What started out as a crazy idea over drinks one night five years ago between Kate Holst and her husband, Dave, has finally come to fruition — in large part because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Somers Point couple recently launched sjfunhog.com, a dining and entertainment website they had long dreamed of doing, and now they find themselves with a logo, promotional T-shirts and coozies, and a pretty good sized social media following.
Kate, a 37-year-old teacher in Galloway, and Dave, a 40-year-old architect in Ocean City, don’t have any children so they lead a fairly active social life, and when the pandemic hit they found themselves scouring the internet to find out who was open and which places might have outdoor dining or bars.
“Years ago, we were at a hotel drinking one night, visiting family in Alabama, and we were like, ‘wouldn’t it be cool if there was something sort of like (what sjfunhog.com is now)?’ We had one too many and bought a web domain, but then five years went by and we didn’t do anything with it. We had always talked about this website where there’s one spot where you can go and find all the live music, without having to follow 30 different bands or 15 different restaurants to see what’s going on,” said Kate, who also is a former field hockey assistant coach at Mainland Regional High School. “So when the pandemic hit and they shut down dining and then started opening back up for outdoor dining, I was like, ‘what if we just started up a Facebook group? There’s no risk in that, and maybe we can highlight places that are doing outdoor dining and maybe a few hundred people will follow us, and we’ll have an audience to roll the website out to.'”
So, the couple decided to launch the Facebook page called South Jersey Outdoor Dining, and in just a few months the group’s numbers swelled to more than 8,000 — confirming the need for a centralized location on the web for this kind of information.
“We have more than 8,000 members in that Facebook group. I was thinking it would be a long shot if we ever got to 1,000, so it blew up a lot faster than we thought it would, which proved to us that there was a need for something like this. The Facebook group was started to let people know who has outdoor dining, who has a tent when it rains, that sort of thing. The website is more focused on what is going on. Almost everyone has outdoor dining, but the website is intended to be like, ‘we have three days off this week, we’re not going out of town, what can we do around here?’ Or maybe people from Philly are coming down for the weekend and want to know what’s going on,” Kate said. “We wanted there to be one place you could log into and find all the information without having to hunt and peck through a bunch of different websites. Some restaurants update their Facebook page but not their website, or vice versa, and that makes it tedious to make a plan. So, really, we started the website out of sheer laziness. We wanted to be able to make a plan for outings.”
Sjfunhog.com was launched Aug. 9, and so far it has been successful — a lot of work for Kate and Dave to keep up with the constant flow of information coming in from bars and restaurants.
“We make the connections by getting restaurant and bar people telling us what they are up to, and that helps us promote them and expand our network of contacts. It seemed like a good starting point,” Dave explained. “There’s been a pretty positive response from the bartenders and servers we’ve spoken with who know about it. They are seeing people they haven’t seen in their places before and they are attributing some of that to this extra exposure. That’s a nice benefit, and that’s what we want the bars and restaurants to experience from it.”
At times, it has even gotten to the point where it’s an overwhelming task to keep up with everything.
“I was a bartender and a server, like every other teacher in the world. I’ve always worked in that industry, and when the pandemic went down we felt like we had to do something to support everybody. Not that we’re bar flies, but when we go out we make friends with the people pouring our drinks, and we want to be able to see them be able to make a living. I think the biggest challenge has been getting bars and restaurants to get back to us with feedback about what they want on our site. We’ve done a lot of research and legwork ourselves. It was kind of the same way with the Facebook page, where I would find out what was going on and post 20 to 30 times a day,” Kate said. “Dave would come home and I would be in tears saying, ‘I can’t do this anymore, take my phone away!’ But then the Facebook group took off and the bands and restaurants began to realize we had a captive audience who wanted information. That’s kind of been our way in with most people. The people who have recognized it are all in, they are pumped and are sharing it (on social media), they are emailing me constantly. We also added a button on the website to ad an event, so if a business stumbles upon it and they want to be on our site they can navigate through it themselves.”
So what is a Fun Hog? Kate explains:
“When we lived in the Caribbean we had a landlord named Bruce and we rented several places from him. I bartended at a yacht club and he was a regular there, and everybody always talked about him and called him ‘The Fun Hog.’ And we would see these stickers. I was like, ‘can someone please explain to me why you call Bruce Marshall the Fun Hog? And they were like, because he’s hoggin’ all the fun. Nobody is ever having more fun than him,'” she said. “He always knew what was happening and was one of the happiest guys on the island. Unfortunately, about a year ago, he lost his battle with cancer. When we were tossing around ideas five years ago we had a couple different names, but when that happened, I said, ‘South Jersey Fun Hog has to be it.’ He’s always going to be the Virgin Islands Fun Hog but we thought we could bring a little bit of that spirit up here.
“We worked with a web developer out of Haddon Heights, VisionLine Media, and Bryan (Klugh) has been amazing. We told him we wanted a pig with sunglasses on (for our logo) and it all just kind of came together.”
The challenge going forward, Kate and Dave said, is to continue to expand their website beyond just bar and restaurant news and happenings, and begin to explore other fun things to do in South Jersey, particularly for families.
“Moving forward we’re hoping to expand our blog and newsletter portion of the site. We’ve gotten the highest responses on days when we’ve published articles. Our first article was on Denny DiOrio and we recently posted one about Beach Plum Farm in Cape May. The shares and clicks and all the things you look at when you’re doing something like this are off the charts when we post something like that, so we’re enjoying that. We don’t want to put out things like, ‘here are the 10 reasons why you should tip well during the pandemic.’ We really want to focus on the people behind the masks, and your dinners and cocktails,” Kate said. “Our next interview is with Xena Brown, she’s the creator of Pottery Therapy and she’s one of the more popular vendors at some of the local farm markets. So it’s not going to be just dining, it will be all kinds of things that locals know about that other people might not. Our website is more adult oriented but we definitely have stuff for families to do. We want there to be things for families to do, but we want young, single people to be able to have a good night out as well. We don’t have kids so we make it a habit to go out to a bar and watch football on a Sunday afternoon. It’s nice to know which bars have football specials or different games on.”
Even for seasoned “Fun Hogs” like Kate and Dave, there is plenty in South Jersey to spark the interest of locals and visitors alike, and they are having fun exploring all kinds of new places.
“When I started that Facebook page for the restaurants, all of a sudden we had 300 restaurants on there and we haven’t been to two-thirds of these places, and some I had never heard of before. A couple just took over McGettigan’s 19th Hole and that’s someplace we never would have gone to, but they reached out to us and wanted us to put information on South Jersey Outdoor Dining. They are doing a big renovation project in February and they’ll be one of our articles,” Kate said. “So, even if you think you know all the places, check out our website because we’ve found so many new things. There’s a huge variety of things to do in South Jersey and we want to show that off, and have fun in the process.”