Realtor Lindsay Smith comes from a family of chefs, so when restaurants were ordered to shut down indoor seating earlier this year, he knew he had to do something to help the owners. The broker/owner of the Buy, Sell, Love Durham team at Keller Williams Energy Real Estate in Oshawa, Ont. started a Facebook group (Restaurants in Oshawa, Whitby and Clarington Offering Takeout and Delivery) in mid-March to provide a free platform for restaurants to post their hours, services and safety protocols.
Smith, who has been selling real estate locally for 36 years, says he’s “pretty connected in town” and reached out to restaurants and influencers that he knew and asked them to share the content. He also posted interviews with restaurant owners on the Facebook page so the community could get to know them.
“What happened since has been unbelievable,” Smith says.
In two months, the group had grown to 3,000 members and many people began posting pictures of food and sharing comments, changing the page from listings to an active, engaging, supportive and positive community group.
In mid-October, Smith wrote, “A big shout out to each and every one of you in this amazing tribe! We just crossed 10,000 members. What an accomplishment. Our tribe was born on March 19 when I was sitting at my kitchen table, not knowing if my career selling real estate would be allowed to continue. I had a feeling of dread…thinking about our local restaurants. Think back. They didn’t know if they could offer take-out and the fear was so ubiquitous, the restaurant owners wondered if they could even attract curbside customers.”
Fast forward to October. There have been 11,000 individual posts, 82,500 comments, 218,000 pictures, emoticons and likes and 10,000 members have added some content in the past 60 days.
Membership is now 10,300, about 500 of which are restaurant owners.
Best of all it has become a positive space for not only restaurants but for people who want a safe space to share, Smith says.
Members have been creative about their posts. “One member sees his son every other weekend and they decided to visit 10 or 15 pizza joints and rate them, not negatively,” but just creating their list of personal favourites. It has spurred others to create their own father-and-son activity by creating their own lists of favourites from burgers to wings, Smith says.
A mother would take her autistic son to restaurants as part of his therapy and he would review them. But as restaurants were shut down they were no longer able to go out. The mom asked if anyone would like a review by her son. Over 60 places offered to deliver food, Smith says. “This gave the 13-year-old a sense of purpose…Despite their own hardships, these restaurants are giving back,” Smith says.
Fran Steyn of corporate caterer Frantastic Events reached out to her clients for monetary donations. Then she served food to thousands of frontline workers. “It’s a culture of giving back and it’s amazing to be part of it,” Smith says.
Eatery business owners are thankful. Julie Eves of the Bull Dog Pub & Grill opened one month before the lockdown and didn’t have money for advertising once the doors closed. She told Smith that she would have gone out of business if it wasn’t for the group.
Smith and Michelle Harrison-Faulkner moderate the page. “Negativity doesn’t enter this space,” he says, adding in a world where there’s too much negativity, the page supports restaurants and the community in a safe space.
He has refused paid advertising, saying he didn’t start the group to make money. However, everything is branded. The team’s Buy Sell Love Durham logo has been spun off into an almost identical Life Love Eat Durham logo that appears on the Facebook page.
Smith has spent more on marketing from March to June than before and has hired a digital marketer to bring all of his advertising together.
“When everything shut down, many big online (real estate) advertisers stopped conducting business.” He says he and his coach concluded a lot of agents “will go underground, hiding and not doing anything during COVID. But the most visible people will be the people who win,” he says, adding that he’s made more money this year than ever before.
Helping the community is nothing new for Smith and business/life (“all that and 10 times more”) partner Wendy Starr. One of their recent charitable campaigns came to fruition when they decided closing gifts are “silly. But we understood they are part of the culture.” Instead of gifts, they donate to non-profit groups on the client’s behalf.
“Our goal is 20 for 2020 – giving $20,000 back in 2020 on behalf of clients,” he says. They wondered if they’d achieve their goal, but it’s now in sight. “We’ve cracked $18,000.”
Their next goal is to dig deeper into the restaurant community. If restaurants shut down in the second wave, they will need more support, says Smith, who plans to “ramp up interviews and promote restaurants’ safety protocols.”
He will also help Durham Region, which is offering a free delivery app, to connect with the restaurant community.
“When we order takeout, dine in or do curbside pickup we are not just getting a meal, we are tossing a lifeline to an industry of individuals, families and close-knit teams trying, like we all are, to get through this crisis,” Smith says.