Maria Perreca Papa and her chefs offered eggplant rollatini, a garden salad and Italian bread for Thursday night takeout.
Hundreds of people knew about the family meal deal, and some phoned in orders to Papa’s More Perreca’s restaurant on North Jay Street in Schenectady’s Little Italy section.
People had other options for Thursday’s takeout supper — such as the chicken parmigiana at Ferrari’s Ristorante in Schenectady; the chicken with peppers, onions and Cajun linguine at the 19th Hole Cafe at Briar Creek Golf Course in Rotterdam; and the prime rib special at Carney’s Tavern in Ballston Lake.
The menus and specials all have been collected at a new Facebook spot, “518 Restaurants,” a page that Papa started on Sunday. Like other Facebook sensations during the coronavirus pandemic, the restaurant page quickly has attracted hundreds of fans.
“I launched it and it was just boom, boom, boom, boom, boom with all the people joining,” Papa said earlier this week. “Within the first 45 minutes, we got 600 people. Boy oh boy, has it taken off.”
By Thursday afternoon, 1,110 restaurant owners and customers had signed up for the page. Other restaurants that have joined the club include the Township Tavern in Altamont, the Turf Tavern in Scotia, Tops American Grill in Rotterdam, MochaLisa Caffe in Clifton Park, Ugly Rooster Cafe in Mechanicville, Home Style Pizza in Schenectady and Stella Pasta Bar and Bakery in Burnt Hills.
Papa said “518 Restaurants” is designed to publicize restaurants’ lunch and dinner plans. Customers can browse and either phone in orders or order online — and put different foods on their tables each night. They’re also supporting small businesses that can only offer takeout service during the health crisis.
“Food is everything to people locked up now,” Papa said. “They wake up in the morning and they start thinking about what they’re going to eat. It’s really challenging for a lot of people to figure out new things.”
Papa said there are other “518” restaurant and food pages.
“This one is restaurant friendly,” she said. “No restaurant is going to get turned down for posting their special every day or an update when they’re going to open. This is the place to go for restaurant news … it’s like a menu for the whole Capital District.”
Papa believes the page reflects togetherness. Each restaurant owner and manager, she said, wants others in the business to succeed.
“There is no such thing as competition,” Papa said. “When Tara Kitchen does well and has success, believe it or not it’s good for More Perreca’s because Schenectady becomes a destination and it’s good for all of us.
“I went to business school a million years ago,” Papa added, “and that is one of the things I took out of my education, there is no such thing as competition … restaurant owners are my brothers and sisters.”
Matt Finnigan, who owns Carney’s, is one of the “brothers.”
“Any type of free social media helps in any way,” Finnigan said of the new restaurant Facebook page. “Anywhere you can put your pictures out there and reach out to people, sure. I’m probably on 10 different food sites at this point. Maria reached out to me about a week ago and I jumped right on it.”
Finnigan believes many people are checking out pages and websites for lunch and dinner.
“We’ve gained a lot of popularity from areas that weren’t familiar with us,” Finnigan said. “I think the same thing will happen with ‘518 Restaurants.'”
John Ferrari’s of Ferrari’s also gives the new page a rave review.
“In a difficult time that we are going through now, social media such as the 518 Restaurants page on Facebook is a way to reach out to everyone and give them the opportunity to to try something new from their own home,” Ferrari said. “I’d like to call them our extended family. I know my family really misses everyone that comes into the restaurant, but as my father always says, the quickest way to your loved ones’ hearts is through their stomach.”
Paul Drago, owner of the 19th Hole, said he has been a longtime supporter of print advertising, But he said sites like “518 Restaurants” help his business.
“It’s very nice,” he said. “It helps get the word out that we’re open and providing a service for the public.”
Papa has changed her ordering system. If people are calling in orders for bread and dinners from More Perreca’s, they have to talk to her.
“The first thing I did when this pandemic happened is I took the phones out of Perreca’s Bakery and More Perreca’s,” Papa said. “I did not want my workers risking their lives using a communal telephone. I forwarded both of those phones to my personal cellphone; you can’t call Perreca’s Bakery or More Perreca’s without talking to me. I talk to all of our customers.”
People are also ordering online, and Perreca believes restaurants are going to see more and more online apps after the pandemic precautions have been eased.
“I’m getting ready for what’s coming next, the next phase of what restaurants are going to be like,” Papa said. “That’s a different story, but I can tell you these online apps are going to be a big part of it, I think, at least for More Perreca’s.
“When people are allowed to come back into the restaurant,” Papa added, “we will use the apps so people can order ahead of time so when they’re sitting in the restaurant they can just have the experience of being with their people in the environment we create at More Perreca’s.”
To join, Papa said, restaurant owners on Facebook should submit a request to become part of the 518 page. She prefers business Facebook pages over personal pages submitted by people connected to the business.
Papa is glad restaurant fans have joined the page. She said people look forward to their visits to familiar places — even if they can’t come into the dining rooms.
A Saratoga Springs man, Papa said, ordered dinner earlier this week and did not consider the long, round-trip drive a problem.
“He said, ‘You know what? I am so looking forward to that one-hour drive to Schenectady because it’s a beautiful day, I want to get out of the house and I love your food,'” Papa said. “That’s what people are doing, there’s nothing else to do, so why not take a drive to a different city to get your food?
“That’s why I opened it up to all these restaurants in the Capital District,” Papa added. “More than ever, restaurants are a destination, even if it’s just to pick up your takeout.”
Contact staff writer Jeff Wilkin at 518-641-8400 or at [email protected].