Thursday, July 7, 2011

Gastronomy Economy

The Independent
By Anna Purdy

A 7-year-old campaign to get Lafayette residents out of their homes and into locally owned restaurants is expanding its reach. And our waistlines. By Anna Purdy

In 2004, Charlie Goodson of Charley G’s was talking to a few other restaurateurs about how to drum up more business in the often slacking summer months. Summer is historically tough for the service industry — if it’s a “college town” the seasonal exodus siphons patrons and cash, and in most any town people are either going on vacation or saving money to do so, cutting into the restaurants’ bottom line.

“Myself and others restaurateurs were trying to come up with a summer program,” recalls Goodson. “It’s an awareness campaign to make people think about local restaurants. If these mom-and-pop places go away, there goes our identity.”

With a mind focused on local and locally owned and operated restaurants, Goodson spoke to Gerald Breaux of the Lafayette Convention & Visitors Commission. A meeting with Julie Calzone of Calzone & Associates, a marketing and advertising agency, soon followed. Over coffee the trio generated a plan to bring together and promote the vital and varied restaurants in Lafayette, educating locals and tourists alike about the many places a good meal can be had from every nook and cranny and cuisine being offered. EatLafayette was born.

Since its inception, Calzone has been heading up the marketing for EatLafayette. All advertising, social media marketing, promotions, website and collateral materials run through her company. “The media create a nearly $200,000 impact because they give us 2- or 3-to-1 matches on our buys, endless on-air promotion and visibility we couldn’t afford to pay for. They are simply amazing. We don’t ever see that in any other market we work in as an agency,” Calzone says.

Put simply, EatLafayette allows restaurants to pay a nominal fee and be part of a major marketing and promotional push. While the yearly kickoff soiree and campaign are every summer (this year’s promotion ends Aug. 15), EatLafayette’s website is up year-round and allows easy access and research for locals and travelers to see what is being offered by every sort of restaurant, from mom-and-pop diners to the white linen set.

It began seven years ago with 18 restaurants. During this year’s kickoff party held at Acadiana Center for the Arts on June 20, there were 57 restaurants represented as well as local brewery LA-31 offering complimentary brew.


This summer’s launch party filled the AcA’s James D. Moncus Theater to capacity. Each restaurant had one or two offerings, a veritable edible square of

goodies from around Acadiana — from bagels to gumbo, from seafood crepes to ribs, to sushi and bread pudding was up for the tasting. If you left hungry it was surely your own fault, despite having to wade through the starving throng.

This year seemed noticeably fuller, and it was: “We expanded it [in 2010] to allow Acadiana restaurants who were members of the Lafayette Convention & Visitors Commission to participate,” says Calzone. In other words, if a restaurant is locally owned and located not just in Lafayette proper but the larger Acadiana region and it becomes a member of LCVC, joining EatLafayette is an option. According to Goodson, well beyond half of the tickets printed and given out to sponsors, restaurants and others were used, making this year a huge success.

EatLafayette’s marketing campaign is through television, print and social media. The website highlights a different member restaurant every day. Not sure what you’re in the mood to nosh on today? Just scroll through the list of restaurants and check out the map to easily find what your palate craves. The site lists restaurants running dining specials unique to the campaign. All you have to do is mention EatLafayette when ordering to receive the special. You can also sign up for a Caribbean cruise at any of the restaurants.

“This year’s event was different,” continues Calzone, “because we really upped our game for the kickoff event in many ways. First, the AcA — it was a win-win. We brought them a demographic they didn’t ordinarily see. We had a spectacular venue. Most importantly, it opened up the event to a broader market — you didn’t have to be a chamber of commerce member to attend. It’s been at River Oaks and the Petroleum Club — great venues who did a lot to help us get going. The event was tied to the chamber’s Business After Hours. That was a super way to market the businesses for a kickoff event.”

This year Event Rental and Event Staffing designed the event around a new title sponsor ­— the Fly Lafayette Club. The Fly Lafayette Club allows users to sign up for free online and then are sent a card. Every time you fly through Lafayette Regional Airport all you have to do is swipe your card through at one of the kiosks and you enter to win monthly prizes, from free meals to merchandise. Calzone says this encourages not only locals but those who frequently travel to Lafayette to seek out local places to eat.


But EatLafayette is more than a campaign to generate dollars for the food service industry. According to Calzone, EatLafayette’s reach extends cover4beyond the regional to the national. It heightens awareness of a culture that is unique — our cuisine is just one aspect people should know more about. Our food is a gateway drug, so to speak, for getting addicted to Acadiana. The music, the people and the burgeoning technological advances are piquing the interest of companies from around the globe.

This year’s Restaurant Business’ Restaurant Growth Index Report has Lafayette beating New Orleans to the dinner line: Lafayette came in at 17 in the nation with New Orleans trailing six places behind, and Lafayette residents also spend more money on dining out, per capita, than our crescent-shaped down the road. These numbers are a great reason restaurateurs like our area and a very great reason for EatLafayette to not only continue but to thrive and expand.

“Without the Lafayette Convention & Visitors Commission who started the campaign, it would not be what it is,” adds Calzone. “Their sponsorship, their team and their commitment lend expertise, credibility, relationships, creativity, resources and so many things that the level of this campaign has reached would not be possible without them. They are critical to its success. They help us bring in the sponsors we have today, and that number and their financial support has grown tremendously.”

This push for national coverage is making a lot of people and companies want to pull up to our proverbial table. Luckily, we always have room for more. And there are always seconds.

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