Since introduction of the first Stoneham Restaurant Week in 2014, the Stoneham and Wakefield Chambers have been joining forces to help drive restaurant traffic to their communities. This new collaboration – a Restaurant RoundTable – has been formed and is beginning regular meetings. Restaurant and other food-related business owners come together to discuss industry concerns and develop ways to increase traffic. Read the full feature article here which appeared in the August 10 issue of the Stoneham Independent.
Restaurants joining forces to promote local dining
By MARK SARDELLA -- August 10, 2016
STONEHAM -- The towns of Stoneham, Wakefield and Lynnfield are more and more becoming known as “dining destinations.” With a variety of fine restaurants offering diverse cuisine, the three communities have become synonymous with good food.
In an effort to capitalize on that reputation and enhance all local businesses, Stoneham Chamber of Commerce and the Wakefield-Lynnfield Chamber of Commerce have teamed with a number of local restauranteurs to form the Restaurant Leadership Roundtable.
After the group’s initial meeting on July 19 at the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, the organizers are hoping for an even bigger turnout at their next roundtable on Tuesday, Aug. 23 at the Al Merritt Media Center at 600 Market St. in Lynnfield.
Marianne Cohen, Executive Director of the Wakefield-Lynnfield Chamber, says that the idea came up after “Restaurant Week,” earlier this year. She and Stoneham Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jennifer Welter were brainstorming ideas to further promote the restaurants in their towns.
Welter decided to contact the Massachusetts Restaurant Association to see what advice they could offer. They mentioned that they had had success with a Restaurant Leadership Roundtable on Cape Cod.
“They suggested that we do one,” Cohen said.
At about the same time, Jonathan Post, owner of The Porch in Wakefield, approached Cohen and asked why there wasn’t more cooperation among local restaurants. He felt that there should be less of an atmosphere of competition and more of a community of cooperation to foster the local restaurant business as a whole for the benefit of all.
The two chamber leaders, Welter and Cohen, decided to invite every restaurant in Stoneham, Lynnfield and Wakefield to the first Restaurant Leadership Roundtable at the Sheraton last month. From Stoneham, Marty Murphy from Montvale Plaza participated. In attendance from Wakefield were Post, Lisa O’Neill from Harrington’s Pub and Mark Zhong from Sakura Organic. Steve Merrill from the Four Points at Sheraton hosted the Roundtable.
Wakefield Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio attended as well as Lynnfield Town Administrator Jim Boudreau. Kerry Miller and Lynne Johnston from the Massachusetts Restaurant Association facilitated the discussion.
“It was an open forum for restaurant owners to start to become a cohesive entity in the towns,” Cohen said, “and work together to make Stoneham, Wakefield and Lynnfield dining destinations.”
She said that there were a number of other topics discussed at the first meeting that were on everyone’s plate, such as the impact of the new minimum wage, the number of restaurant liquor licenses available in each town and dealing with underage drinking and fake IDs.
“With these roundtables, our goal is to form a cohesive, unified group of like-minded business owners working toward a common goal,” said Post. “That goal, in my mind, is to establish this area as a legitimate dining destination. Even restaurateurs who don’t participate in these roundtables will benefit, as our unified efforts will hopefully draw attention to the area as a whole.”
Welter saw cooperation among restaurants as a boon to other businesses and the communities that they are in.
“Eating draws people,” Welter said. “People are going to go out to eat.”
“The Chamber has recognized the importance of the food service industry to our local economy,” Maio said. “Restaurants that serve good product are a big reason that people come to our downtown.”
Post also saw restaurants as playing a key role in local economic development.
“It’s common for restaurants to be change-makers and lift up an entire community,” Post said. “We saw it happen in Boston’s South End, in Somerville and it’s happening right now in Worcester. We hope to contribute to the revitalization of the area that’s already underway.”
Lisa Urbaczewski of the Dockside in Wakefield sees more benefits in cooperation than competition.
“The most expensive thing in a restaurant is an empty seat,” she said. “We do not view other establishments in our community as competition but as assets in building a community to dine in. The Restaurant Leadership Roundtable allows our restaurant community to grow from good to great.”
Kerry Miller of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association put it another way.
“We are all in this together and win when we get everyone pulling the wagon as a team,” he said.
Cohen says that she hopes that the Roundtable will meet at least every couple of months. She noted that there are some “big players” in the local dining scene that she would love to see become involved.
After attending the first meeting, Lynnfield Town Manager Jim Boudreau was enthusiastic enough about the Restaurant Roundtable to offer the Al Merritt Center in Lynnfield’s restaurant-rich MarketStreet for the Roundtable’s next meeting.
“It was a great event to meet with area restaurant owners and hear their concerns and ideas for the local restaurant scene.” Boudreau said. “I look forward to working with them to maintain and enhance a vibrant local restaurant community that the residents can really enjoy.”
Both Cohen and Welter are encouraged by Kerry Miller of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association’s assurance that these efforts often start off slowly.
“We’re just trying to build up steam right now and get it going,” Cohen said.
On behalf of their respective Chambers, Cohen and Welter will be sending out invitations to every restaurant in Stoneham, Wakefield and Lynnfield to attend the Aug. 23 Restaurant Leadership Roundtable. The meeting will take place from 2-4 p.m. at the Al Merritt Media Center, 600 Market Street in Lynnfield. One of MarketStreet’s popular bistros, Gaslight, will be providing appetizers.
For more information about the Restaurant Leadership Roundtable, contact Jennifer Welter of the Stoneham Chamber of Commerce at 781-438-0001 or Marianne Cohen of the Wakefield-Lynnfield Chamber at 781-245-0741.