It was a particularly busy Wednesday at Mae Lee’s Deli and Catering, thanks to what could be the first-ever local cash mob.
Talon Bullard and Sarah Brown don’t usually eat at the downtown restaurant but there they were, chowing down wraps and fries, as restaurant staff briskly kept the orders going.
The downtown eatery that is celebrating 24 years of feeding people at its Ridgewood Drive location is the first business where Sebring High School students Austin Dukes and Matthew Brown are launching an enterprising endeavor they hope also will benefit other local business owners.
Both sophomores are pre-IB economics class students in Julie Giordano’s class.
Their goal is to test how social media brings attention to a local business and, in turn, help those businesses that generously contribute to local schools.
It all started when Austin got together with Mae Lee, the restaurant’s owner. As part of the class, students are required to interview local businesses to survey things like seasonal challenges they face.
Austin and Lee got talking and they discussed how Lee uses Facebook and Twitter for advertising.
Austin felt he could help her in that area.
One thing led to another and that conversation turned into a cash mob project, which is basically a movement to encourage shoppers to go into small, local businesses and spend their money, en masse.
Through word of mouth and social media, many students, teachers and parents came to eat Wednesday.
The restaurant also made several deliveries to Heartland Workforce and Woodlawn and Fred Wild Elementary for teachers and staff members who had heard about the cash mob and wanted to participate.
“It’s been crazy so far,” Lee said.
“We bleed blue,” she said, talking about Sebring High’s school colors.
After Mae Lee, the students will cash mob a business that Lee recommends, followed by a third business their next business recommends, in what, Austin hoped would be a “domino effect.”
“We are trying to empower local businesses,” he said. They hope to do it once a month.
One of the first things Austin did was to revamp Mae Lee’s Facebook page. The page has been around for some time, Lee said, but they have started using it more often.
Some of her posts are the specials for the day. Others are clever contests like this one post with a photo of staff members’ backs.
“…Guess Who's Back (get it). Name all those backs in the picture and win a free lunch. On your mark get set go.”
Pictures of patrons celebrating special events is also posted on the page, and Lee is hoping Austin helps her get better acquainted with Twitter so she can use it more often.
Of course, the two students, whose class is supporting the project, have learned a few things themselves along the way: One is including the mainstream media more. Austin hoped he had approached the newspapers and the radio stations earlier with help getting the word out.
The other: the restaurant’s elderly clientele don’t use social media as much as kids of his generation do.
The project has taken up a lot of the students’ extra time but they are excited they are being given the chance to give back to the businesses that have been there for them and also soak up practical, hands-on knowledge.
As Giordano put it: “It’s much more interesting than just reading out of a textbook.”