A VegFund grant supported marketing efforts through social media, influencers, television, and news media coverage. Naijha sent out a press release and advertised to inform the public about the purpose of Baltimore Vegan Restaurant Week. Local television station WBAL produced segments at both The Land of Kush and Golden West Cafe. Branding the event as inclusive was important — they wanted it to be clear that it was welcoming to all cultures. Their messaging emphasizes that the a vegan restaurant week is not just for vegans! It’s fun for the whole family, including non-vegans, who can taste new foods and break bread in a festive, celebratory atmosphere.
Meanwhile, the team also worked on budgeting, creating the website, Maryland Vegan Eats (MDVE), establishing an LLC, and developing a presence on social media. In fact, from the beginning, social media and food blogging influencers helped to get the word out. The Maryland Vegan Eats team also coordinated events and live streams with organizations, such as No Meat Athlete and Baltimore Vegan Drinks, whose messages are supportive for vegans and the vegan-curious alike.
Their strategy with influencers is so effective that it was featured in an article in The Baltimore Sun. The article describes how restaurant owners who want to work with an influencer during Maryland Vegan Restaurant Week can pay a fee depending on the level of service they would like. Rachel Paraoan, the influencer coordinator, arranges everything.
This strategy is important because Naijha and Sam can’t be in all restaurants at once. It’s valuable to have influencers taking pictures, posting stories, eating the food, and sharing their experiences with the public.
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Restaurants may be hesitant to participate because they want some assurance that their efforts will be good for their bottom line. It’s important to help them understand that new plant-based offerings will open up a market they have yet to tap into. Participating restaurants have discovered that there was a hole in the market, not just for vegans but for those who are vegan-curious. And, because Maryland Vegan Restaurant Week collects data and feedback from patrons and restaurants, they can provide evidence to demonstrate how well a restaurant can do by taking part!
Some restaurants believe that it’s too competitive to offer plant-based food because there’s already a vegan restaurant in their area. But, there’s room in the market to feature a variety of cuisines people may be craving in vegan form. In Maryland, for example, there are Egyptian, American, Soul Food, Pan Asian vegan restaurants — many possibilities!
Other restaurants may be reluctant to try cooking in new ways, so it’s helpful to introduce them to vegan ingredients that will be familiar for them to work with, such as Earth Balance butter, Impossible and Beyond meat products, and Just Egg. And while some restaurants may not want to use mock meats because they want to focus on whole-food, plant-based menu items, for others, it’s an excellent gateway to exploring new cooking methods. Naijha and Sam organized the MDVE Restaurant Expo to give restaurateurs the opportunity to taste plant-based products that are available to them and imagine the possibilities.