As a REALTOR®, Chris Freeman often finds himself in strange neighborhoods around lunchtime. He started noticing small neighborhood restaurants that he had never heard of and decided to try them.
And they were very good.
He decided to start a Facebook group, EatGR, so that he could share these local gems with the rest of Grand Rapids–and develop a network of people who were also interested in finding and sharing little-known eateries.
Two years later, EatGR has more than 3,700 members.
What’s his secret?
“Word of mouth and Facebook,” he said. “From the beginning I wanted it to grow organically. Slow growth was what I wanted; I wanted it to be a place for people to hang out.”
However, in recent months, membership is exploding, with 600 members added in one week the last week of April.
“I can tell you why I joined this week: a 50-something Mom friend AND a 30-something newlywed friend are both members,” wrote Elaine Shay. “I did not have to be hit on the head to see that this site is appealing. Word of mouth!”
Indeed, the diversity of members is part of its charm. This isn’t a place just for “foodies.” For the most part, people are very polite–a rarity online these days.
In fact, the first one of the few rules is “Be Nice;” something Freeman is quick to enforce. Surprisingly, he has only had to ban five people from the group for getting personal.
Frequent topics in the group include where’s the best place to get brunch; who has the best sushi; who has the best Chicago-style pizza; and which ethnic restaurants are authentic vs “fauxthentic.”
EatGR members have a chance to meet up in real life, too, with monthly meetups and occasional “Foodnamis,” where Freeman celebrates selling a home by buying a menu item of his choice for 8-20 group members at a location of his choice. It’s the equivalent of a flash food mob. Members have to check EatGR frequently so they are among the first to respond to the surprise post announcing it.
What’s next for EatGR?
Freeman says, “Maintaining the coziness of the group in spite of how large we have grown to be” is his top priority for now.