It is about time that the “All In Our Backyard” bandwagon stopped in front of our favorite restaurant. The campaign that is making great strides in attempting to lift Rhode Islanders out of our self-imposed doldrums came to the forefront about the same time as the doldrums this summer.
Neil Steinberg, executive director of The Rhode Island Foundation, developed the campaign and came to my Newport radio studio in late August to talk about the effort. As someone who has long been a staunch cheerleader for the chefs and restaurants of Rhode Island, I wanted to find out how they factored in to the feel-good campaign. I found that some recognition had been extended to our state’s restaurateurs and chefs but their story had not been fully told.
First some background. In 2012, the foundation came up with the idea of gathering a large group of business leaders from Rhode Island to attempt to find a solution to the state’s economic woes. They found that a major obstacle was the state suffered from a lack of self-esteem. So the foundation concluded that the turnaround had to start somewhere and began to develop a campaign that, as they put it, “celebrates our community.”
It would appear to be a natural to first celebrate Rhode Island’s culinary community. Our restaurants are perennials on lists of the best-innovative eateries, new restaurants and creative-cooking techniques. How much of the “Backyard” initiative was spent where national recognition is already at the forefront? Not so much. As Steinberg pointed out, the reason is that All In Our Backyard is an internal campaign.
As he puts it, “for the short term, we are focused on the perception within the state. We are not focused on the visitor from New York who comes to Newport to go to a great restaurant. We need a million salespeople [who live] in the state of Rhode Island right now.” He went on, “When we meet that visitor from New York, we want to change the conversation. We want to tell him about the great restaurant in Newport but we also want to find out what business he or she is in and how there is someone in the state who can do that type of business.”