SYCAMORE – Michael Alumbaugh believes it is never too late to make a first impression.
Alumbaugh, head chef at the Mitchel Lounge in Sycamore, used an opportunity to potentially reach more than 1,000 people at Tuesday’s Community Expo 2013 at the Sycamore High School field house with free samples of homemade crab dip and pita chips.
Being housed in one of Sycamore’s oldest buildings, Alumbaugh said many people still did not know the rebranded Jane Fargo Hotel and Mitchel Lounge came under new ownership in June 2011 and has an improved atmosphere and dining experience.
Judging by the pace at which his crab dip samples were disappearing, Alumbaugh was confident the restaurant won over new customers.
“Some past customers may have been left with a bad taste before the ownership change, and it can be hard to win those people back,” he said. “We thought it was important to come here and showcase the diversity of the menu and the new look.”
The Mitchel Lounge was one of more than 120 businesses, nonprofits and organizations that took advantage of the annual networking event sponsored by the DeKalb and Sycamore chambers of commerce.
Matt Duffy, executive director of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, said the joint venture has become an annual highlight after it expanded from a business-to-business event and was opened to the public several years ago.
“We’ve seen larger returns ever since we opened it to the community,” Duffy said. “It’s a great opportunity for organizations.”
The event’s expansion has helped even the most established local businesses.
Bill McMahon, co-owner of The Lincoln Inn in downtown DeKalb, said the expo gave his 40-plus year business an opportunity to branch out from the focus on dine-in breakfast and lunches.
On Tuesday, he was slicing free samples of brisket for attendees to show the catering options the restaurant provides for events such as graduations and weddings.
“This is such perfect timing with school about to get out and wedding season around the corner,” he said. “Each year, we are able to show something new here.”
While there is plenty of food, free massages and other samples offered to attendees, there are also entertainment options to draw families to the expo. Tuesday’s event included inflatable houses for children to jump in, autograph signings from NIU football players and zumba demonstrations among other performances.
Michelle Eklund attended the expo to see her young daughter perform an Easter inspired ballet with the Sycamore Performing Arts Academy. Eklund represented a potential new customer for many businesses as she said she likely would not have attended if her daughter was not involved.
“I think the event has been great so far,” Eklund said. “I’ll definitely look around, but I have nothing particular in mind.”
Some businesses benefitted before the expo concluded.
CH3 Graphics, which opened a Sycamore location about two years ago, designed some of the banners for the expo in exchange for free booth space, which otherwise could have cost $295.
By designing banners, graphics manager Bryan Fairbanks said he was also able to become familiar with the names other local businesses, which he hoped to meet before the event ended.
“We work mostly with businesses,” he said. “So it’s always good to get your name out there and let people know what you can do.”