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Everyone was a winner in Newton Needham chamber’s contest to support local restaurants

Lila Green, 2, celebrates her Birthday at Cabot's ice cream for the Keep Making Memories Contest.
Lila Green, 2, celebrates her Birthday at Cabot's ice cream for the Keep Making Memories Contest.contributed photo

When the Newton Needham Regional Chamber held a contest last month to incentivize people to support local restaurants, business owners said they benefited beyond an increase of customers.

Jay Spencer, the owner of French Press Bakery and Cafe in Needham, said the contest not only motivated people to order from local restaurants more frequently than usual but also inspired restaurant owners to be proactive in their efforts to appeal to the public.

“At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, ‘Why do people want to go out and eat?’” Spencer said. “The more that we understand what people are looking for now, the better that we can gear our marketing and products towards the future — and this contest is a launching ground for that.”

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Spencer said he is constantly envisioning how to create an environment safe for dining and takeout depending on a range of comfort levels with social distancing. Targeting which food items — whether it is comfort dishes people have come to love or a new cuisine — also is on the top of his mind.

From Oct. 15 to Nov.15, people could enter the Keep Making Memories Contest by ordering food from over 65 participating restaurants and posting a picture on social media using the hashtag #keepmakingmemoriescontest, according to OurNewton.org. Contestants who dined inside, outside, ordered takeout or delivery, or visited a participating restaurant were entered into weekly drawings to win restaurant gift cards or themed prizes.

Spencer said he did not think the contest would be a “make-or-break” for many restaurants, but the thousands of entries on social media and comments from new customers was a “massive success.” The contest was a creative way to keep people excited and engaged during the colder weather, he said.

For Paul Turano, the executive chef and owner of Cook restaurant in Newton, the contest provided an opportunity to collaborate and meet other industry professionals. From sharing ideas on how to improve indoor air quality during COVID-19 to brainstorming marketing ideas, Turano said the continuous communication with restaurant owners has given him a sense of community and served as a “therapy session.”

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“It’s like, let’s just help one another,” Turano said. “If my two cents helps someone next to me survive this, it’s great. If we all learned something along the way, you know, sharing ideas, then we all win.”

For Walnut Grille in Newton Highlands, sales increased by 15 percent during the contest, chef and owner Siva Kumar wrote in an email. The restaurant brought in $2,000 to $2,500 more in revenue each week from mainly takeout and delivery orders.

Manejah Terzi, a member of the chamber of commerce and owner of a Boston-based public relations agency, said she enjoyed trying new restaurants during the contest, including Sweet Tomatoes Pizza, The Bagel Table, and Bianca, and now has a list of more.

“It wasn’t more so about winning for me,” Terzi said. “It was just more of supporting local restaurants.”

Wellesley resident Mary Beth Crowley said she was laid off of work at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and wanted to prevent it from happening to others. Despite finances being tight, Crowley said the contest enticed her and her mother to visit Walnut Grille, Tango Mango, and Johnny’s Luncheonette, among others.

“I know I try a lot of new places when I see a contest and a chance to win a gift card,” Crowley wrote in an email. “We tried to check out as many places on the list as we could so that they would get the social media exposure.”

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As restaurants brace for the winter months amid rising COVID-19 infections in Massachusetts, the chamber of commerce is hosting a pre-Black Friday gift card promotion that started on Monday and will continue until Nov. 25.

Kami Rieck can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.