By Jennifer Cook, Guest Columnist

The phone rang and it was Cedric Fletcher, owner of ZaZa’s, calling to say he was closing his doors. This news seemed to be coming more often with small, locally owned restaurants in the East Texas area.

I hit social media and began calling and texting friends and fans of ZaZa’s and the Fletcher family. We quickly organized a final happy hour to bid farewell to one of our favorite places. Around 30 people came to shower Cedric and his employees with love and respect.  On July 2, 2013 ZaZa’s was closed.

One of the people at the happy hour, Marshall Hanna said “Hey, we like to go out and socialize, eat and drink, let’s make this a weekly event where we go support a locally owned mom-and-pop business.  We have lost too many already, and we need to find a way to stop the trend.” 

We discussed feasible days of the week and how we would choose the restaurants and then we planned our first meeting place for the next Tuesday — July 9. After some quick maneuvering, Joey Nartia at What About Kabob accommodated our group of 27 people. This was the first meeting of the Keep It Local Tuesday (KILT) group and it’s been going strong ever since.

At that first meeting, we passed around a note pad and asked everyone in attendance to write down their favorite mom and pop business — food, services, or product. We also announced the next meeting would be at Villa Montez.  There was so much excitement in the room, and it was contagious.

By the next week, our group had grown to 37 people and the news media showed up with cameras.  We had no idea this would grow so fast.  The next two spots, The Rack and Stanley’s Famous BBQ, played host to more than 70 of us in their small restaurants.  And the media attention grew, as well.

At the third meeting, we got a lot of good feedback on places to include on the KILT schedule.  We created a Facebook page and event pages for each Tuesday’s outing. The word spread fast, and more friends began hearing about the events.

Each week, we draw from a bucket to see where we are going on the next Tuesday. We call the business and let them know we are coming.  Most are happy and excited about the potential income and exposure for their businesses.  Sweet Gourmet even stayed open late and held an open house for our group.  So it doesn’t always have to be a restaurant.

There has been a nice side effect from this movement. It has created awareness.  More people are consciously spending money with locally owned businesses.

If it saves one family from having to close their business down, we have done a great deed. The other bonuses are the networking and social aspects of getting together once a week with new and old friends.

After a year of KILT outings, our crowd fluctuates from 10 to 40 people, and with summer here, we hope those numbers will rise.

Look us up at www.facebook.com/KeepItLocalTuesdays to see where we are headed next and join us in this effort to support our community. Everyone has to eat dinner on Tuesday nights, so why not do it together?

 

 

 

 

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