It’s 8:30 a.m. on a weekday, somewhere in Greater Bangor. You’re on your way to work, or maybe already at the office, at your computer. Suddenly your BlackBerry goes off, your e-mail dings, or a little red flag appears on your Facebook home page. Gasp! It’s Lunch Mob day! Sound the alarm! Grab your wallets! We’re going out for lunch!
That’s the hoped-for reaction among those who have signed up for Facebook, Twitter and e-mail updates, announcing the weekly location for Bangor Lunch Mob. The Mob, brainchild of local event planner Gibran Graham (he of BangPop and SnowCon fame), designates a downtown Bangor eatery each week as the place for people to congregate, associate and grab some grub during lunch hours.
Graham, who works at the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau, got the idea for the Bangor Lunch Mob in mid-February, after one of his favorite local businesses shuttered its doors.
“I discovered while walking to work that Giacomo’s was closed. My heart just sunk. I was like, ‘What is happening to our downtown?’” said Graham, who was pleased to learn several weeks later that Giacomo’s will, in fact, reopen this May. “All day at meetings I was telling people, ‘Did you know Giacomo’s closed?’ They were all so disappointed. It’s scary when the economy is so weak and people are reeling it in.”
Ever the schemer, Graham slept on it that night.
“I woke the next morning with the idea of, ‘What if we do something like those flash mobs, just with lunch?’ You know, where people get an e-mail or text saying meet here at this time on this day and do this?” he said. “And that’s how Lunch Mob was born. We don’t announce it until that day, we send it out on Facebook and Twitter, and it just creates its own buzz.”
Generally speaking, the Mob gathers between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on a given day. Thus far, Mob targets have included the reopened Central Street Cafe, Epi Sub and Pizza on Main Street, Taste of India, also on Main Street, and Bagel Central this past Monday.
The Facebook group has reached more than 500 members, including Kate and Scott Cuddy, a Hermon couple. The Cuddys, parents to 1-year-old Ellie, are thankful for organizers such as Graham and local music promoter Myke Billings, along with groups such as River City Cinema, for keeping downtown vibrant.
“We try to do downtown stuff as much as possible,” said Scott Cuddy, who works at United Electrical Systems. “With a 1-year-old, we don’t get to go out as much. Things like this make it easier to support downtown and be sociable.”
“It kind of does what Fusion [the group sponsored by the Bangor Chamber of Commerce] does, which is an informal kind of networking,” said Kate Cuddy, a graduate student in spatial information science at the University of Maine. “And who can argue with food? You’ve always got lunch, whether you’re at work or not.”
Matthew and Rachel Pulley of Bangor, a chiropractor and high school foreign language teacher, respectively, were already voracious downtown restaurant supporters. With the advent of the Lunch Mob, the couple has even more reason to eat local.
“We really prefer eating downtown, at local restaurants,” said Matthew Pulley. “You get to know the staff and build rapport. The food is so much fresher and not really any more expensive than a big chain restaurant. I like to know who made my food. I can’t stand big, corporate, boring restaurants.”
The Pulleys are also fans of the diversity of food in downtown Bangor. For a city of just more than 30,000 people, the wealth of ethnic dining choices is surprising for those who don’t live here.
“I’m always amazed by the diversity of ethnic food in this area. How many cities our size have Indian, Thai, Chinese, Italian, Japanese and Pakistani, all within a few blocks of one another?” said Rachel Pulley, who eats at the Whig & Courier Pub and Panda Garden on a weekly basis with her husband. “Plus, there’s all the pub grub and bakeries and sandwich shops. We walk from our house on French Street and we have really wonderful choices.
Tess Keeran of Bangor, a realtor with Adams Real Estate, enjoys Bangor Lunch Mob not only for the opportunity to eat locally, but also the social networking options it brings.
“I got a message this morning that said, ‘It’s Lunch Mob day,’ and I invited my friend Michelle out,” said Keeran. “We haven’t eaten lunch together in probably 20 years, and we probably wouldn’t have without Lunch Mob.”
Bangor Lunch Mob says volumes about the impact Web sites such as Facebook and Twitter have had on the way we connect to other people and the way we hear about what’s happening in our communities.
“I hear about tons of stuff through Facebook,” said Kate Cuddy. “The ability for someone to invite a mass amount of people to an event is amazing. You look for it there. It’s really contributed to the scene downtown.”
“Facebook has really improved the way that I connect with people, both personally and professionally,” said Keeran. “I connect with clients on it. I connect with old friends. I wouldn’t know about half the things that happen around here without it.”
Even if Mobbers can’t set aside the time to sit down and eat lunch, they can always order take-out for themselves or several people in their workplace, or even just stop in for coffee or a soda.
“I ordered food at Bagel Central, and the woman next to me was buying a bottle of water,” said Graham. “She leaned over to me and said, ‘You’re the only reason I’m here today.’ She just came in to buy a bottle of water. I thought that was pretty amazing.”
In Graham’s view, Bangor Lunch Mob is as much about creating community as it is about supporting the local economy. His goal with the project is simply to improve life for people who live and work in Bangor — and to eat some seriously tasty food while they’re at it.
“I think of it as kind of a rally. It’s a community project,” said Graham. “I have no stake in it, aside from the fact that I live in this community and I want to help it. I don’t get a free lunch. I wouldn’t want to either. If we don’t see any more eateries downtown close, then I will give myself a half-pat on the back, and hope I had something to do with it.”
The Bangor Lunch Mob Twitter Feed is http://twitter.com/bangorlunchmob, and the Facebook group can be found by searching for “Bangor Lunch Mob.”