Pushing two tables together, Oviedo Mayor Megan Sladek and five constituents noshed on sweet plantains, rice and beans, and pan con bistec and drank cortado (a mix of espresso and warm milk) while airing concerns and swapping stories at the city’s Zaza’s Cuban Comfort Food restaurant.
Sladek’s Sept. 15 visit at the restaurant was the last stop on her two-year-long #EatOviedo Challenge, where she dined at every eatery within Oviedo’s city limits, posting her visit schedule on her Facebook page so that folks in the community could join her. Zaza marked restaurant number 109 on the list.
How the challenge came about
In April of 2020, the coronavirus pandemic forced HOPE Helps, Inc., a nonprofit organization in Oviedo that works to prevent homelessness, to close its food pantry. The pantry serves about 200 people in need of emergency food a week.
After reopening, Chief Financial Officer Joan Faulkner said volunteers were scarce, as many didn’t want to put themselves at risk. She said the organization has one of the largest bases of volunteers in Seminole County.
Sladek approached local company OptiGrate, which offered to help by pledging to donate $10 to Hope Helps for every post someone made with a photo of their takeout from an Oviedo restaurant using “#EatOviedo”, up to a goal of $3,000.
“We had a lot of staff chipping in at the time,” Faulkner said. “Megan coming up with that idea and connecting us to Optigrate was really good timing…I think she kind of made it fun for the community and at the same time was bringing awareness to HOPE.”
Sladek said the goal was reached within a month but as she spoke to the local restaurants who’d been the backbone of the challenge, she realized she needed to further her efforts to draw attention to local businesses in need.
“A lot of restaurants were closed or takeout only,” Sladek said. “A lot of restaurant owners, I checked in to say hi and how are things going and they were like, ‘If people don’t come we’re not going to be able to survive this.’”
Zeroing in on restaurants
Sladek proposed an idea in the form of a challenge that would allow her to not only help promote local eateries in Oviedo and inform people as to what restaurants were open for business but connect with community members as well. With that, Sladek’s #EatOviedo challenge began. Using business tax records, she created a comprehensive list of local eateries with links to their menus, locations, delivery methods and operating hours.
#EatOviedo debuted on Sept. 4, 2020 at Irish 31.
Seminole County Tax Collector J.R. Kroll attended the first meetup and said he enjoyed how informal the gathering was.
“It’s a great idea to just come together, especially as a city mayor, and say you’re pulling together for your city,” Kroll said. “People can come out and meet with you for whatever concerns they may have.”
Kroll said he thinks it would be a great idea for other mayors to conduct similar eating challenges within their own cities.
“I think it’s a great way to connect with the people,” Kroll said.
Adrienne Morales was at Zaza’s during Sladek’s visit. She said places like Zaza help Oviedo keep up with the “foodie” scene in Orlando, with expansion bringing new restaurants to members of the community who she said may like to stay close to home.
“It seems like people who live in Oviedo like to stay near Oviedo,” Morales said. “I think [Oviedo] happens to be a spot where new restaurants can [establish themselves].”
Sladek said every restaurant on the challenge list is her favorite, from the Kopanisti Feta at Santorini Greek Restaurant to the Maple Street Coffee at Maple Street Biscuit Company.
“I want to showcase all the good in our city,” Sladek said. “What people forget is you don’t have to leave Oviedo to have a night on the town.”
Sladek said she hopes to adapt the challenge in the future to include visits to local nonprofit organizations headquartered in Oviedo. For now, she feels the challenge has reached a good stopping point at Zaza’s until more restaurants open up.
“I feel good knowing that I have interacted with every single restaurant, every single style, in the whole city,” Sladek said. “Those conversations were good to have.”
For the full list of the #EatOviedo challenge locations, click here.