A new program called “Escondido Eats” is helping the city’s restaurants recover from the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
From a global pandemic claiming the lives of thousands, closing hundreds of thousands of businesses and putting millions out of work; to racial sparking mass protests and fears of violence, even to the death of an American icon in Kobe Bryant, this year so far has proven to be tragic.
But amidst the unrelenting waves of crises, some positives have emerged from the chaos, namely how some communities have found creative ways to support their local economy and the people who keep it going.
Among the most industries most impacted by COVID-19 is Food and Beverage. It took a major, conceivably insurmountable, blow after local, state officials ordered all restaurants, bars, coffee shops, wineries, etc. shut down for traditional service, deeming them “non-essential” and a risk for spreading the disease.
While many establishments remained open for take-out service, others shut their doors, some temporarily, some for good, prompting the layoffs and furloughs of millions of employees and businesses to withdraw loans to remain afloat while weathering the storm of the crisis.
To help remedy the situation and provide support for local food and beverage establishments, on May 1 the Escondido Chamber of Commerce, with the help of the City of Escondido, established a program called Escondido Eats, a regularly updated calendar system designed to provide opportunities for local food and drink businesses to list daily and ongoing specials and the public to access them anytime.
“The restaurant industry here in Escondido has been immensely impacted, and we are proud to have collaborated with our City to help drive business to our local eateries,” said Chamber CEO James Rowten. “We took a rough concept hatched together with the City and the Chamber developed the details, invested the resources and reached out to the community for support. The results are quite impressive and growing.”
Thus far, over 20 food and drink establishments have signed with many more planning to join in the near future. In addition, the Escondido Eats website provides a running list of restaurants open for take-out and delivery, as well as those that have reopened for dine-in service as certain lockdown restrictions have been eased and lifted.
In order to supplement the website to promote further awareness of the program and support for local businesses, a public Facebook page also called Escondido Eats was established on May 1. Since then, according to Page Administrator Elana Rheinhart, over 4,500 people and counting have joined the group. It allows each member to post about food and drink specials at certain establishments and share their posts, share personal dining experiences and recommend favorite eateries in town, often as many as 30 posts per day.
Certain rules do apply, however, though they are fairly simple and straightforward: be kind, no drama, do your part, and to recommend Escondido establishments only.
Says Rheinhart, “Our main concern is to keep it as manageable as possible since Facebook groups tend to take a life form of their own. We opted to keep the Facebook group public so that our restaurants would get optimal exposure. Our group insights continue to grow exponentially, but our current reach is 50,000 impressions.”
She adds, “By keeping the group public, group members can share resources in and out of the group by simply using the share feature. This is amazing for busy restaurant owners who want to easily share their post from the Business Facebook page into the group. Also, group members can then share any posts in the group onto their personal profile or into other Facebook groups. I am happy to continue to grow the group and be an Admin as long as the group continues to be a positive resource to the community.”
Members of the Facebook page and those living in the community seem to believe this indeed is the case. Writes Angelica Carbajal-Martin, “I like how everyone is so eager to share their food post with our community. The attention that our small Escondido businesses are receiving is what we need. Small businesses are the heart of our community and our economy.”
Adds Alexandria Williams, “I love that I’m discovering some amazing hidden gems of Escondido that I didn’t know about and I’ve been living here for 20 years! Seeing the delicious food posts encourages me more to go support a business while enjoying some yummy food. Seeing the pictures of what other members have ordered also makes me try different types of food. It’s extremely useful as the other day I wanted to check out a new sushi restaurant. All I had to do was search sushi in this group by the pictures associated with the name, which helped make my choice that much easier than using Google.”
Restaurant owners and management seem to agree. Swami’s Cafe Operations Manager Hulises Contreras said, “We’ve been reopened for dine-in service for nearly three weeks now and have certainly seen a spike in the number of people who say they found this out by various posts to Escondido Eats. It has been great to see all the posts of our food, as well as from other restaurants in the area.”
Jessamyn Patterson, a group member and frequent poster of food photos and recommendations, recently visited Cocina del Charro and mentioned Escondido Eats to its management team. It said the website and Facebook page have been a huge help for their business as people searching for which places are open and what each are offering are accessible through each. “They are very happy with this resource and encourage everyone to continue to post in support of local businesses,” she said.
Asked if any changes are in the works for Escondido Eats in order to enhance the program, Rheinhart said, “A few weeks ago, the city provided us with signage to supply the restaurants who are advertising on our website. Chris Cochran (of the Chamber of Commerce) has been making rounds to those restaurants, so you should be seeing these signs up in their windows soon! We are continuing to spread the word to the restaurants about the program and are currently working on a marketing piece for those who have not yet heard about it or joined.”
In addition, due to the popularity of the Escondido Eats program, requests have been made to develop other resources on the Chamber website and form another Facebook group to focus on the health and beauty industry in the city.
To meet this growing demand, Escondido Lookin’ Grand was formed as a Facebook group to promote health and beauty establishments such as hairdressers, barbers, nail salons, massage therapists, fitness trainers, estheticians, etc., and give them a platform to share their services and specials to Escondido patrons.
Since the end of May, membership for this group has grown to nearly 1,000 people and has proven, already, to be a benefit to the community. Both for local business and residents in search of services and product. Commented Rowten, “Developing our digital assets and growing our social media was a clear goal of mine when I came to the Chamber. Devoting resources necessary to grow our social media has proven to have real quantifiable impact to our business community and members. Bringing Elana on board as our Social Media & Events Manager working closely with Chris Cochran our Marketing & Development Director has driven this initiative to deliver real impact. There is more to come so check in often.”
Cochran added, “Elana has done a great job of building this program and we continue to see it deliver results for restaurants here in Escondido. It’s a team effort but it took her vigilance and time centered on this project to deliver these results.”
“I love Escondido Eats,” says Adam Hammill, local business owner. “I love eating and posting about food and do both frequently, specifically fried chicken. I don’t know, it’s kind of my thing. I’m also always looking for the next best place and to tell others if I’ve found it, so EE is a great place for that.”
He adds, “As a business owner myself, I always want to do what I can to support other businesses in town; this page provides me a great opportunity for this. It’s really amazing that in times of crisis and desperation, people seem to dig deep and find the best within themselves to make their world better. At a time when businesses are struggling just to survive, people have come together to keep the hope alive and actually help them thrive.”
For more information regarding the Escondido Eats Program, visit www.escondidochamber.org/escondido-eats-2 or www.facebook.com/groups/EscondidoEats. The Escondido Chamber of Commerce can be contacted at (760) 745-2125