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Kim Janel started the Facebook group “Mercer, Bucks, Hunterdon Eateries” to help promote restaurants struggling during the pandemic.

One of the biggest impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic is its effect on local businesses. Due to the lockdowns and in an attempt to stay safe, people were doing their best to go out as little as possible. It’s arguable that restaurants were hit the hardest since they could only rely on takeout orders to sustain their business.

After seeing one of her favorite restaurants shut down in early 2021, Kim Janel wanted to try and help by getting the word out on Facebook.

“The group was established to help local restaurants survive COVID and the Covid restrictions,” Janel says. “People didn’t know what restaurants were still open, if they had takeout, what they had available. This was created to help clear up that confusion and help generate business for them.”

Janel wanted to give back to those restaurants that had already given her so much. So often when she was involved in community fundraisers, restaurants showed support for her efforts. She wanted to return the favor during the pandemic, when they needed it most.

“I did fundraising for everything from animal rescues to Pop Warner football, and all of these restaurants would give me gift cards for years and years. Peasant Grill, Boro Bean, Pennington Bagel, they would support every local fundraiser every time I came in. This was my way of saying thank you,” she said.

Not only did she manage to help spread the word with her “Mercer, Bucks, Hunterdon Eateries” Facebook group, but in under one year, she has managed to build a very active community with almost six thousand members.

“It’s really member-driven, it’s become a good dining guide. A lot of people invite their friends, it’s grown very organically, I haven’t done anything to promote it besides always answering questions and being helpful,” she says.

Even today as people become more comfortable eating out again, the group continues to grow. What had been a way to get the word out about restaurants during the pandemic has grown into a place to promote positivity for local restaurants.

“Deleting negative comments is what sets my group apart from any other group I’ve been on. It’s positive comments and reviews only,” Janel says. “The concept of my group is different than Yelp entirely, it’s to help bring new customers in and to generate business.”

The group has become so busy as of late that she has had a hard time keeping up with everything. She has had to add group experts as moderators to keep things positive and to help answer questions.

“I’ve probably been adding 10 new experts a week at this point. I usually look for people who are very helpful and very active in the community, most people are very happy to do it,” she says.

The group has an open-door policy, with anyone able to join. She encourages people to post about the good experiences they’ve had at restaurants, and even for owners to come and promote their businesses in the group.

On a Saturday afternoon in February, the group is very active with lots of people reaching out and posting for others. One member may ask for advice on where to get good catering for the Super Bowl, while another offers the group a recommendation for a restaurant they went to that day. Scroll a little further and you’ll find a restaurant promoting their menu to the digital world.

A lot of the work that Janel does with the group is helping restaurants adapt to modern times and get their word out online.

“Restaurants do reach out to me, it’s usually people who are not very savvy with social media,” she says. “When I organize their information it’s clear and easier to read. I’m here to help and happy to do it. There’s no money that changes hands, it’s all free,” she said.

Janel is a stay at home mom to her four kids: Jacob (19), Brooke (17), Jordan (12), and Aaron (11). She is married to husband Steven, who has been a lawyer in Pennington for 28 years.

Janel is proud of the work she’s done with the group and of the community she has built. So many new restaurants are being discovered and supported, something she is very happy about.

As far as the future of the Facebook group, Janel is staying open minded about it. Mostly she hopes that it will continue to grow even more.

“I don’t know if anyone is enjoying the group more than I am, I have found so many restaurants that are 10 minutes away from my house, and that’s the most exciting part,” she says.

To join the group, search Facebook for “Mercer, Bucks, Hunterdon Eateries.”

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