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Making Lemonade out of Lemons: How O’Brien’s turned a negative review into a positive situation

We live in a world dominated by the influence of social media. With platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, letting an entire community of users know what you’re wearing, how you’re feeling, or what you’re having for dinner only takes the click of a button. With the advent of Covid-19, much of our lives have shifted towards a higher dependency on digital media. Many of us, whether for work or recreation, have found ourselves spending more time than ever in front of our screens. Online ordering, social media promotion, and community subgroups, such as the Aquidneck Island Local Curbside, Takeout, and Delivery page have allowed restaurants to highlight their menus and offerings to the public from a digital perspective. The restaurant and hospitality industry has struggled mightily during this pandemic and between restrictions on capacity, hours of operation, and state-mandated procedures for compliance, it has been one of the largest directly affected by the coronavirus.

Aquidneck Island is deeply rooted in the hospitality industry and offers its residents a myriad of choices when it comes to culinary options. While the community Facebook pages that have been formed to highlight local businesses have been extremely beneficial in providing the public with information, there have unfortunately been some instances where people have used this forum inappropriately to post their displeasure with an establishment. O’Brien’s Pub, located at 501 Thames Street, is a downtown staple and a favorite amongst both locals and tourists alike. This weekend, a guest who was less-than-pleased with their fish and chips decided to express her frustrations on a Facebook page. The forum, which is not intended for this purpose, eventually deleted the post but not before O’Brien’s received a wave of online support from the local community. Needless to say, “Fish & Chips” became more than just a pub favorite this weekend, it seemingly became a polarizing topic of discussion. Other restaurants who offer the dish, saw this as a great (& hilarious) opportunity to highlight their own interpretation of the British classic and many debates started about who has the best fish and chips on the island. Kerrie Philbin, longtime general manager of O’Brien’s, did her best to remedy the issue with the unhappy guest and even offered a tour of their kitchen to show how they prepare the staple entrée. After the fish and chips story continued to gain momentum throughout the weekend on social platforms, O’Brien’s ownership and management of the restaurant decided that it would be the perfect opportunity to turn a negative review into a positive situation.

For the entire month of February, the Irish pub is donating 10% of all its fish & chips sales to the MLK Food Pantry here in Newport. “It was actually our marketing director’s fiancée that came up with the concept, Madelyn Regan, and the owners loved the idea so we decided to run with it!,” said Philbin. O’Brien’s is known for its history of charitable involvement and philanthropy. “It’s incredible to work somewhere that we pride ourselves on giving back to the local community whenever possible,” said Philbin.

After posting the promotion yesterday, the Ocean State Job Lot Charitable Foundation decided that they would support O’Brien’s Pub in this endeavor and will provide nutritious options to the MLK Food Pantry.

Along with the OSJLCH, Midtown Oyster Bar, a restaurant that I have called home for the last 6 years and is managed by City Councilor Charlie Holder, decided to follow O’Brien’s lead and is also donating 10% of their fish and chips sales from the month of February to the MLK Food Pantry.

Joseph Fitzpatrick, team leader of the Fitzpatrick Team at RE/Max Professionals of Newport, has also pledged to match O’Brien’s donation to the MLK Food Pantry dollar-for-dollar. “We wanted to take the high road by turning a negative review into a positive situation,” Philbin told WhatsUpNewp. “Charlie Holder, Joe Fitz, and the Ocean State Job Lot Charitable Foundation are so generous for joining us and who knows, maybe some other places will too!” Heather Hole-Strout, the executive director of the Dr. Martin Luther King Community Center, said that the continued support is amazing and welcomed after the holiday season. “The MLK Center is fueled by the support of small businesses in the local community. It has been absolutely incredible watching how a scathing review has evolved into a charitable donation for the center.”

Hole-Strout, who said that the fish and chips saga is a perfect fit for the “turning lemons into lemonade” analogy, stressed the importance of supporting small businesses in the local community. “Even in the midst of a pandemic that has hit the restaurant industry hard, they (local restaurants and small businesses) continue to support the MLK Center through and through. It is so refreshing to watch our community rally around a cause and I know the residents of Aquidneck Island will continue to support these selfless businesses until we can weather this storm.”

If this story has taught us anything, it’s that lifting one another up instead of putting others down is a far more beneficial way to impact your local community. Next time you’re at O’Brien’s or Midtown Oyster Bar, be sure to order the fish and chips.

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