It’s 5:30 p.m. on a Wednesday, and the bar of C’est Tout in Oakwood is hopping.
Even the white-aproned servers, attempting to deliver plates of crab-cake sandwiches, chicken wontons and Louisiana style chicken drums, are having a tough time elbowing their way through the crowd.
The customers are practically shouting to be heard over the din, but no one seems to mind.
Elsewhere in the restaurant, you can almost see the tumbleweed rolling past the empty tables.
C’est Tout is the latest in a string of area restaurants to experience the full force of the Restaurant Raiders.
Founded in November 2011 by Amy Zahora, executive director of the Miami Valley Restaurant Association, the group targets a new venue each month, raiding at a time when business would ordinarily be quite slow. Notified ahead of time by e-mails and website posts, crowds of 80 to almost 150 have shown up for happy hour and lunchtime raids of places such as Chappys Tap Room and Grille in Moraine and Savona Restaurant and Wine Bar in Centerville.
Zahora coordinates the raids with restaurant owners, who offer exclusive deals for the events.
The deals are either in the form of a deep discount to normal menu items or, sometimes, creating special dishes for the event. Zahora was busy networking at the C’est Tout raid, which took place from 4:30 to 6 p.m. June 27. All raiders are given name tags and are encouraged to get to know one another. “Some people are a little shy. I have a team that goes around and introduces themselves to people,” she said, pausing to look around. “We’ve got some new faces and some old faces here tonight.”
Two of those faces belonged to Wayne Witherell of Dayton and Chad Fourman of Miami Twp. Witherell, on his second raid, invited his friend Fourman to join him this time.
“I think it’s a great way to get the word out on independent restaurants,” said Witherell, who tries to avoid eating at chain restaurants. “I like that it brings people together who all enjoy eating at nice restaurants.”
Not all attendees are shy. J.R. Schiller of Kettering was holding court with three of his buddies in a corner of the bar, happily handing out business cards. “I like meeting new people and seeing old friends like Al and Justin,” he said, referring to two of his companions. “The food here is also really good.”
Friends Louis Vizza of Centerville and Pat Aicher of Washington Twp. were enjoying glasses of wine and appetizers in a room off of the main bar. They usually attend raids with a group of five or six, all widows and widowers, who regularly try out happy hours around town together. At C’est Tout, just Vizza and Aicher were able to make it. “It’s good to experience places you haven’t been to before,” Vizza said. “I’d never really been to Chappys before the raid,” Aicher said. “We’ve been back there now two or three times.”
That’s music to Shanon Morgan’s ears. As president of the Miami Valley Restaurant Association, she’s all for drumming up more business for local establishments. “With each raid, we have more people coming,” she said, standing at a vantage point near the entrance to the bar. “We know this is growing and growing, and we’re really excited to see the momentum.”
Zahora is keeping to the once-a-month format for now, afraid that holding raids more often might water down enthusiasm. A website, www.restaurant-raiders.com, will soon list Raiders’ monthly events, as well as daily and weekly deals offered by member restaurants. “I’m hoping to be able to highlight at least four or five exclusive deals, on any given day,” she said. Her long-term goal is to franchise the raiders idea, branching out at least to other cities in Ohio.
Over the course of the C’est Tout raid, Zahora estimated that more than 150 drinkers and diners came to the restaurant. “I think I’m really on to something,” Zahora said. “It’s exciting.”
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