Local restaurant owners take part in competition to benefit Meritus foundation

September 03, 2012|By CALEB CALHOUN |
  • LJ's and Kat Lounge Executive Chef Lonnie Coble prepairs a scallop appetizer during a quick fire challenge against Hempen Hill Executive Chef Jason Vogel Monday during a fundraiser event to benefit the Meritus Healthcare Foundation.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

The owners of two Hagerstown restaurants faced off Monday at LJ’s & the Kat Lounge in a challenge similar to those seen on the Food Network.

Kathy and Jay Reeder, co-owners of Hempen Hill BBQ, faced off against Alex Tiches, owner and general manager of LJ’s & the Kat Lounge to raise money for the patient programs and services of the Meritus Healthcare Foundation, according to Laurie Sexton, executive director of the foundation.

“We’re doing a throwdown each round, kind of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) style,” Sexton said. “(All) of them are well-known in the community for their cooking.”

The throwdown included six categories, the first of which was sangria, which Hempen Hill BBQ won. A quick fire appetizer challenge involving scallops was second, which Hempen Hill BBQ also won, and a salad challenge, won by LJ’s & the Kat Lounge, followed.

The next three challenges included an entree, side dish and dessert. The entree competition ended in a tie; LJ’s and the Kat Lounge clinched the side dish category; and Hempen Hill BBQ dominated with its dessert.

Hempen Hill BBQ won the overall throwdown and an MMA heavyweight belt, Sexton said.

“Since we’ve opened, we’ve always been close, great, competitive friends,” Tiches said of the Reeders. “They do such an amazing job with their food.”

Hempen Hill BBQ is in Hagerstown’s Fountainhead Plaza, just west of Pennsylvania Avenue. It began as a catering service in December 2004, and became a restaurant in October 2006, according to its website,

LJ’s and the Kat Lounge is a fine-dining restaurant on Conrad Court Road just east of Eastern Boulevard in Hagerstown.

Tiches and the Reeders donate to the Meritus Healthcare Foundation, and Sexton said they came up with the throwdown idea as a way to raise money for the foundation.

Tickets to the throwdown were sold to the first 19 couples who bid on them at the foundation’s Crystal Ball in May, Sexton said.

“We took the first 10 couples that bid on a $500 ticket to come, and it expanded into 19 couples, so we had to cut it off at some point,” she added. “The Crystal Ball is the hospital’s largest fundraiser.”

Both restaurants provided the food and supplies, Sexton said. They also selected what would be the focal point of each dish.

Tiches used the restaurant’s kitchen to cook, and the Reeders cooked outside before plating their food in the kitchen.

“We’re good friends, and we also share a lot of regulars,” Kathy Reeder said about the relationship between Hempen Hill BBQ and LJ’s & the Kat Lounge. “When Jay and I go out to dinner, we always come to LJ’s. It’s our go-to place, so it’s the first place that I recommend.”

The 19 couples who showed up served as the judges by circling the name of their favorites after each round. They each got a serving of every course.

Mitesh Kothari and John Newby, both doctors at Meritus Medical Center, served as two of the judges and displayed early on how competitive the event could get.

Kothari preferred Hempen Hill’s sangria, but Newby said he preferred Tiches’, alluding to the fact that it used red wine, which he said sangria should contain.

“You know your sangria, that’s where you want to be,” he said.

Newby also is chairman of the Meritus Healthcare Foundation Crystal Ball, and was supportive of the throwdown idea.

“The energy with which the two sides came together to advance it was great,” he said. “It’s a wonderful, fun idea, and a great way to end the summer and raise money for the foundation.”

The event began at 4 p.m. and lasted until about 7:15 p.m.

Kothari said he supported the idea because it was an exciting way to do something good.

“The opportunity came along to do something fun and give away money,” he said. “I like sponsoring events like this.”

The Meritus Healthcare Foundation is a private, nonprofit, tax-exempt organization, the purpose of which is raising support for the hospital’s programs and services, scientific research, equipment, technology, medical training and community education provided through Meritus Health and its affiliates, according to The foundation raises the support through donors and volunteers.

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