Eat it up! Georgetown Foodland has become a beacon of support for local restaurants
Restaurants in Georgetown and surrounding areas have a loyal friend – Jamie Sanderson, founder of Georgetown Foodland.
Since 2013, Sanderson has been building a website under that name, which also has a presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to promote and support restaurants in Georgetown County, free of charge.
“I don’t consider myself a food critic or a reviewer,” Sanderson said. “We’ve got Trip Advisor and Google Review for that kind of thing. What you don’t see is somebody deliberately going into restaurants, specifically in this county, and showing nothing but 100-percent support. If you look at the dynamics of a restaurant and how the business model is set up, marketing is at the bottom level.”
Georgetown Foodland is more than just social media sites, he said. He has also developed chef networking forums, has named monthly “Simply Amazing Dish” award recipients, and has worked with restaurant owners to set up their own social media accounts.
Sanderson said many owners don’t focus or spend much money on marketing their restaurants. And now, people who run social media support systems charge fees to help set up marketing for businesses. Sanderson offers his services free of charge and he does everything in his spare time.
“You’ve already got lots of people out there who will charge you for it, beaucoup of money,” he said. “That’s fine, that is a business for them. What you don’t have is people doing it because they love it and they want to see people succeed.”
Sanderson said he gives them exposure, tips on how to market and increase profits while saving in costs and increasing production. He also helps them with writing press releases, rather than relying on a third party that might charge a fee.
“It’s like a one-stop shop in my head, but if I can’t help them per se, I will find somebody who can help them,” he said. “And I don’t charge for any of that.”
He said he even insists on paying for the food he samples at the restaurants he serves.
“If they don’t allow me to pay for it, I tip what I owe to the waiter,” Sanderson said. “It’s all about paying it forward.”
He said it is also about saving restaurants money and attracting locals to help them survive months with less tourism.
“If you own a restaurant in Georgetown, Pawleys Island or Murrells Inlet, and all you do is count on three or four months to make your money, what are you doing the other eight to nine months,” Sanderson said. “You are waiting on locals to support you. And if you aren’t getting locals in there, what are you doing?”
Sanderson started Georgetown Foodland after a fall while working at the Georgetown steel mill that rendered him homebound between surgeries to repair internal injuries. This time allowed him to reflect on his life and how he had lived up to that point.
“It was very tough, but one of the lights that started to shine was – here is your chance to do things that you really didn’t have a chance to do and to venture into places you didn’t want to venture into,” Sanderson said. “I started to open myself up and humble myself. People thought of me as somebody who was domineering or antagonizing, and I didn’t want that stigma anymore but I didn’t know how to get away from it.”
The answer soon stared him in the face when he stopped in a restaurant that was on Front Street called Reflections Grill. More specifically, it was a Texas BBQ Burger with pulled pork and huge onion rings on top.
“Something washed over me and I took out my phone and took several photos of it,” Sanderson said. “And low and behold, those pictures from Reflections Grill pretty much propelled Georgetown Foodland.”
He posted the photos on his personal Facebook page and kept going back to have the same burger for about six months. That burger was eventually named for Sanderson.
“I was impressed with the perfection he was putting on that presentation,” he said. “It’s not like walking into a diner and somebody throws you the food. He was actually back there prepping it, making sure the lettuce was just and that the barbecue was in proportion to the other ingredients.”
Sanderson said from the appearance of the burger, it could have been served in a four-star restaurant.
“I looked at the burger, the texture of the onion rings, the pulled pork and the burger and it started to overwhelm me,” he said. “Help and support of people has always been inside me. When I looked at that, I said here is the door, there is the key, let me open it.”
Sanderson said after he received some reaction on his Facebook page about that burger, he decided to start promoting more restaurants in the Georgetown area.
“The key part about it is that our restaurants are gateways to our tourism,” he said. “People look at Trivago.com and hotels.com for where they want to stay. They can actually have a visual, so they can look inside the rooms they want to stay in. I wanted to give that concept to people, so they can look at the food before they get here.”
Considering the dining choices people have in Georgetown County, Sanderson decided to focus on not just the food, but the personalities of the chefs behind the food. That, he said, was the main impetus for his “Simply Amazing Dish of the Month” award.
The Simply Amazing Dish of the Month award is a way to showcase a menu item at a restaurant on a monthly basis. The award is given unannounced at the end of the meal, along with a card with an inscription and a decal to display on the entrance door or front window.
“This is not a contest,” Sanderson explains on his website, www.georgetownfoodland.com. “Think of it as an award making its way to many of Georgetown’s restaurants, one dish at a time. The goal is to have people intrigued and engaged in Georgetown, to awaken the foodie spirits and have people join in the culinary adventure of our town.”
He has also started a chat group for restaurant owners and chefs called Restaurants Round Table. This chat group allows participants to discuss cooking and share ways to make food more appealing.
“They can all converse together in a happy, controlled medium where everything is positive and nobody is trying to down somebody or critique somebody,” Sanderson said. “They have a place to communicate, share ideas, menu items, constructive criticism for what they are trying to do in their restaurants.”
He said this chat room has grown to include chefs and owners from all around the country.
“I think word has gotten out now, so they know they have a beacon here that is supporting them and is not going to try to take the rug out from underneath their feet,” Sanderson said. “I love it. I love seeing them succeed. It helps them put money in their pockets to do what they are doing with their restaurants, as well as hiring waiters and waitresses and other staff.”
Georgetown Foodland has grown so much that Sanderson is now receiving help from his wife, Adrianne, and their teenage daughter, Bailee.
“It’s just a pleasure to meet all of these people, try wonderful food, visit the front of the house and the back of the house, and meet the chefs who are all rock stars,” Adrianne Sanderson said. “We are just so blessed and fortunate to have this adventure.”
Bailee Sanderson agreed.
“He is doing such a wonderful job,” she said. “We are so proud of him.”
Restaurant owners and managers say Sanderson has helped them immensely with their marketing needs. Tammy Pope, manager of Ball & Que Restaurant in Georgetown, said Sanderson helps by transferring the information the restaurant’s staff puts on its Facebook onto the Foodland website and related social media sites.
“It is basically Internet coverage,” she said. “If we put our specials on Facebook, he’ll take that and put it on his sites, as well, so it reaches a different spectrum of people. It helps us get our name out there.”
Pope said Sanderson also helped set up the restaurant’s Facebook page.
“He helped us take proper photos to promote out food and our specials,” Pope said. “When you put a nice picture of food served at the restaurant on there, it gets people’s attention.”
Nancy Knarr, owner of Incredible Edibles Bakery in Pawleys Island, said Sanderson does the same kinds of things for her business. She said he saves her time and money.
“These days everybody is on social media, but it is a lot of work,” she said. “Jamie helps us save some time, although we still have to do our own stuff.”
Knarr also likes that Sanderson takes time to try the food he is promoting.
“He tastes it himself and personally validates that it is good so he can urge other people to try it,” she said. “He is a great guy and what he does for us is wonderful.”
Visit the website www.georgetownfoodland.com and search for “Georgetown Foodland” on Facebook and Instagram.
(By Clayton Stairs/Tourism Manager for Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce)