Pandemic All-Star: Myste and Gary Greeno, Founders of To Go Tour, Essex Junction | Food + Drink Features | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Pandemic All-Star: Myste and Gary Greeno, Founders of To Go Tour, Essex Junction

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Myste and Gary Greeno, Founders of To Go Tour, Essex Junction - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Myste and Gary Greeno, Founders of To Go Tour, Essex Junction

When Myste and Gary Greeno dined at Fire & Ice Restaurant in Middlebury on March 6, 2021, it was the first time they'd eaten together with their neighbors in a restaurant since November 14.

At the end of the meal, Myste dug around in her purse and pulled out an envelope for their server, Stephanie Curtis.

"We are giving you a thousand dollars," Myste said, handing over a thick white envelope.

As grateful as the Essex Junction couple was for the great service and butter-like prime rib, Gary quickly explained that the $1,000 wasn't a tip — they left one of those, too. It was a gift, raised by the more than 22,500 members of To Go Tour, the Facebook group the couple founded a year prior to help keep Vermont's bars and restaurants open during the pandemic.

The gift was part of the Greenos' Tip Challenge, which they ran almost weekly from September through April. Members of To Go Tour would donate money and nominate restaurants around the state; the couple would spin a wheel to randomly determine where they'd head for dinner. They'd pick up their takeout or enjoy their meal on-site, then surprise their server with a stack of cash — all while streaming live so that the group's members could watch it happen.

In the video from Fire & Ice, Curtis was visibly taken aback, tearing up as the couple explained the gift. She immediately said, "Well, I will be sharing the envelope with all my server friends and the people that work here."

That generous gift wasn't the only one the restaurant's 24 staff members received that night, according to owner Paris Rinder-Goddard. After hearing about the Greenos' Tip Challenge, two other groups of customers were inspired to pitch in.

"A couple of longtime regulars were sitting at the bar, and when they went to sign their credit card slip, they left $500," Rinder-Goddard said. "And then another patron wanted to see the kitchen taken care of as well, and they left $550. Everybody was feeling pretty warm and fuzzy — and not just the financial aspect of it but the feeling of being appreciated."

The Tip Challenge is just one part of what Myste, 46, and Gary, 48, have created with To Go Tour. At the beginning of the pandemic, the couple quickly realized that their jobs — hers as an insurance broker and his in commercial HVAC — wouldn't be affected. But their friends in the restaurant industry weren't in the same boat.

"We were just like, 'Holy cannoli. These restaurants are really struggling!' And we wanted to do something to help keep them open," Myste said. "All of these great places Vermont is so known for could be gone."

In late March 2020, Myste started calling restaurants to gather information to share in the group. Chuck LaClair volunteered to make videos, and they started posting promotional commercials with restaurants' hours and instructions for how to order and pick up meals to-go.

The Greenos made To Go Tour a positive place. The group's rules were clear: no negative posts or comments, no bad reviews or complaints, and no political posts. They reminded customers to be patient as restaurants adapted to the restrictions of the pandemic.

A couple weeks in, the group had grown to 700 members. And it didn't stop. "Every day we wake up and there's more requests to join," Myste said. "It's astonishing."

"They did a really great job of helping people understand and manage their expectations," Rinder-Goddard said of the Greenos. "Everybody in the industry knows pivoting to a new business model was not smooth or easy, and what they did was fantastic."

The Greenos have stepped back a bit for the summer to focus on family, but the group is still active. Members post photos of their lobster rolls, creemees, brunch spreads and takeout meals, shouting out favorite spots and making recommendations. As the industry's restrictions lift and life inches closer to normal, it's clear that the Greenos have achieved their goal: The restaurants are still here.

Editor note: To choose Vermont's Pandemic All-Stars, we surveyed our readers on the people, places and programs that kept them going — and going — during the COVID-19 pandemic. Space limitations prevented us from recognizing every pick worthy of public praise.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Server Saviors"