Facebook Group Trying to Save Local RestaurantsMar 01, 2021 12:53PM ● By Grace Allen
Larry Curran with Lidia Bastianich, an Emmy award-winning television host, best-selling cookbook author, and restaurateur. Curran met Bastianich at a book signing.
Larry Curran and Ed Tocci are on a mission. The two long-time friends are helping drive business to scores of local restaurants hurt by the restrictions and shutdowns of the past year.
In January of 2020, the men started the Facebook Group “Norfolk County Eats” as a way to share recipes with friends and family and review local restaurants. The membership grew, fueled by fellow foodies inviting their own family and friends.
And then the pandemic hit. People were stuck at home and cooking more than ever. The social media group became even more active as members posted photos of their own culinary creations—however humble—and were cheered on by other group members.
“The group has really helped people during the pandemic because everyone was sharing and becoming friends,” said Tocci, a Needham resident. “It’s made everyone feel closer to one another.”
But at the same time, the state’s restrictions on restaurants were taking a toll. Thousands of restaurant employees were forced out of work and businesses were in danger of closing permanently. Tocci and Curran, a Norwood resident, decided they would try to help.
“We encouraged people in the group to try different restaurants that were open, place takeout orders, or buy gift cards,” explainedocci. “Anything just to keep them going. Because when this is over, we want to go back to these places and we want them to still be there.”
Tocci used to be in the restaurant business himself so he understands their struggles right now.
“I know what it’s like. It’s not easy,” he said.
By harnessing the help of the group’s members—over 10,000 at last count—both Tocci and Curran have started to make some impact. They have spotlighted eateries like Rhapsody’s Victorian Coffeehouse and Alumni Restaurant in Franklin, Vico Ristorante Italiano and Tasos Euro Café in Norwood, Café Assisi and Parker’s Pub, both in Wrentham, and Horse n’ Carriage in Norfolk.
Curran in particular will visit and post photos of his restaurant meals, and then encourage other members to visit and post their orders, too. After all, people eat with their eyes, says Tocci.
On January 2, Curran posted about Cilla’s Coffeehouse in Norfolk, noting the coffeehouse was experiencing financial difficulties and encouraging members to visit. The post caught the attention of the region’s SWAT team and over 50 members arrived one morning to place orders and support the establishment. That surprise visit by law enforcement made the news, further driving more business to the coffeehouse.
Similarly, Norfolk County Eats members have championed the Primavera in Millis after learning the Italian eatery was also struggling. In January, owner Jerry Gaita posted his thanks on the group’s page.
“This past Friday and Saturday were SUPER BUSY…we have not been this busy in many months. It’s felt like the old days…better days are coming. Larry and team are doing a great job spotlighting small businesses.”
Norfolk County Eats is a very active group. Members respond to posts within minutes, and the discussions are upbeat and respectful. After a prime rib recipe post by Curran went viral and people from all over the U.S. and from as far away as Italy and France asked to join, the administrators decided to limit new membership to Massachusetts residents only.
There are a few rules in the group, mostly centering on kindness and courtesy towards others. Members have messaged the administrators and expressed thanks for the positive atmosphere fostered by Tocci and Curran, along with fellow administrator Tamara Cullen and moderator Lois Kleberg Bertolino Arena.
When the pandemic is finally over, Tocci says the group will try to have a meet-and-greet for members. If the number of daily posts is any indication of interest, they’d better find a very big venue for the event.
Whether this grassroots effort by area food fans will help prop up struggling establishments in the long-term remains to be seen. But the evolution of the group, with its love of food and the fellowship of other like-minded gastronomes, has gratified Tocci and Curran.
“When we started this group, we thought this would be a nice little platform to discuss our passion for food and we hoped people would be interested and want to join,” said Tocci. “And it’s grown into being so much more than we ever expected.”
For more information about the group or to join, visit Norfolk County Eats on Facebook.