John Brewer never expected this restaurant support community to take off.
14,000 members later, Delray Beach's largest “flash mob” had expanded beyond the city, opening chapters in four cities within Palm Beach County.
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In March, Brewer and his friend Ian Patterson started The Socially Distanced Supper Club to help struggling businesses. Each day, Brewer and the Supper Club community pick restaurants throughout the county and flood them with orders — “flash mobbing” with their grassroot efforts to “keep them afloat in this turbulent time.”
Brewer, who works as a real estate broker, records daily Facebook Live videos to keep the community informed; in years past, he was a general manager at two shuttered Delray Beach restaurants — Ceviche Tapas Bar and Max’s Social House. He says issues facing the restaurant industry “[hit] too close to home.” And he plans to maintain the grassroot effort as Palm Beach County reopens, amid a spike in positive coronavirus cases.
Brewer says organizing efforts haven't always been easy, alluding to one partiuclar chapter not always "seeing eye to eye." The group's guidelines and philosophy, that has kept the ethos of the Supper Club going, has had some “rough patches.” But Brewer says the original Delray group and four local city chapters are still active.
After one of his daily Facebook Live updates, Brewer spoke with WLRN about the flash mobs trying to keep restaurants aloat. Here's an excerpt of that conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity.
WLRN: Where did the idea come from?
JOHN BREWER: So the idea came from right after the pandemic hit and everybody was put into lockdown was pretty obvious. The restaurants were getting hit pretty hard. And Ian [Patterson] knows that I do restaurant leasing and gave me a call and just said, ‘Hey, is there anything you can think of that we might be able to do?’ Got off the phone, started walking around a little bit, and I thought about the catering model. So, you know, if you go to a wedding, you order all your food up front. So you have all these people that come in.
But for the kitchen, it's really easy because they know exactly how much chicken, how much steak, how much fish, whatever. Everything's all preordered. So I thought at the restaurants [we] could order up front. That would give the restaurant a chance to order exactly what they need and prepare for it. And so "How does this work?"
And what's the process like?
Well, if you're a restaurant, you give me a menu for Monday. Monday night, you're gonna make meatloaf or you're going to do two items off your restaurant menu list. Your two most popular items, comfort foods, have been really big. So maybe it's chicken, mashed potatoes, whatever it is. And then maybe you do like a sirloin combination or a fish combination. And basically, we promote that Saturday and Sunday. Everybody's got to get their orders in by Sunday at whatever time you want.
And then everybody's gonna pick it up on Monday. It's just like a flash mob.
What are some of the restaurants, and which restaurant has had the most orders so far?
So the big daddy of them all is Caesar's Ribs. Caesar's Ribs is a great story. Local guy has been cooking out of his church. He's been cooking off of Federal Highway. He's been working on his place for about three years now, right off Atlantic Avenue there when you get off I-95. He was due in just under a hundred dinners when we hooked up with them two weeks ago. I don't know how he did Memorial Day. He had a good weekend, but the week before that, he broke 500 dinners.
Tim Finnigan's has also been a great story ... they've been great in the sense that they've been doing 200 plus. There's a lot of lessons that come with organizing these flash groups.
Did anything surprise you at all?
This thing [pandemic] kind of hit us out of left field. Everybody wanted to find a way to kind of feel like they were a community participating, and they rallied around the mom and pops. It was just incredible to see.