Dining Card Party
Syracuse-area business owners and residents spent the evening of Oct. 17 celebrating the arrival of City Dining Cards, both the cards and the marketing company that created them. The event, held at Empire Brewing Company, was a public introduction to the Buffalo-based company.
Established in 2010, City Dining Cards is a product of the ongoing hyperlocal movement. They focus on promoting local retail stores and restaurants with a marketing strategy based around what are essentially coupons. These aren’t your usual Sunday-morning cutouts, though.
Customers participate by first purchasing a deck of City Dining Cards for $20; these cards are sold online and at various retailers around town. Each deck contains 56 cards, 50 of which are coupons for local restaurants like Bittersweet, Pastabilities, Funk ’N Waffles and Strong Hearts Café. The remaining six cards are informational.
When a deck-holder spends $30 or more at one of the participating restaurants, they can present the card for $10 off of their food; beverages don’t count. The restaurants don’t pay a cent and 5 percent of the sales generated from the $20 decks is donated to the Food Bank of Central New York. There are 60 participating restaurants.
“It’s been well-received,” said Marilyn Roach, one of the company’s managing partners. “The restaurants love us, and the retailers and consumers are buying. We’re already getting reorders at places like J. Michaels.”
City Dining Cards has spent the last nine months making connections in Syracuse. It’s already hooked into seven other Northeastern cities, including Boston, Philadelphia and Rochester.
Katie Hermann, a Buffalo transplant and owner of online-based BeeLIGHT Jewelry, spearheaded the company’s push into Syracuse. “They wanted someone who could help find good restaurants that were on the local level and supported the community,” she said. “The restaurant owners were very excited because sites like Groupon and other promotional items usually cost money. The fact that this is free made them eager to join.”
Lynn Hy, director of philanthropy at the Food Bank of Central New York, fielded the company’s food bank-collaboration pitch. “I thought it was great,” she said. “It’s fun and perfect for people who like to go out to dinner a lot. It also gave us an opportunity to grow and partner with restaurants in Armory Square and all over Syracuse, Onondaga County, and all of the 11 counties that we serve.”
Partygoers spent much of the night snacking on various hors d’oeuvres and mingling with City Dining Cards employees. Guests were treated to a free drink at the bar. Regional manager Dave Horesh answered questions and sold decks. “The response we’ve had in Syracuse has been much better than it’s been in other cities,” he said. “People here are very pro-local and they care a lot about supporting their own.”
Two different products have arrived at Syracuse New Times world headquarters recently, but both are made from the same fruit: the ever-luscious tomato.
• A while back we received a full case of Cheeky Monkey Foods’ Tomato Garlic Dipping Oil, with both the regular flavor and the spicy version. This oil comes in handy, freezable pouches that are resealable so the product stays fresh, as long as you refrigerate it. As for flavor? All we can say is “wow!”
While the obvious food choice for dipping is Italian bread, don’t stop there. Try it on baked potatoes, warm pasta, even chicken. “It’s the perfect melding of flavors,” says business owner Leah Race, who also operates Syra-Juice in Marshall Square Mall, 720 University Ave. “I’ve even had people tell me they put it on their significant others. There are a couple secret ingredients in there, and the balance of flavors is spot-on.”
As for the unusual brand name, Race says it’s a testament to her British-born husband Amos Race. “He’s British; ‘cheeky monkey’ means someone that’s slightly naughty.”
While you can purchase pouches of the oil at area Tops grocery stores; Vince’s Gourmet Imports, 440 S. Main St., North Syracuse; Natur-Tyme, 3160 Erie Blvd. E., DeWitt; and 30 Finger Lakes wineries, Race points to her newest outlet, which opened nearly two months ago on the first floor of the Destiny USA expansion of Carousel Center, known as The Canyon. There you’ll also be able to purchase what she calls pixie dust, a seasoning powder.
And business is booming. “My husband had to quit his job at Upstate Hospital because I needed someone to make the tomato oil,” she notes. “We just had a space built to our specifications off Bridge Street in East Syracuse, just hired three people, but we’re going to outgrow the space really soon. I’m also looking at hiring more people, both for the manufacturing space and at the mall.” Soon to come is a pesto dipping oil.
If you want to purchase the oil, it’ll cost approximately $6. We guarantee you’ll return for more. Race sums up her philosophy: “I don’t care too much about how I dress, but if it’s food, it’s got to be perfect. Our motto is ‘If we make it, it’s good.’ Everything we make has been taste-tested in Syracuse by thousands of people.”
• For a dipping sauce of a different kind, check out Sir Kensington’s Gourmet Scooping Ketchup, with a logo design as eye-catching as the jars that hold the condiment. It uses the actual, or perhaps it’s fictional (does it really matter?) biography of Sir Kensington, who graduated from both Oxford and Cambridge universities. At one point, Our Dear Sir began to host salons for European cognoscente, at which the scooping ketchups that bear his name found their first audience.
And now the audience for the popular condiment resides on these shores: Central New Yorkers can purchase the goods at area Wegmans stores. The ketchups come in Classic and Spiced varieties, encased in handsome 11-ounce glass jars that retail for $4.99. Better not waste it on ordinary burgers; only Angus beef will do. For more information on the ketchup, visit sirkensingtons.com.
Hunger’s No Game
For the 21st year, the Rescue Mission mounts its Scan-Away Hunger campaign, with the goal of feeding hungry individuals and families in the Syracuse area. The program lasts through Dec. 31, with most major grocery stores in Syracuse participating. Each time a shopper tears a coupon at the checkout and hands it to the cashier, $2.13 is added to the bill and a meal is provided at the Rescue Mission, 155 Gifford St. In addition, shoppers can find Scan-Away Hunger coupons at the mission’s 13 Thrifty Shopper stores.
So far this year, the need has been great, as the Rescue Mission has seen a significant increase in the number of men, women and children coming in for meals. Throughout the years, the program has raised more than $2.4 million, which has provided more than 1 million meals for the hungry.