From Teachers to Restaurant Promoters: Socially Distanced Supper Club Gaithersburg

Joan Most worked as a Montgomery County teacher for 34 years before retiring in 2009. She enjoyed retirement, spending part of the winter with her husband in their condo in Delray Beach, Florida. She sold her Silver Spring home this past February, trading it for a condo in Gaithersburg, and putting in motion a plan to shuttle back and forth between the two residences.

Joan was enjoying her time in Delray Beach when the pandemic took hold and began to affect daily activities. Like many of us, she began to grow restless. Then she heard about the Socially Distanced Supper Club Delray. It wasn’t long before she was thrust out of retirement and into the role of a restaurant promoter.

The Socially Distanced Supper Club (SDSC) is a Facebook group founded by two Delray Beach dads. The idea is to help support restaurants during the pandemic by highlighting specific establishments and promoting their menu online. Members of the group are invited to pre-order meals for takeout on a designated day, creating a sort of “flash mob.” Often there are a selection of menu items offered at a discount.

“My ears perk up when anything is restaurant related and I joined the group pretty early on,” says Joan. “It gave me a chance to try Delray Beach restaurants I had never visited, and that was a great thing. I was feeling unproductive and I started to think this was something I could start from here and have in place when I moved back to Gaithersburg.”

She connected with the SDSC founders and gained an education about their processes and promotional efforts. Then she reached out to her friend Diane Golden, also a retired teacher and restaurant devotee, to help with the endeavor.

Socially Distanced Supper Club co-founder Kerry Sanders and Joan Most

NBC reporter Kerry Sanders with Joan Most in Delray Beach

They launched Socially Distanced Supper Club Gaithersburg Area on April 30. They were slowly signing up local restaurants and growing their Facebook group when the Delray Beach SDSC was featured on the Today Show. The story mentioned the formation of the Gaithersburg chapter, which gave it a major boost. SDSC Gaithersburg took off, and is currently at 3,000 members who support the mission: We are a commUNITY of people trying to send a “flash mob” to restaurants to keep them afloat during this turbulent time.

Soliciting restaurants and creating the graphics for online promotion for two or more weekly events quickly became overwhelming, and Joan and Diane enlisted additional support. Two friends and two members of the Facebook group answered the call. All of them happen to be teachers. Joan explains with pride, “Between us we have 125 years of teaching experience. There’s something in our genes that just wants to help.”

The SDSC Gaithersburg Facebook page includes an online calendar with the dates restaurants will be featured. An order deadline helps ensure that staff is prepared for the uptick in volume. Many participating restaurant owners have experienced a 30% increase in their business on an SDSC night, and also report a continued benefit from the publicity gained from diners posting pictures and comments online.

Participating restaurants have included Dogfish Head Alehouse, Ichiban, Berries & Bowls, St. Veg, Gardenia’s Café, Rincon Peruano, Fontina Grille, King Fish, Mamma Lucia, Paladar, Taco Bar, Relish Catering, Savvy Treats, Hersheys, and Botanero. Joan is particularly proud of the new or lesser known restaurants that have benefitted from the promotion. This includes Nishiki Ramen & Sushi in the Kentlands, which was opened in December 2019 by Ashley and Aling Liu, who are Chinese immigrants.

Aling and Ashley Liu of Nishiki Ramen & Sushi

Some of the lessons learned are that many SDSC Gaithersburg members are families who tend not to order takeout mid-week, so more of the dates are now on weekends. And while the restaurant is only required to fill out a short form and provide menu information for SDSC promotion, some owners are hard to reach and others non-responsive.  As a result, SDSC is expanding outside of Gaithersburg to include Rockville and Germantown. They are also happily giving past participants a chance for a repeat performance.

Restaurant owners give the Socially Distanced Social Club superlative grades:

Wow, wow, wow! Thank you to The Socially Distanced Supper Club – Gaithersburg Maryland! What you are doing to help our local restaurants, food trucks, bakeries, etc. is fantastic. We get to introduce ourselves to some new fans and help put more people into food comas! We are very grateful for the support and we are extremely pleased with the reviews and feedback!  Butch Bernstein – owner B.S. BBQ

Thank you both and your team so very much for all your support and kindness!  We truly appreciate all your hard work assisting us with publicity and it warms our hearts that you care so deeply for our local businesses and our community.  We are also happy and excited to have an opportunity to support other businesses featured by the Supper Club.  It’s a lovely form of community service, and I am very grateful for your generosity of spirit. Sandy Daley – owner, Taipei Tokyo

While the founders of SDSC Gaithersburg gain appreciation from restaurant owners, the diners get kudos as well.

“I know this Supper Club idea came from a place of locals wanting to help support small local business.  And, in theory, that’s an awesome idea.  But there is something special about your group because “in theory” doesn’t necessarily always translate.  Not only have you been some of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, but your followers are just as nice!  From what we experienced tonight and over the course of the last few days taking orders, literally every single person who ordered and/or picked up was friendly, kind, generous and patient.  While a sales boost is always nice, the morale boost is what really struck us all who worked today the most. Your people reminded us all why we do what we do every day and that’s worth more than I can even begin to describe. Julie Harris, owner Full On Craft

Up next for the Socially Distanced Supper Club Gaithersburg Area is Bobapop Tea Bar (July 23) and Off the Hook Catering (July 25).  Visit their Facebook page for a calendar of events, and be sure to join the group to keep up with all the latest updates.

Socially Distanced Social Club Off the Hook Menu

Picking up at Gardenia’s Cafe. A hidden gem!

Posted by Joan Albert Most on Sunday, June 14, 2020

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