Home Cooking

This article was originally published in the April 2024 issue of Texas Town and City magazine

“Where should we eat?”

It’s the first question any visitor to a new city asks, and without fail it’s the piece of advice any resident is most eager to give. Local restaurants play an integral part in a town’s identity, are a source of town pride and enhance any tourist’s visit. After all, fast food and chain restaurants may be fine when you’re home but when you’re on the road you want to try the unique local cuisine.

“Our resident… see us as more than just a place to eat,” said Benji Arslanovski, the owner of Our Place, one of the most popular homestyle restaurants in Mansfield. “We have become a athering spot, a place where people come together.”

Our Place first opened its doors in 2008 and has a long history in a city that has grown by nearly 40% since then. The story was very different for Flying Squirrel Coffee when they first started brewing at their new storefront in Historic Downtown Mansfield. 

“We opened Nov. 21, 2019, and then on March 16, 2020 we had the ‘hammer drop’ with all the new regulations,” said owner Amy Ryan.

home cooking

The first year is already the most challenging for any new eatery, but in an environment of lockdowns and restrictions it seemed almost impossible. For tourism, 2020 was also when the realization of what restaurants mean to a community’s identity really set in. With no events or tournaments to promote and very few tourists to attract, Visit Mansfield’s goal became clear: make sure the things people love about Mansfield are still there when this is all over.

The CVB’s social media promotion put a larger focus on posts promoting take out, general restaurant highlights, and listicle blogs.

And Mansfield showed up.

“The love and support from the community was how we were able to stay alive,” said Ryan. “We had huge support from people coming in and literally buying a small drip coffee and tipping $100 dollars.”

As things returned to normal this focus for the CVB didn’t change. Beyond just posting about the restaurants the time was now taken to produce high quality videos, targeting YouTube and Instagram reels with trending genres like food reviews and challenges

Since 2022, Visit Mansfield has produced three different award winning video series highlighting locally owned and operated dining establishments: Frozen Fridays, a summer series which focused on different frozen treats throughout the city, Mansfield Monday Morning Coffee, which reviewed local coffee shops, and Mansfield’s Spiciest, where the tourism manager and communications manager took on the hottest foods in the city, suffering greatly in the process.

To date the three video series have racked up over 62,000 views across the various social media platforms and the subsequent blog posts on the Visit Mansfield website designed to capture search engine queries have been visited well over 1,000 times.

In another unique endeavor, Visit Mansfield identified that the gorgeous mural on the side of Flying Squirrel Coffee was a burgeoning photo spot. When the Texas Travel Awards opened a category for “Most Instagrammable Spot” in the state, Visit Mansfield submitted an application for the award and won, putting a spotlight on Flying Squirrel for a statewide audience.

Beyond promoting these spots outward to tourists, these features serve to educate residents on what is in their city and make die hard fans of different Mansfield staples. A passionate citizen can often do more to attract guests and promote businesses than any large scale advertising campaign.

“The restaurant has maintained a strong reputation through positive word of mouth and online reviews, attracting new customers and retaining existing ones,” Arslanovski said.

Of course driving the traffic through the doors through promotions isn’t even half the battle. It’s the passion and excellence within these local points that turns a diner or a tourist into a superfan.

“It means everything to me and my Squirrel Squad to be a light in the community,” Ryan added. “We love what we do and the lives we get to pour into.”

And as they pour into those lives they keep the cycle going. Happy customers make happy residents and tourists. Those happy people turn into fans and advocates of a community, and make the place more attractive to all the new businesses, events, tournaments and citizens municipalities and CVBs want to bring in. Along the way the CVB can be there, adding a little grease to the pan and fuel to the fire by pointing people where to go and making sure they know “where should we eat?”