ANNAPOLIS, Md. — When a student in Anne Arundel County Public Schools can’t afford a lunch, cafeteria staff provides a meal and then makes a note of the debt.
Last school year, that debt totaled more than $20,000 countywide. Students in debt to the school system often can’t go on field trips or take part in other extra activities until their family pays back the money.
When Sumet Goel and his wife, Dr. Kirti Malhotra-Goel, decided they could do something about that.
The franchisers for CaliBurger in Maryland, the couple is raising money at their new Annapolis location this summer to pay the $20,000.
“We wanted to give back to a charity that actually helps people. My wife and I both went to public school and excelled in public school,” he said.
“The school system has to feed them and they end up carrying the debt. We thought, ‘Let’s pay off all of it.'”
For five days starting Monday, the Annapolis couple will donate 5 percent of sales at CaliBurger to the debt. Proceeds will be matched with $2,500 they’ve donated, plus additional funds from the parent company and the results of GoFundMe campaign to raise the total by the end of summer.
Maneka Monk, county schools spokeswoman, said the debt is usually paid off by contributions from lots of individuals and organizations. The 21st Century Education Foundation, the school systems private fundraiser, has a donation page set up to accept contributions. Monk was unsure whether the Goels are the first to offer to pay the whole bill.
The CaliBurger at Annapolis Harbour Center is the first in the county, and only the second in Maryland. The Goels plans to open five to seven over the next few years. A Severna Park store should open by December.
CaliBurger’s arrival introduces a Southern California style burger, a concept popularized by the In-and-Out Burger chain. Goel said the company’s first location was in China, opened by Americans working in the country who missed home-style food.
But the CaliBurger menu and decor was so similar to the original when it opened in Shanghai that In-and-Out sued the American owners for trademark infringement in 2012. CaliBurger agreed to change its menu and decor, resulting in what the L.A. Times called changes even some Southern California die-hards might find an improvement: “booze and babes.”
Today, Goel says the company has 45 locations in 14 countries across North America, Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
The Maryland locations will drop the booze, in particular their signature spiked milkshakes, because of stricter liquor laws, Goel said.
As for the babes, he said the restaurant doesn’t objectify women by requiring them to wear revealing uniforms like Hooters or Tilted Kilt, which recently closed its location Annapolis. Goel described the vibe as California surfer, minus the board shorts and bikinis.
“It’s cool to say a guy is a hunk, it’s cool to say a girl is a babe,” he said. “But it’s different to make a girl wear a bikini.”
The food is priced to compete with other concept burger restaurants: a double burger, fries and a large drink costs about $10. Goel said the beef is sourced within 120 miles and never frozen.
Goel, who also owns Baja Fresh next door at Annapolis Harbour Center and other locations, said the decision to help county schools grew out of a desire to do something local. The couple lives in Annapolis and Malhotara-Goel is a hospitalist at Anne Arundel Medical Center.
After opening about 10 days ago, the location has raised about $6,000 toward its goal.
“So, we want to try this out and hopefully if it works out we’ll do it all the counties we go to,” Goel said.
Information from: The Capital, http://www.capitalgazette.com/