- Associated Press - Thursday, July 21, 2016

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Before Randy Gresham became an executive chef in Montgomery, he was just a visitor from out of town who was trying out the local restaurants. What he saw was a culinary scene on the cusp of something special.

“It struck me as, the options are here. The talent is here. The ability to do great things is here. It just needed to have the excuse to kind of break out of the mold and kind of come into its own,” said Gresham, now the executive chef at The A&P; Social in Cloverdale. “Ten or 15 years ago (Birmingham was) in the same boat we’re in right now in Montgomery.

“Now you look at a scenario where people are leaving Montgomery to go eat in Birmingham. . We’ve got tons of restaurants with quality food and quality dining experiences but people are almost subconsciously hesitant to admit that it’s quality food because they’re so trained in their heads to go elsewhere for that.”

Gresham and others say that’s partly because people either aren’t aware of what’s available here or have been reluctant to give different places a shot.

A new effort is trying to change that. Restaurants across Montgomery plan to offer special deals on preset menus as part of a dining push called EatMGM. Lunch meals are set at $5, $10 or $15, and dinner packages are set at $10, $20 or $30.

That 10-day “Restaurant Week” starts Aug. 12, but bi-weekly restaurant gift card giveaways have already started at the @eatgump Facebook page.

The whole effort is to encourage people to venture out to a restaurant they’ve never tried, or maybe to revisit one that they haven’t been to in a while.

“Everyone knows Chris’ (Hotdogs) but everyone doesn’t go there every couple of weeks,” said Meg Lewis of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, which is organizing the campaign. “That’s the whole point of EatMGM is get people out and experiencing things because we publicize these menus.”

The addresses of the restaurants involved are as diverse as their menus, uniting the food scene from downtown with the flavors of the boulevard and the tastes of east Montgomery.

“It’s a chance to get people out of their neighborhood,” Lewis said. “It’s all about getting out and exploring.”

Beyond that, she said there’s an effort underway to help restaurants and food providers share information and news, and hold conversations with each other throughout the year.

“We need to work together as a coalition of independent restaurants and independent businesses that push the scene together instead of trying to kind of fight for different segments of the market,” Gresham said.

At The A&P; Social, a black board shows the local source for each ingredient - from Destin Connection, to Eat South, to the Montgomery Curb Market. Gresham said that kind of locally focused mindset is often unique to independent restaurants like the ones who make up the bulk of the EatMGM participants so far.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Dreamland managing partner Bob Parker said his downtown restaurant is part of a chain and that “the only thing that’s local about Dreamland is our folks that work there.” Still, the restaurant is part of the EatMGM push.

“The (chain) moniker is almost a mindset,” Parker said. “You can have a guy that owns a national chain restaurant locally, and everybody knows who he is, and he participates in charity events.”

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Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com

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