Food-to-Go, Community to Grow
How a local Facebook group is changing the way our community connects around food.
Maichina Veri, November 21, 2022 // Brantford, OntarioMary Palka and Terra Wilton creators of Brantford Food-to-Go enjoying a meal together. Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.
During the uncertainty of March 2020 when many people were feeling scared and isolated, Mary Palka began dreaming of ways to connect. Shortly after the initial lockdown, Mary, who loves food, created the Facebook group Food-to-Go in Brantford/Brant & Area. Having many friends in the local food industry, this group was designed to connect community and get the word out for takeout options – especially for smaller, locally-owned restaurants. What began as a simple community information group quickly became a place to get ideas to support locally run food and drink establishments, and a platform for restaurant owners to connect with an audience.
Surrounding cities each had their own type of online food network, which sent Terra Wilton, owner of From Scratch Cafe Bistro, on the search for the local group. After finding Mary’s Food-to-Go page, the two connected virtually and Terra became co-administrator of the group. Due to the pandemic, they wouldn’t meet until months later, but the two women, along with their moderators, grew the Facebook page from about 200 followers to nearly 18,000 over two years.
Enjoying great food and good friends. Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.
Food-to-Go is an important resource for our community. It supports locally-owned businesses and helps people discover new places for food. Another important aspect of the site is that it provides a space for patrons and restaurant owners to interact with each other in effort to learn, support and grow together. There are rules in the group for comments and content, but thoughtful, constructive criticism is allowed and this provides an opportunity for businesses to learn from and engage with the community. There have been times when restaurant owners have had the floor to educate the community on the struggles faced during the pandemic as well. “I remember a few times Ryan Devlin [of Devlin’s Country Bistro and Catering] came on and wrote really lengthy pieces almost like a bit of a blog – a resource for the restaurant owners – on the challenges that the restaurants were experiencing during Covid and going forward,” Mary says of the balance between restaurant owners posting and patrons posting in the group. “People really got to connect with that and hear from him what he had to say and he had a large body to say it to, so it was nice.” Interactions like these give the community a chance to learn about the people behind the businesses they support.
Chowing down on some local eats. Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.
In addition to monitoring hurtful and false comments, Mary and Terra keep the group positive and uplifting by maintaining community engagement, posting fun discussion topics and having contests and giveaways. The giveaways are important to them because it shows they just don’t talk about supporting local, but take action to do so as well. Food-to-Go partnered with Oakhill Marketplace for giveaways, as well as had a live show with All Day Breakfast. Thousands of dollars have been given away in this group in support of local restaurants. Terra says once the group hits 20,000 members hopefully there will be a “crazy fun awesome” giveaway.
Both Mary and Terra have seen several food trends make their way through the group from dill pickle pizzas to Big Mac spinoffs to shawarma to chicken wings. Mary says Lebanese food is popular this year and Terra mentions local coffee companies and breweries are also trending as well. Mary goes on to say that all of the food is a must-try, but her top “guilty pleasure” she learned about in Food-to-Go is Paris Pizza’s shawarma bowls. She also mentions pho from Viet Thai Basil Restaurant and Terra’s homemade bagels at From Scratch Cafe Bistro. Some of Terra’s favourites are Capeesh Craft Kitchen & Cellar in Paris for Italian, The Dragon Sports Bar in St. George for pub grub and Devlin’s Country Bistro and Catering in Mount Pleasant as well.
TOP: A vibrant Cobb salad fresh from Drongkowski's and Deli in St. George. Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.
BOTTOM: A delicious meal prepared by From Scratch Cafe Bistro in Brantford. Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.
The future of Brantford’s restaurant industry is coming, but the direction is unknown. Mary feels with Costco Wholesale’s potential arrival that the community will see an influx of big box chain restaurants. Terra is hoping for a downtown turnaround in Brantford. She’d like to see new trendy, family-owned restaurants to help make our food community, and therefore the city, “hip and cool.” Regardless of what comes, the Food-to-Go community has a strong sense of supporting local. “I think the residents of Brantford will insist on supporting locally-based places,” says Mary, “and that will continue to thrive.”
To connect with the Facebook group Food-to-Go in Brantford/Brant & Area and to see what it’s all about CLICK HERE.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maichina Veri is a writer based in Brantford, Ontario. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from Montreal’s Concordia University and has a background in Journalism – Print from Niagara College.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Paul Smith has been shooting photos professionally for the past eleven years. After graduating from Applied Photography at Sheridan College in 2008 he returned to Brantford and opened Photohouse Studios with his partner.