Welcome to another edition of “People Pulse.” Always hoping to bring you interesting folks doing even more interesting things in the Orlando and Central Florida area, we present Andi Perez. She’s pretty awesome, if I do say so. More than awesome, actually. Andi’s a strong voice in our community (more on that later) and an all-around cool lady. In full disclosure, I’ve known Andi personally for well over five years, and wanted to help share a little more of her with folks who don’t know her. So huge thanks to her for playing and here we go….
Q. What brought you to Orlando, and how long have you lived here?
A. I really lucked into finding this beautiful city, actually! I was living abroad with my family in Johannesburg (South Africa) during high school and, when it was time to move back to the Miami, I made the [super mature, well-thought-out, 18 year old] decision to move to Orlando because I didn’t want to live with my parents during college and my older sister was already living here.
I honestly didn’t love Orlando when I first arrived, but I soon realized that was mainly because I wasn’t making the effort to explore beyond my apartment complex and a few college bars. Once I opened my eyes to Orlando’s incredible cultural enclaves and locally-owned businesses and events, I was a goner. 16 years later, I am in a long-term, committed relationship with this wonderful city.
Q. What’s one of your favorite things about living in Central Florida?
A. COMMUNITY. My good friend and mentor, Colleen Burns, used to say it best– “Orlando is small enough that you can be the first to start something, but big enough to support it.” Add to that, our incredibly collaborative local biz community and you have a city where folks lift each other up, rather than seeing each other as competition. I am constantly hearing about business owners and community members going out of their way to mentor, guide, and assist other business owners in their same sphere, and that kind of community spirit is so incredibly unique.
Q. As Senior Community & Marketing Director, you are the heart and soul of Yelp here in Central Florida. What originally led you to Yelp as an organization?
A. More kismet! I was lucky enough to attend a ReThinking the City event 7 years ago where I met the previous Yelp Community Director, Colleen Burns, who happened to be the speaker that day. She spoke about community, ways to make an impact locally, and the mission of the company where she worked. I remember being the first in line to talk to her after the presentation, asking how I could get involved with what she was building locally. I was in absolute disbelief that there was actually a job whose sole mission was to hyping Orlando while building community. I’d been working as an event planner by day, but I’d spent my nights and weekends running a locally-focused Orlando blog with that very mission. I felt immediately drawn to learn more and keep in touch with this woman. Eventually, when it came time for Colleen to hire her replacement as she climbed the ladder at Yelp, I would pour my heart and soul into my application and interviews and win the job of my dreams.
Q. What’s one of your favorite things Yelp offers the Central Florida community?
A. Yelp really is word of mouth, amplified. It totally levels the playing field between small and large businesses. For example, a fabulous, small, local business has the chance to generate organic buzz greater than any pricey billboard a large chain could purchase. Doing what they do best, and providing amazing service and food, actually compels people to spread the word on Yelp.
Orlandoans are born hype-men for the things and places we love. So, give us a platform to tell that story to a bigger audience, and we’re all about it. This is why a small Ethiopian & Eritrean restaurant in Orlando (Selam Ethiopian & Eritrean Cuisine) can make it on to Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat in 2020 (a national list) over much bigger restaurants with tons of marketing budget. That kind of thing is really special.
Q. What’s your favorite thing about “Yelpers”?
A. Talk about hype-men! To begin with, Yelpers are such a diverse group of people. They are doctors, yogis, techies, homemakers, law students, writers, parents, empty-nesters, singles, and everything in between! But the thing so many Yelpers have in common is they’re passionate about sharing gratitude. Think about it- the vast majority of people go on Yelp to write a positive review (reference). These are people, from all walks of life, taking time out of their day to show gratitude for a great experience or service. There’s no incentive, other than to help spread the word. That sense of community and gratitude is precious.
Q. Many of our readers might be familiar with the #OrlandoDoesntSuck unofficial campaign some years back that still sees some use today. Tell us about your involvement with that effort.
A. Thanks for asking! Remember that local blog I mentioned before? I started that with my then-partner, in part to show people that Orlando didn’t suck. We would always hear people describing Orlando in really unpleasant terms – locals and out-of-towners, alike. And we recognized the attitude because we also used to see our community in a negative light before we’d made the effort to look beyond the big box chains and strip malls and discovered how supremely fun, quirky, and engaged this city really was. And so that prevailing attitude was really starting to annoy us. Like, a lot. So we made a website and started using a cheeky hashtag to fight that story. And it started to catch on. And then I had a shirt printed for myself with the hashtag. And people wanted their own so we started printing more shirts. It turned out we weren’t the only ones sick of hearing people complain about our city. We’d stumbled upon a feeling that had been simmering for a while and, I’ll be honest, if we’d set out intending to make a (somewhat) viral campaign we would’ve absolutely failed. This worked precisely because it just grew organically and with very little strategy. Since then, we got busy being adults and the blog fell by the way-side. But the hashtag had a little life of its own (over a quarter of a million uses on IG as of now) and I still smile when I see it being used because it is a little symbol of Orlandoans hyping their city.
As for the shirts, they’ve been out of print for a long time, but we just partnered with Impress Ink and brought the shirts back for a limited run on OrlandoMerchStore.com with all of our proceeds going directly to a couple of great Orlando nonprofits, Hero Spark and Second Harvest Food Bank.
Q. Orlando has “grown up” so much in just a short time. What has been something you’re most surprised about?
A. I’ve been surprised that Orlando has kept such a deep sense of community as it’s grown so tremendously. Too often growth means the loss of connection, but that hasn’t been the case here. From the community’s response to the Pulse tragedy to our current COVID-19 situation, I’ve seen so many Orlandoans step up to support businesses and stand up for individuals that are struggling. And I’ve also seen so many business owners working together to collaborate and share learnings and resources during difficult times. With that being said, I really look forward to seeing Orlandoans continue to actively stand up for what they believe is right. In this community, where we are acutely aware of how bigotry can manifest into violence and terror, I’m encouraged to believe we will continue using our voices/wallets/votes to support our fellow Orlandoans and dismantle hatred, oppression, and racism.
Q. Do you have any “best kept” secrets for things to do in Orlando and the Central Florida area?
A. Oh gosh, so many!
To name a few:
– Catch a great indie flick at Enzian (drinks at Eden Bar before!).
– Stroll around Dickson Azalea Park with a picnic basket.
– Take your bike along the Orlando Urban Trail and grab the best burger in town at Orlando Meats, washed down with a mighty fine beer at GB’s Bottle Shop.
– Get your name on the list for an incredible, intimate, high-end Omakase sushi dinner (with Biggie playing over the speakers) at Kadence.
– Walk along Mills 50 on a Friday night going bar to bar and grabbing bites at some of Orlando’s best (super casual) eateries.
– With ~ 7 different lists, Lemonhearted (link) has the best spots for exploring beautiful walls, murals, and scenery in Orlando. The lists are posed as the most Instagrammable spots in town, but whether you want to snap a selfie or just explore some really great hidden spots of beauty, I’d recommend starting with these lists.
Q. What’s one thing you’re always sure to do or share with someone’s visiting from out of town?
A. I want to take them to Sunroom, Tori Tori, Lil Indies, or some other great, low-key cocktail spot. Those places are great for getting a feel for the creative community (people-watching!), and also shows them a chill vibe they may not expect in Mickey’s backyard.
Q. OK – one of my favorite questions: What are your go-to and just-can’t-live-without food places in town?
A. UM, this is one of my favorite questions to answer!
🍴 The Strand (everything on the menu. + the seasonal olive oil cake).
🍴 DOMU (those wings, thoooo).
🍴 Black Rooster Taqueria (fish taco forever).
🍴 Orlando Meats (the Medium Rare Burger is a masterpiece).
🍴 Seana’s (their “liqueid Gold” mac & cheese is a thing of beauty).
🍴 Hunger Street Tacos (best tortillas in town).
🍴 Vietnam Cuisine (their banh cuon will change your life).
And now I’m drooling.
Q. What are some of your favorite places in Orlando to be inspired, or just to be motivated?
A. I get so inspired sitting under the giant oak tree at Eden Bar, just outside of Enzian (local Indie movie theater and nonprofit). The creative energy there is nuts. (And the tiki drinks are stiff!)
Q. What is one thing you personally hope to achieve during the remainder of 2020?
A. This is a tough one. I just want to support local businesses as much as I can during this incredibly challenging time. I’ve been working on a #MeetTheOwners series on @YelpOrlando’s Instagram to help tell the stories of our great local biz owners as well as hosting virtual events to get folks inspired to continue patronizing these businesses from afar. Right now, my only goal is being a resource and hyping these businesses while we adjust to our evolving circumstances.
What did you think? Enjoy getting to know Andi? If you know someone who is “doing their thing” in the Central Florida area and might be a great consideration for an upcoming feature, drop a note telling us who and why using the following form: