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What do you do in the summer heat? Summer usually means family reunions, pools, parties, BBQ’s, relaxing.  It’s a less stressful pace.  It’s also a great time as restaurant owners to catch your breath, see friends, and bring your personal community back into your world.  We all crave community. Community is the essence of a cafe or a restaurant; you are inviting people into your place to share a meal.  Community can be the familiar, “Party of two?,” friends reuniting after 25 years, sometimes it’s a wedding where details are planned and executed over months.  But this article is not focused on THAT community.  We are going to talk about the community of your peers.  I challenge you to know your peers and find ways to build and share community with them. 




Magic is sparked when owners, chefs and other eatery employees collaborate on community events. Here are a couple of examples to get your mind working.  


Small Ticketed Event

Picture a collaborative evening between two or more owners and/or chefs.  For your customers, watching these events come together is, frankly, fun.  Recently two businesses in Baltimore collaborated on a pasta making event. Hirsch’s, located in Federal Hill, claims to be the best Italian in Baltimore, and Corner Pantry, located north of the city, is described as “a modern British inspired cafe serving high quality, locally sourced and always house made breakfast, lunch, grab & go, and dinner.” I, like many friends and even chefs, would have loved to attend, but honestly, good attendance isn’t really what you need. And, it’s not about the money you will potentially make — remember, this is about building your community.


A successful collaborative event begins with a common love of community,  knowledge sharing, a relationship building. Just think of the goodwill you will spread by sharing your knowledge (you might even gain some knowledge yourself), or the education your staff will gain by participating in the event, and not to mention the relationships you will nurture by talking with your community. When you run your own business, you don’t often have the time to get out there and talk to other owners to hear about their successes or to see their locations, decor, and table service. 


When I proposed this idea to one of my clients, they said, “well, then, if I don’t make great sales, what’s the benefit? I have to justify paying staff, buying special ingredients and coordinating logistics.” I assured him that the benefits are much bigger and longer term than any of the hassles and expenses. For example: 

  • People will hear about the event. It’s modern PR, and it’s real! You’ll need to get your social media revved and start talking about the event before hand. Get your employees and all the collaborators on the social media band wagon and spread the word. Make it fun. Make it sound like the event of the year — an event people just can’t miss.
  • Owners and chefs, get to know each other, share idea. You will be able to share vendors, techniques, and much more. 
  • Altruistically, a collaboration improves the city you live in by bringing people together. And the best part, you create the fun and the vibe. Even if 150 people couldn’t get to the event, or you sold out of the 20 ticket you had, that vibe you created encourages other community members to become collaborators — you can all watch as your community thrives and grows.
DougStrong was an event held in July 2015 to support Doug Wetzel in his recovery from a near fatal life event.

DougStrong was an event held in July 2015 to support Doug Wetzel in his recovery from a near fatal life event.


Fundraiser —-Support locally

This event was unusual and collaborative on a scale you will rarely see. It happened in support of Gertrude’s Restaurant chef, Doug Wetzel. In May 2015, chef Wetzel, participated in a triathlon. He trained for months and was more than ready to compete. On race day, the weather was incredibly hot. Chef Wetzel became overheated and dehydrated. The short version of the story is that he had to be airlifted to a shock trauma facility and was in ICU for an extended period. His life was on the line and the costs were overwhelming.Doug had health insurance but there were things that insurance did not cover. The outpouring of support for Doug Wetzel was so amazing and touching. Customers, staff, and chefs in the community reached out to Gertrude’s owner, John Shields, asking how they could help.


Once Doug was out of the danger zone and in his recovery, it was decided the time was right to bring those customers, staff, and chefs together and let them show their support. A local community organizer, Peter Jackson, along with Gertrude's co-owner, John Gilligan, came up with the perfect idea, “let’s throw a fundraising party for Chef Wetzel!” So, they reached out to the chefs who wanted to help. They asked them to set up a station and serve their chosen appetizer, or dessert. They happily said yes!  Vendors stepped up and donated shrimp, crab, veggies, beef, and cheesecake.“ When tickets for the even went on sale, 600 tickets were sold. Ticket sales were 100% donations and over $30,000 was given to Doug’s family as a medical fund. 


The enthusiasm for the event was infectious. Chefs, owners and staff, who never have time to socialize, came together, and customers were thrilled to support chef Wetzel. Doug was even able to attend via Skype. The joy of that collaborative night was palpable.  Community was the support that defined this collaboration. John Shields, wouldn’t take credit for this event, to him, it was the community who deserved the credit. And they benefited too, they shared stories, ate, and laugh together. But I bet, in retrospect it was a scathingly brilliant idea!




Remember, collaboration is cooperative by it’s very nature.  It’s far better to share than compete. Spark your mind, bring a new atmosphere to your restaurant or cafe, and bring pride to your staff by hosting or participating in a community event. To learn more about the benefits of cooperative business relationships, I’ve provided links to 3 articles that talk about the importance of all businesses, especially small, entrepreneurial businesses, to build relationships with like minded businesses


The benefits of a collaborative community event might not show up on your bottom line the next day, but customers will hear, they will come, and this improve your bottom line. Remember it’s about being authentic.  


If you find that you need help dreaming up a collaborative event, call me — idea sparks are just one of the superpowers of Cavalletta.