FORT WAYNE, Indiana (WANE) — As the pandemic swept the world in early 2020, local restaurants went into survival mode after closing their dining rooms and switching to ‘servic-only’ or ‘deliver’. Many owners were unsure if they would weather the storm. But a lifeline quickly came out Zinnia’s Bakehouse Owner Crystal Vega. She is one of the creators of 2GoFWan all-encompassing Facebook page that connects local restaurants to the community.
“We really had no other choice. We got to a point where anyone who was a little page but didn’t have enough followers would die if nobody noticed,” Vega said.
Vega recalled seeing at least 35 Fort Wayne restaurants shut their doors and learned of families being forced to find other jobs to make a living.
“We had to do something to ensure that the entire industry as a whole could reach as many people as possible and that was our solution.”
It was a solution that worked. The 2GoFW Facebook group started. In the early days, restaurants in the group posted information about changed opening hours and capacity limits. Many advertised their “to-go” options, which were practically the only way to serve and make money at the time.
Mancino’s Pizza and Mills Owner Tabitha Gray was one of many restaurant owners who used the site to promote their business.
“Everything was so uncertain, no one knew what was going to happen, restaurants were closed inside, it was takeout only or delivery only,” she said. “This site came up and people just went crazy over it! Everyone talked about every place,” Gray said.
Gray believes that without 2GoFW, at least a quarter of Fort Wayne’s locally owned small restaurants might not have survived in the city.
“I have people who come in and say, ‘I read about you on 2GoFW’ or ‘I’m here for that, or I’m here for that’, and that was maybe half a year ago, but they’ still come, they are now my new regulars.”
Another company that relied on 2GoFW at the start of the pandemic was bee great. Owner David Mullins typically sold his honey and bee products at farmers markets and fairs, but the pandemic ended or severely reduced those events.
Thanks to advertising on 2GoFW, his online sales skyrocketed and kept his business going.
“I like the idea of supporting local projects. We’re local, but we’re not a restaurant, so I didn’t know how much we’d be accepted,” Mullins said. “But the people were so lovely I couldn’t believe the huge support for local businesses. Really, I could easily cry how many people did business with us when we really needed it.”
Two years into the pandemic, Mullins, who opened a storefront on McCoy Drive in Churubusco, is now using the site differently. He posts about new products for sale and gives people a chance to see something local and unique. He posts about various events in the city and also uses the site himself as a customer.
“What we’ve really done is support other businesses ourselves, we’ve found so many cool restaurants in Fort Wayne because of this site,” he said.
Today the 2GoFW group has more than 40,000 members and hundreds of people join weekly. It’s a reach that seems almost unimaginable for any small business owner.
“Imagine if 30,000 to 40,000 people are there and just a handful are sharing it, you can reach 100,000 people in a heartbeat, and that’s just amazing for any local business,” Mullins said.
Even new restaurants like Deema Turkish Cuisine are benefiting from the site’s popularity. Owner Yasser Krayem says as soon as his sign appeared at Covington Plaza, a post was seen on the 2GoFW page.
“They come, they taste my food, they take pictures of me and my restaurant and the food, and they write a lot of good stuff,” Krayem said. “Some come three or four times just to support me. So it’s a really good site for anyone who wants to open a restaurant, wants to take ideas, stuff like that, let people taste their food before they open, they help with everything for your business.”
With back orders and a shortage of workers, Krayem overcame the challenges of opening his restaurant but knows that if he works hard, serves good food and finds support from the community and 2GoFw, his business will be fine.
“You’re talking about 40,000 [members], which is almost 10% of Fort Wayne’s population,” he said. “Deema is reaching fast, I wasn’t expecting that, I figured it would take about 2 years to get that number to hit 10%, especially for a local, small business.”
Then there are local favorites, like Paula is on the Mainwho gain new customers through the Facebook page.
“All these people who are new to our community are jumping onto this page, and it’s phenomenal,” said Karen Ewing, a manager at Paula’s. “We had some guests last week who came in because of this page and then posted all about us!”
She says the site was, and still is, a huge morale booster for the restaurant industry.
“It’s nice to see people who can’t afford advertising per se put their name out there, see their features and also say, ‘Hey, I tried this place, only 2 people were there, let’s try, to visit him,” she said, adding that this is a great way for clients to communicate directly with industry representatives.
“If you are looking for a specific ethnic type of food, ask! Or when you say, “Hey, is someone possibly going to cook a traditional St. Patty’s Day meal?” Ask these questions because not only customers, but also the kitchen staff and restaurant staff will comment and spread this information. It’s phenomenal and has done amazing things for the Fort Wayne restaurant industry,” said Ewing.
From the start, Krystal Vega knew that if the site was built and managed properly, it would grow big – for the benefit of the restaurants only. She was right.
“We passed the 4,000 mark for the number of comments and posts. We are more than 1.2 million people who just scrolled through our page,” Vega said. “That’s a big number, we didn’t expect that. We were expecting engagement, we were hoping to get the name out there for businesses, we weren’t expecting that kind of organic growth that we couldn’t pay for because this site is 100% free.”
Vega says at least a dozen restaurants have told her the Facebook group 2GoFW has kept their doors open. She also notes that credit is due to the community for rallying around the site and local restaurants.
“It’s amazing to see posts that say, ‘I only moved to Fort Wayne a few years ago and you guys enlightened me about something beyond the chain,’ people saying they’ve lived here all their lives and have never tried half the restaurants mentioned on the site,” said Vega.
In addition to creating a unique network between customers and service providers, the site has also created stronger bonds between local restaurant owners.
Tabitha Gray, for example, often posts about other pizza places in Fort Wayne, even though she owns one herself.
“It’s not about me, it’s about me for them all and it’s about them all for me, and it started with that side,” she said. This site introduced me to these people and it has been a lifesaver for all of us.”
Gosh, where do I even start with this site. We opened the Blueberry Pancake House in Georgetown on the very day the governor closed all restaurants. There is another Blueberry Pancake House in Monroeville that we have been keeping open to do take out until we could reopen the Georgetown store. I was contacted by one of the moderators of this page. Along with her and Paul Keebler, a sign owner, he offered his service free for a day via a giant sign on State Street with a rolling neighborhood welcome that basically announced our hours of operation and a picture of a stack of blueberry pancakes we have did so much business that weekend because of this sign being there. And the fact that they keep letting me post specials for our store. I’m not sure we would have made it without her. We owe them a great debt of gratitude.
Michelle Osenkowski, Blueberry Pancake House
We opened the Chance Bar in September 2020. We don’t think she would have made it without this page! It reached so many people wanting to support local causes and if it weren’t for this page most people wouldn’t even know we exist!
Corey Bowers, chance bar
2GO FW has been such a boon to Fort Wayne Chocolate Fountain. We do catering but during Covid when all events have been canceled we have been able to focus on our gift boxes. During this time, 2Go FW has helped us promote our packaged goodies and this has allowed us to weather the pandemic. We are truly grateful for what 2Go FW has done so selflessly for our company and community
Angela Dippel, Fort Wayne Chocolate Fountain
Other restaurants doing business with 2GoFW