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Food bloggers and restaurants create a pandemic community

Joseph and Philips.jpg
Milena Pantic
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Jonathan Joseph, owner of Happy Hour Heaven, and food blogger Simone Phillips

Baltimore restaurants had to change their methods of operation on a dime during the pandemic and many barely survived. Fortunately for some, there was an online community that stepped in to help out; food bloggers.

As the most difficult time for local, independently owned, restaurants in recent history wore on, Baltimore food bloggers from different internet platforms pulled together to spread information and content that helped all of their favorite spots stay open.

Simone Phillips, who crafted multiple viral Twitter threads from her handle, @charmcitytable, highlighted her Baltimore favorites. She has had threads ranging from seafood to vegan to Black owned restaurants and more.

“Folks would mention those threads specifically when they showed up to the restaurant to get their plates,” she says. “So it was really cool that it had, and continues to have, such a positive response from everybody.”

Each thread highlighted the food as well as how to order delivery and pick up when that was all that was available. Phillips also helped businesses she knew previously that reached out, highlighting their new offers as individual posts.

Jonathan Joseph, owner of Happy Hour Heaven, a small local bar in Fells Point, found Simone’s platform especially effective in navigating the new terrain.

“I feel like that was the best route for us because it was direct to direct instead of going to a third party and speaking to a target market with no faces,” Joseph explains. “I think this allowed us to see who was commenting on Simone’s page, go from there, and actually be interactive with them and form a personal relationship. We also gave away gift certificates, so if people ordered a certain amount of food we would match that amount.”

This gift card giveaway tactic was explored even further by Rachel Lipton, who blogs on Instagram as @liketheteaeats. Her 18 week #StayAwayGiveAway series encouraged diners to support local restaurants and stay inside to prevent the spread of COVID.

Lipton says she would “reach out to another blogger and we would decide what we were each contributing,”

“I contributed 25 dollars for each of the giveaways, typically that was matched by the other food blogger. And then 50 dollars was enough to maybe buy themselves a dinner,” she says. “But then if it’s two of them they are also spending their own money at the restaurant.”

A total of 19 bloggers took money out of their own pockets. Lipton also dedicated a week of promotion to each restaurant leading up to announcing each gift card winner.

Ken Espinosa, who blogs as Baltimore Bite on Youtube, expanded upon a previous collaboration, Dining Out For Life with Moveable Feast and local restaurants, and expanded it to the time of lockdowns. His three-hour online live stream, TakeOutThursday, in September of 2020 was a fundraiser for the organization, during which some local restaurants donated a portion of their profits.

As a lead up to the event, Espinosa broadcast new take out policies from each restaurant encouraging diners to flood them with orders. Moveable Feast ended up raising more than $2,000 in donations and the local restaurants garnered an influx of paying customers.

“This was for charity, for local restaurants, and specifically for restaurants that I’ve actually been to,” he explains. “I mean there’s nothing greater than that because you can actually see where your hard work is going.”

Espinosa’s hard work has had a lasting effect on Blue Pit Barbecue in Hampden. Owner Cara Bruce says she has seen the results continue a year after the event.

“Having Ken do Takeout Thursday during the pandemic has helped us keep our business going now because interestingly our to-go business hasn’t fallen off as much as I expected,” she says. “Having our to-go business keep going, it’s helping us through this transition time.”

As we try to find our new normal, restaurants like these three can build and sustain their businesses through their relationships with the Baltimore food blog community. One crab cake closeup at a time.