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Baltimore restaurant manager wants to ‘Make Portside Great Again,' asking customers why it went downhill

The new general manager of Portside in Canton has embarked on an unconventional social media campaign to help revamp the restaurant.
The new general manager of Portside in Canton has embarked on an unconventional social media campaign to help revamp the restaurant.

A Baltimore restaurant manager has embarked on an unconventional campaign to revamp Canton’s Portside Tavern.

“Portside has gone downhill,” general manager Christopher Gobrial wrote in a post on the Facebook page for the O’Donnell Square restaurant. “[M]y goal is to turn this place around and I want to hear from YOU!”

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Through a poll, he’s soliciting customer feedback on topics like “the main reason that Portside went downhill.” He’s even designed a blue hat with the slogan “Make Portside Great Again,” a tongue in cheek play on President Donald J. Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan.

So we know we've dropped the ball... Help us pick it back up and #makeportsidegreatagain We want to hear from you!...

Posted by Canton's Portside Tavern on Monday, January 27, 2020

“I knew it was risky,” said Gobrial, a 25-year-old Towson resident who’s studying economics at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. After previous stints at eateries like the Rusty Scupper and CineBistro at the Rotunda, he joined the staff of Portside just a week ago, after getting a call from the owner about the declining sales.

Portside, which opened in 2004, was listed for sale in 2017 along with neighboring restaurant Cask & Grain. The two restaurants share a kitchen; new owner Mohan Thapa closed the latter spot to create Himalayan Spice, a Nepalese and Indian restaurant.

Visiting the restaurant and speaking with the few remaining customers, Gobrial said he kept hearing reminiscences of better days. Ageing newspaper clippings and accolades lined the walls. But in recent years, customers complained, “'Everything went down. The menu, they don’t have any food. They’re always running out of liquor,'” Gobrial said quoting the customers.

And the restaurant has seen a revolving door of general managers. “People have been coming in trying to fix it and it obviously hasn’t worked out,” Gobrial said.

So, a bold move.

Gobrial used a meme generator to design the “Make Portside Great Again” hat, which he intends to have made into a real hat if the poll that was shared on Facebook gets over 100 “likes.”

“I wanted to do something that was going to catch peoples attention,” he said.

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The hat is blue, not as a nod to Democrats, but to the restaurant’s own nautical theme. “It wasn’t supposed to be a political thing,” said Gobrial, who considers himself an independent. “Obviously its a play on ‘Make America Great Again.’”

Gobrial hopes the new campaign will help build relationships with potential customers in the surrounding Canton community. “Canton’s so tight knit, if you’re not part of the community you won’t survive.”

It’s unclear whether Gobrial’s gamble will pay off.

“It seems curious that the owners/management would turn to a very unscientific poll to find out where they went wrong,” Marisa Dobson, founder of publicity & marketing consultancy Scintillate, wrote in an email. “Then again, it could be a way to engage customers and make them feel like they have a stake in the outcome? Seems a bit desperate either way.”

To that, Gobrial said: “We are desperate! That’s the thing.” But, he added: “Just because it’s desperate doesn’t mean it can’t change. ... This bar is at rock bottom.”

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