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Real people: Local restaurateurs instill family philanthropy

Hers is a marriage made over melting cheese and chocolate, flavored with a lot of determination to make the community a better place. Layla Gunn and her husband Mark, met when she was a server in his eatery, the Melting Pot.

“I was in my first year of pharmacy school when I met him,” recalled Gunn. “I needed money, and I knew I could make some as a server. We butted heads at first, but I fell in love with him, and we got married. Now we have four restaurants and a son, and have been married for 12 years.”

The food that brought them together has given the Johns Creek couple a way to support causes close to their hearts, particularly those that involve children.

“I think we were drawn to children because Mark’s two siblings are adopted, and because I was told I couldn’t have children,” said Gunn. “But thanks to in vitro, we have a miracle child, and that’s made us really appreciate the miracle of children. Our passion comes out of that.”

Six years ago, before their son Lathan was born, the Gunns launched a partnership with St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis. After visiting the facility, they created a benefit event at their restaurants that has raised about $500,000 over the last few years. But with Lathan’s arrival came a desire to expand their philanthropy into the local area and to support children’s causes closer to home.

“We not only wanted to do something on a local level; we also wanted to instill in our son the idea of giving back,” said Gunn. “We created Pure Imagination, a nonprofit to encourage children to do events to give back to other children.”

The Gunns named their son an honorary board member and last year, helped orchestrate his first event - a toy auction.

“We had introduced him to a little boy at Children’s who was post-op from a liver transplant, so he understood and had an appreciation for what that boy had gone through,” said Gunn. “We like him to get more involved as he gets older.”

On Nov. 3, the Gunns will host their largest annual event, the Paint the Town fundraiser at the Vinings Gallery in Smyrna. The evening features a local artist, silent and live auctions, food by celebrity chef Kevin Rathbun and an array of wines not usually found on menus or shelves in the area.

“The wines are amazing, and that’s what people come out for,” said Gunn.

While Gunn is busy running charity events, helping out in the restaurants and raising a six-year old, she still finds time to work 20 hours a week as a pharmacist, her first profession.

“I don’t sleep very much, I know that!” she said.

Information and tickets to Paint the Town are online at www.paintthetownatlanta.org.

Who has inspired you?

Every other Wednesday, H.M. Cauley brings you positive stories from our community. To suggest a story idea, e-mail hm_cauley@yahoo.com.

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