Group tries to help locally-owned restaurants

Published on Tuesday, 16 July 2013 21:11 - Written by BY FAITH HARPER fharper@tylerpaper.com

Distraught about the closing of two local businesses in a week, a couple of Tylerites started a movement aimed at keeping capital flowing into local restaurants to keep their doors open.

About 30 East Texans flooded into Villa Montez, 3324 Old Henderson Highway in Tyler, Tuesday evening as part of the ‘Keep it Local’ Tuesday gathering.

The movement was started about three weeks ago when Jennifer Cook, 43, of Jacksonville received a message from Cedric Fletcher, the owner of Fat Catz, that his second restaurant venture Zaza’s Modern Italian Cuisine was closing its doors. The news came within the same week as the closing of Gilbert’s El Charro, a restaurant that had become a Tyler tradition after being open for nearly seven decades.

“I immediately called upon all my friends to go one last time and give my friend Cedric a big send off and best wishes,” Ms. Cook said. “We had around 20 people there that night and closed it down, literally.”

Ms. Cook said she wines and dines with her friends in a large group about once a week, and after seeing another local business shutting down operations, decided to use their dining dollars for the betterment of mom and pop restaurants.

“I’ve always supported the local business,” she said. “I work for a mom and pop in Jacksonville, and a lot of my friends own their own businesses. When you support a local business, you are supporting your friends, your neighbors and your community.”

She bounced the idea off her friend, 41-year-old Marshall Hanna, and the two sent out emails inviting friends out for a Tuesday night dinner.

Hanna said he shared a passion for supporting local businesses.

“It might be a little higher (in price) sometimes, and they might not have the (selection), but they have the hardened quality to do what is best and fix what is wrong,” he said.

“There are a lot of things the local businesses can do for the community that the big businesses will not do,” he said.

The original plan was to visit Villa Montez, but the restaurant already was booked. The group switched and went to What About Kabob and his Gyros, 713 West Southwest Loop 323.

Joey Nartia, WAK’s owner, said the business had a busy day and estimated sales were about 20 percent higher than a typical Tuesday.

“It was great to see many new faces,” he said. “We generally don’t market or advertise, so seeing the love and word of mouth go around was pretty cool.”

On Tuesday, the Keep it Local Tuesday group went back to Villa Montez, ordering drinks, appetizers and laughing with friends.

“It’s important to have that local support,” said owner Mundo Villapudua

“We run our business on word of mouth, and if you can get behind the locals and the locals get behind you — that goes a long way. … It’s a big part of our advertisement.”

Ms. Cook said the people who attended wrote down their favorite local restaurants, and they will be randomly drawn each week, though no one will be repeated until each establishment on the list is crossed off.

The group also has created a Facebook and event page. As of Tuesday evening, the public page had 80 likes.

Ms. Cook invites anyone interested in coming out for dinner.

“It’s not a closed group,” she said. “It’s a public group, and I hope it gets out of hand,” she said.