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Take a bite at your own mystery dinner
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Shirley Lipscomb's how-to book on hosting a mystery dinner doesn't involve drama — instead, diners take risks with what they put in their mouths. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Looking for a little mystery?

Murder Mystery Dinner Theater presented by Fifth Row Center

When: 6 p.m. May 17
Where: Grapes & Hops Bar & Bistro, Flowery Branch
How much: Three-course dinner for $35 with an additional $10 donation to Fifth Row Center
More info: 770-965-9145

For more information on the Shirley Childers Lipscomb Scholarship Fund at Lanier Technical College, contact the Lanier Technical College Foundation at 770-531-6396.

Shirley Lipscomb admits she's always been imaginative, so when her church needed to raise money for a new fellowship hall, she started thinking of ways to raise it.

The result of her brainstorming? A mystery dinner.

But not your typical dinner theater - this idea centered around plays on words and different ways to eat the food.

"Tea on the menu is not tea, it's called Harbor Bash and I get it from the Boston Tea Party," Lipscomb said. "Everything is something different than what it is, you just have to use your imagination. You could order your cake first instead of your salad and only a toothpick to eat it with."

Guests pay for their seat and participate in a game where they have to choose their dinner from a menu with items like Barnyard, Harbor Bash, High Mountain or Irish Delight.

"I thought of the idea of a mystery dinner because we want it to be something different because we need to get more than $10," Lipscomb said. "I found a place that would let me have the dinner free of charge. ... It was very nice; it was out on Lake Lanier. It was one evening that we went out and our room was completely packed, from wall-to-wall."

Typically, the term "mystery dinner" involves a play, and guests at the dinner help solve the crime. Michelle Schrek, owner of Grapes & Hops Bar & Bistro in Flowery Branch, hosted one recently with members of the South Hall community theater Fifth Row Center.

"We're excited about doing them and bringing something different to the whole atmosphere in dining," said Schrek about the next dinner planned for May 17.

The restaurant also has hosted a different kind of mystery dinner where guests wear blindfolds while tasting foods, exploring the sensory experience.

The food helps set the scene, Schrek said.

"The fascination is that they are getting entertainment at the same time they are having a nice dinner," she said. "You do a three-course dinner. And I think it's a little spin on the murder mystery, and that makes it exciting."

Plus, like Lipscomb's fundraising idea, Grapes & Hops also uses the dinner theater event as a way to give back to the community; it's a fundraiser for Fifth Row Center.

The murder mystery is called "Eat, Drink & Be Married" and takes place in a Las Vegas Wedding Chapel where a young couple have eloped and the bride's father, Blackjack White, a wealthy casino owner, isn't happy.

Both Schrek's Mystery Dinner and Lipscomb's are three courses, but Lipscomb adds a twist to the menu.

Lipscomb said that guests choose eight items for each of the three courses.

"They might order their cake, glass of water and a toothpick," she said. "It can be as elegant as you want it to be or it can be simple."

Usually Lipscomb sends out printed invitations and gets the menus printed, too.

So after experimenting with several of the mystery dinners, Lipscomb decided they were such a success she wrote a book: "Fun Dinners, Brainteasers: Church and Organization Fundraiser Guide."

It's an instructional guide, she says, that can be found on Amazon.com.

Now, Lipscomb is using this book and the fundraising idea to help her scholarship foundation raise funds for needy students. Her first mystery dinner was a success, raising enough money to get the church's fellowship hall built.

Lipscomb, the first black female instructor at Lanier Technical College and graduate of the Gainesville school system, retired in 2007. A foundation at Lanier Tech has been set up in her honor, The Shirley Childers Lipscomb Scholarship Fund.

"There has not been a scholarship handed out yet; we want to get it endowed. ... You have to have at least either $25,000 or $50,000 in there," she said.

But local organizations have really embraced the mystery dinner idea, like the North Georgia Force girls basketball team.

According to Lipscomb, the girls will be competing in a tournament this summer in Florida and needed a fundraiser. They are set to have their mystery dinner on June 5 at the East Hall Community Center. The public is welcome.

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