Dinner Savings In The Cards

By Ethan Forman Gloucester Daily Times, Mass.

SALEM

Her first child is due later this month, but for graphic designer Jessica Brand, her first "baby" is named Dinner Dealer.

This is the name of a colorful, slickly designed discount deck of 52 coupon cards that Brand is using to boost North Shore restaurants from Gloucester to Newburyport, including Salem, Peabody, Beverly and Danvers.

It's not just a business, said Brand, a self-employed graphic and Web designer, but a way to increase foot traffic in local restaurants at slow times of the year.

She hopes the deck will get residents of Gloucester to come to Salem, and vice versa. She also sees the deck, with its various coupon offers, as a way for a couple to take a culinary tour of the North Shore.

"I wanted it to be a little bit of a stimulus package for the community," Brand said. "If it could boost some foot traffic for the restaurants during the off-season, why not try it?"

The coupons are for local restaurants, not the national chains. Eateries do not pay to be in 52-card deck; they just honor the coupons.

The 2013-2014 deck includes 10 restaurants in Gloucester, worth savings of $100, including Duckworth's Bistrot, Willow Rest, and Sea Glass Restaurant. A few of the 52 eateries are The Farm Bar & Grille in Essex, Scratch Kitchen and Opus in Salem, SALT in Ipswich, Wild Horse Bar & Grill in Peabody, Shubie's in Marblehead, The Little Depot Diner in Peabody and 9 Elm in Danvers.

Discount coupons range from savings of $5 off a $20 meal at Scratch Kitchen to $20 off a $50 meal at Foreign Affairs Wine Bar and Bistro in Manchester.

Brand said she personally went to all 52 restaurant owners to sign them up. She is Dinner Dealer's CEO, the graphic designer, plus its sales and shipping departments.

The decks cost $25 apiece and carry $400 in discounts. There are also bulk discounts: five packs for $100.

In Dinner Dealer's first year, Brand sold 1,000 decks in seven months. Brand was able to sell 600 decks in December, and she has sold more than 900 decks in 2{ months.

"I'm not looking to make a lot of money fast," Brand said. "I'm not that type of entrepreneur. I think I'm more about having a business that can sustain in the community and be a resource for others, as well."

While there are plenty of dining coupon books and even decks of coupon cards on the market, this deck is focused squarely on local restaurants. She came up with the idea of having a North Shore deck in January 2012.

While the idea has been done, "my motivation was to make my own version from scratch and to make it a new brand," Brand said.

"Instead of focusing on one town, I brought together the entire North Shore and tried to make a cohesive product that would appeal to multiple communities ... I wanted to bring the idea home; that's what I wanted to do."

Is there a risk in doing this?

"It's a labor of love more so right now than it is a livelihood. It is growing," said Brand, who said most of the overhead is for printing. Most of the design is hers, so there is some cash savings there. Instead of printing offshore, she uses Signature Printing and Consulting in Woburn.

There is an altruistic side to the decks. One dollar from each deck goes to one of five food pantries on the North Shore: The Open Door Food Pantry in Gloucester; Beverly Bootstraps, which serves Manchester; Our Neighbors Table in Amesbury; Haven From Hunger in Peabody ;and My Brothers Table in Lynn.

"So, if I sell 1,000 decks, then each program gets $200," Brand said.

Retailers also get a boost, making up to 40 percent in revenue selling them. Schools and nonprofits, including Rockport High DECA club students, buy them at a reduced rate and use them as a fundraising tool. Northeast Animal Shelter is also selling them via Facebook.

"If you think about it, every dollar that is circulating through this deck, between diners, consumers and restaurants, me, the printer, it's all staying here in the community," Brand said. "There's not shareholders; there's no corporation that profits go to. The money is circulating through our North Shore area."

Brand, who is 30, grew up Wilbraham in western Massachusetts and is a 2005 graduate of Gordon College in Wenham, where she was an art major and studied fine arts and graphic design.

Dinner Dealer is Brand's second venture. As a senior in college, she started a freelance design business, J. Brand Designs, which pays the bills for her growing family.

She has been her own boss for most of her career. She worked at the Boston Design Center for a year as an art director for the furniture showroom. From there, she went to work for a prep school in Lexington, where she worked as an in-house designer for 10 months.

"That kind of paved the way to building up the confidence to handle a freelancing career," Brand said. She has been freelancing since she was 24 years old.

"I didn't do well reporting to other people, honestly," Brand said. "I had to be my own boss. I knew that in college. I wanted to work for myself and have ownership of my career. The decisions that I make, they are mine. I own them. Whether they are good or bad, they are still mine, and that's what I wanted, that freedom."

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