How My 7-Year-Old Son Started a Backyard Restaurant for Charity

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Christopher Keels)

Yes is one of my favorite words. When applied correctly, you can find yourself in the middle of one of the most unexpected, joyful moments of your life. That’s how our Backyard Restaurant came to be.

Over an innocent glass of after-school lemonade with our then 7-year-old son, Adam, a conversation that began as an exploration of what would happen if we were sitting at a magic table somehow turned into, “Yes, you can have a restaurant in our backyard this summer.”

The deal was that Adam would be responsible for most of the work: He’d come up with the menu and type it up, draw a logo, be the server of the restaurant, and give the proceeds (minus a well-deserved tip) to a local charity in the hunger relief system.

If he would do all that, I would handle the supplies and work the kitchen. We would also employ his dad, older brother, and younger sister to fill in where needed.

In a matter of hours, the entire family was on board.

(Image credit: Christopher Keels)

How Our First Backyard Restaurant Went

Adam created a breakfast and dinner menu (we’d close for lunch to regroup). We called the neighbors to see if we could persuade them to make a reservation and bring their own table (we didn’t have enough). And we convinced our friend Gino to play live music (he’s a good sport). The stage was set.

The day of the event had a few hiccups: As Adam took orders from his menu of sliders, wood-fired pizzas, salad, and pancakes, we quickly discovered quickly we were way understaffed. Lucky for us, though, every time I shouted, “Order up!” a kid who was dining with his family would run into the kitchen and say, “I’ll take the food out, Mrs. Keels!” Of course: Every kid wants to play restaurant!

That first year, we also spent way more money on supplies than we brought in. But it was totally worth it. It was so inspiring watching Adam not only create this idea, but also stick with it and see it through. And it’s turned into something so much bigger than we ever would have thought: A yearly event that allows us to teach our kids two important life lessons — how to cook and how to give back to their community.

It was a no-brainer. We’d do it again. And we do.

(Image credit: Christopher Keels)

How Our Backyard Restaurant Has Changed

Five years in and the event has evolved. We cut breakfast service, Gino has recruited an entire band that comes year after year, and we are no longer understaffed. This year we had more than 40 kids — plus numerous neighborhood parents — participate in the prep and staffing of the restaurant.

What hasn’t changed, though, is the original mission: Every year, we introduce the kids to something new in the kitchen: how to make homemade sausage and house-fried tortilla chips, and how to safely toast marshmallows with a kitchen blowtorch.

And every year, we expose them to another organization that is dedicating their time to help our neighbors in need. These kids truly get to see how their hard work (and fun!) helps others. So far, we’ve contributed more than $5,000 to local hunger relief.

That one “yes” opened the door not just to our backyard, but to an opportunity of community, food, and fun that I’m confident the next generation will expand way beyond our fence.

Ready to throw your own backyard restaurant event? It’s not that hard to pull off.

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About the author: Tricia Keels is the founder of Souper Heroes, a nonprofit whose mission is to have fun with food and community while providing for those who don’t have enough of either.