`Expert' entrees served to clients of `Powerlunch!'

In Washington, where access is the main course at meals, an enterprising young woman has come up with a new idea that may turn into a profitable business. It's called Powerlunch!, a recognizable logo in a city where power breakfasts and power lunches are a way of life. According to its founder, Sandra (Sandy) Crowe, it's a networking club designed to bring people with common business interests together.

On the menu at Powerlunch! is a data base of more than 100 people Ms. Crowe classifies as experts in several areas, ranging from computers to jazz to tax law to extracting venom from snakes. The experts literally dine out on their expertise.

People who want to learn more about any field for which Crowe can provide an expert sign up for access to these professionals. The membership fee is $25 annually; Crowe charges $5 for each ``contact,'' and the restaurants on her list pay her a small fee ($2) for each lunch she brings in. Crowe says those seeking information from the experts pick up the tab for lunch.

``Information is power, especially in this city,'' she says, adding that ``Contacts are valuable, they should be worth something.'' She explains: ``A lot of people don't realize the resources that they have at their fingertips, and I'm just helping them out.''

Among her ``experts'' is Iris Benjamin, who has returned to Washington after spending seven years working in the film business and entertainment law in Los Angeles. Powerlunch! put her in touch with Larry Olfhaven, a Washingtonian who was going to Hollywood to work on film development projects and wanted some Hollywood contacts. ``What Sandy is doing is putting people together to talk over their business interests,'' says Ms. Benjamin.

David Field, a writer who says ``I do not like the term `expert,''' lunched with a woman who had questions about how to query editors on free-lance stories. Field has written for Washingtonian and Regardie's magazines, proposing and placing free-lance stories.

Among the 200 or so people who have signed up for Powerlunch! is Joy Erickson, a graphics designer, artist, and inventor who needed marketing expertise. Crowe matched her up for a lunch at the Four Seasons with David Kramarsky, a marketing and advertising specialist. ``It's been very favorable, a good experience,'' says Ms. Erickson. ``Powerlunch! has been a good idea for me; it's within financial reach of people like myself.... I'm basically an artist and it's put me in touch with the right people.'' She's signed up for more lunches.

Among the other experts offered are a satellite communications vice-president, a personnel consultant, a tax lawyer, a public relations expert, a piano tuner, and ``lots of middle-management people who will show you how to fill out an SF-170 form for government jobs,'' says Crowe.

One of her listed experts is Claire Halpert, marketing director for a public-relations business. Ms. Halpert, who mentions Mobil Oil and the American Banking Association as clients, says ``Powerlunch! is great for young people who can learn from others [with experience] ... it's not for older people who are already established in the Washington community.''

The founder of Powerlunch! has hopscotched her way into this business after several other ventures, including a small advertising company that marketed restaurant placemats on which advertising space was sold. She is a 1983 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she majored in international studies.

So far, she says, Powerlunch! has approximately 200 members who have filled out the brief application form. Virtually all of them are screened by phone.

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