Eat Hendersonville Fights Restaurant Crisis

by | Jan 2024

THE COVID epidemic caused immeasurable harm, including the economic fallout, with the restaurant sector taking some of the biggest hits. Amid 2020’s lockdown, restaurant veteran Mauricio Sanchez took steps to aid Hendersonville’s suddenly endangered independent restaurants — the mom and pop businesses that are the lifeblood of local communities.

“When COVID hit,” Sanchez relates, “We were sitting here like everyone else. And one day, my wife and I decided we wanted to buy a to-go hamburger from one of the local restaurants. We called, we ordered it, and when I got there to pick it up, the owner came out to deliver it, and she was pretty much in tears. When I asked her what was wrong, she said she was scared. She and her partner had poured all their savings into their venture. It had only been open for around a year. They were afraid. They didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know what to tell her because I didn’t know either. So I just listened.”

These concerns were something Sanchez, a restaurant consultant with experience in operations and distribution, understood very well.

“I came home and told my wife about the experience. We thought there had to be something we could do, and we didn’t know what it was. We thought about it for a little bit, and maybe a week or two later, on a Sunday night, we were having dinner. Our daughter was here, and we decided we were going to commit $600 from our family fund. We were going to go out and buy $25 gift certificates from every mom and pop [restaurant] and help that way. One thing I did know is that they needed cash flow.”

This was just the beginning of his efforts. “We bought the cards, and I took a picture of them and posted it on my Facebook page. I encouraged our friends to do the same. ‘[Do] whatever you can. [Buy] one [or] two cards from your favorite restaurant to help them out. ’ Before I knew it, friends started sending me money. They told me to buy the cards from whoever needed it.

“We ended up with almost $2000 worth of donations. I went out and bought who knows how many. Do the quick math, and that’ll tell you how many cards I bought. And we had no idea how we were going to get rid of them! We couldn’t stand on the corner and hand them out! And that’s how the idea of ‘Eat Hendersonville’ came about.”

“We created a Facebook page to be a vehicle to help us to distribute the cards. There’d be a contest or whatever, and we would send them a card, and then they would go to a restaurant and maybe order more cards. One thing led to another, and all of a sudden, within a week, I had over 2000 members on my page. And it just grew like you wouldn’t believe. People started posting pictures of their takeout food. When restaurants began opening their doors, they started posting pictures of their food from the restaurants.”

By the end of the year, there were over 10,000 members.

Since 2020, Eat Hendersonville has given close to $4500 worth of gift cards. Eat Hendersonville’s active membership now totals around 20,000. The need these days, luckily, is not as great, but independent eateries always need support.

Sanchez has one ironclad rule: No negativity on Eat Hendersonville’s pages. “The success of our group has been the fact that we do not allow any negativity on the page — nothing — zero. There are thousands of pages out there, [so] if you want to blow off steam, do it over there. If you have a negative comment or something wrong happened at the restaurant, I want you to call the owner. I can’t fix it; the group can’t fix it.”

Hendersonville had 67 independent restaurants. Incredibly, they didn’t lose a single restaurant for 2 ½ years. Nationally, thousands of restaurants were lost. Sanchez’s outreach was innovative, user-friendly, and fun. Who doesn’t want a gift card?

“The community responded,” he concludes. “They went out, and they helped. They did what they had to do.” GN

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