CANTON Mark Van Pelt of Perry Township said he has always been a “foodie” and has regularly eaten at restaurants from Canton to Cleveland. When the Stay at Home order was issued in mid-March by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Van Pelt wanted to help those restaurants that were staying open and offering carryout and delivery services.
“A friend who knew I was a foodie suggested I start a Facebook page to help people find new places to eat during the shutdown and to help local restaurants through it all,” Pelt said.
That same friend started the Tuscarawas County take-out Facebook page the same night the Stark County group was started. Both groups had hundreds of restaurants post within the first 24 hours. And, as restaurants are beginning to re-open dining rooms across the county, the group continues to grow.
“Eadies Fish House in North Canton was the first restaurant to post and it just grew from there. There are currently 31,220 members with about 136 businesses posting. Some of the businesses post as individuals so there are more businesses than the 136,” Van Pelt said.
Van Pelt and eight other volunteers continue to monitor the posts. They are working many hours each day without compensation in any way including from the restaurants.
“Some restaurant owners have offered me meals, but I don’t typically take those offers. One of the restaurant owners insisted I take a meal one time when I stopped in to try their food,” he said. “I tried to pay her for the order, but she insisted I take it and I did take that one meal. I was also offered a free smoked turkey drumstick from a food truck and I took it, but I was also doing some other work for that owner,” Pelt said.
Feedback from members has been overwhelming and Van Pelt said many have recommend keeping the group going even with the dine-in order having been lifted. Van Pelt said that many members have suggested that they will continue to do carryout until they feel more comfortable going out.
“I’ll continue to keep the page open for posts as long as the members and the restaurants stay engaged,” he said. “The growth has slowed recently as things start getting back to normal.”
There have been many restaurants and other places like bakeries Like Dough & Co. Doughnut and Coffee and the Sangria Stand who have become some of the favorite places for members to post about. All types of restaurants have posted on the page including locally owned and local franchised restaurants.
Most members post photos or videos of the meals they get from the restaurants. Many post about their experience with the owners or employees of the restaurants and the value of the meals and how much they like the food. There are also some posts about how long it took members to get their orders.
The page monitors help to watch for any disparaging remarks about other members or local businesses. Van Pelt said he eats out a lot and knows many people who work in the food industry and those connections helped with the initial growth.
Van Pelt said the growth has surpassed his “wildest expectation”. Managing the group has become more of a responsibility to help the local economy than what it started out as a hobby.
While he plans to continue the group, Van Pelt said it may get a new name. When asked about starting other such groups, Van Pelt said he feels it’s better to do one thing really well versus trying to do too many projects.
“I think I would rather be really good at hosting one group instead of trying to do additional groups,” he said. “I did ask members about adding grocery stores to the page and the response was split between adding them to this group or starting a new group. I might start another group in the future if this group slows down, but only if I see a need. I’m just really passionate about food and passionate about helping the local restaurants.”
To find out more about the Stark County Take-Out Facebook page, visit it at www.facebook.com/groups/starkcountytakeout/.