and services programs.
Most participants have pledged 25 percent of their total proceeds for the day to the cause, with more than a dozen pledging 50 percent. Kazemaini said he was so inspired by the principles behind DOFL, he is upping the ante. With a full day of offerings — including breakfast, lunch, dinner, cocktails and late night bites — Kazemaini will be donating 75 percent of the day’s income, a first for the event.
“Kouch is truly going above and beyond,” said Ian Johnson, The Center’s director of development. “Ron is so passionate about contributing to the campaign to end new cases of HIV, and his energy and willingness to support the community is amazing. We’re very glad to be working with him!”
“It’s such an important cause,” Kazemaini said of HIV/AIDS services. “It touches everyone, whether you are gay, straight, black or white.”
In its first few weeks in operation, Kazemaini said he is pleased with the reception The Kouch Lounge has received in Hillcrest.
“I think we have a unique vision,” Kazemaini said, referring to the disparate beverage selections, which include a full array of coffee and espresso drinks, local craft beers, an array of wines and handcrafted cocktails. The Kouch Lounge also has a variety of small plate food items.
Another new Hillcrest establishment, Bull & Grain Bar and Grill, is also taking part in this year’s program. The 7-month-old eatery is donating 25 percent of their dinner and cocktail sales for DOFL.
When first asked take part, Simon Wolujewicz — who co-owns Bull & Grain at with wife Karly — said the decision was easy.
“This community is very important to us,” Wolujewicz said. “AIDS and HIV is a horrible disease, and we want to help out in any way we can. We hope we can do our part in helping find a solution.”
As Bull & Grain begins the second half of its journey toward a one-year anniversary, Wolujewicz said he has been heartened by the response from the community.
“We strive to offer a ridiculously great dining experience and people have been telling us that’s what they’re getting,” he said.
While Dining Out for Life has been a part of the San Diego landscape for a little more than a decade, the program’s roots go back more than a quarter of a century.
In 1991, as the HIV/AIDS crisis hit epic levels, organizers at Philadelphia-based Action Wellness (known then as Action AIDS) had the first-ever DOFL fundraiser in their home base city. In the years and decades since, the program has spread elsewhere.
This year, an estimated 3,000 establishments — including the nearly 70 in San Diego — are taking part in Dining Out for Life fundraisers in more than 60 cities across the U.S. and Canada.
According to Dining Out for Life’s international website, more than $4 million is raised annually to assist in AIDS/HIV prevention and research efforts through such organizations as The Center.
The Kouch Lounge is located at 3852 Fourth Ave., Suite 100, just steps from the Hillcrest sign. Bull & Grain is located on the other end of Hillcrest, at 1263 University Ave., a stone’s throw from the Hillcrest Pride Flag.
—Dave Fidlin is a freelance journalist with a special affinity for San Diego and its people. Contact him at email@example.com.