People Pulse: Brendan O’Connor of Bungalower.com

Welcome to another edition of “People Pulse.” Always aiming to bring you interesting folks doing even more interesting things in the Orlando and Central Florida area, you’re gonna get a kick outta this one. Here we bring you Brendan O’Connor, of Bungalower.com. Brendan’s middle name should be Subtlety. If you know him even just a bit you’ll know this is entirely untrue…and thank goodness! Brendan is a hoot-and-a-half (maybe even two) and more than that he has a gigantic place in his heart for The City Beautiful and pours much of his life into supporting and promoting it. Buckle up and let’s take a look….

Q. What brought you to Orlando, and how long have you lived here?
A. I moved here about 13 years ago to work at Walt Disney World as an International Rep at Le Cellier Steakhouse in EPCOT. I was an authentic Canadian serving steaks to tourists during the day and then competing in hard-core drinking games at night versus the other EPCOT pavilions. It was so much fun. I met my man, Scottie Campbell, on the internet and he started taking me outside of the bubble and I kind of fell in love with Orlando and then went to night school at Rollins College for urban planning and environmental science.

Q.What’s one of your favorite things about living in Central Florida?
A. Haha Well, I grew up in Northern Ontario so obviously the weather here is amazing. I even love the afternoon thunderstorms. I send pictures of papaya trees and orchids to my family and friends back home during the winter just to rub it in. I’m still getting to know the local trails and tubing spots, though, and the more I get out to experience, the more I find to love. Like the scrub jays up at Lyonia Preserve – it’s such a unique, Florida-centric experience.

Q. For those who might be living under a rock, you are the Editor-in-Chief of the popular hyper-local website Bungalower.com (we featured Bungalower founder Matt Broffman a couple of years ago). How did that gig come about?
A. WELL, Matt offered the job to Scottie first, who actually recommended me for it instead. At the time I was working for Orlando Weekly as the Calendar Editor and low key hating it. I wasn’t that great at it as it’s just data entry, and I bumped heads with the publisher a few times so I was happy to take an opportunity when Matt extended one. At the time it was just the website and Facebook page but now we’ve grown it to a radio show on 104.1 FM, a monthly print product, a buy local program, regular events, and a killer Instagram page that I’m super proud of.

Q. What’s one of your favorite things about being the face of Bungalower?
A. Haha – I’m trying to not be “the face” of the media group as much as we grow. I think there’s a danger in having people think of one person when they think of us so I’m trying to prop other people as much as I can. I think that’s actually my favorite part of the job, is using Bungalower as a platform for other voices and talents in town. It’s been really good for me as a person and as a professional so I’m just trying to spread that wealth a bit. That being said, I do love getting invited to things before they open to the general public – art events with amazing out-of-towners like Nick Cave, speaking events like when Candy Chang was in town, restaurant openings. I love that shit.

Q. What do you feel is the greatest value Bungalower brings to the Central Florida community?
A. When Matt started Bungalower, nobody was really hitting the hyper-local beat. Orlando Weekly, Orlando Sentinel, the Orlando Business Journal, they all are regionally-focused media outlets because the further they spread out, the more advertising revenue they can bring in. The issue is, they can’t spend as much time focusing on smaller stories that affect people in a specific area, like downtown Orlando. So with us hitting that beat, and hitting it really hard like we do, we’ve kind of proven that the community will turn out and turn up and read and support us. We write about the news you can talk about at the dinner table with your family and friends, and things that downtowners really want to know about. With that, the larger outlets are totally essential components to a healthy community and we don’t cover things like politics, crime, and religion.

Q. Orlando has “grown up” so much in just a short time. What has been something you’re most surprised about?
A. I don’t think we’re really grown ups, though. The more you travel, the more you see that Orlando is in a really great place right now, but we have to push forward and keep growing. Orlando residents have a really blown up sense of pride about the City which is awesome, but it can stop us from asking critical questions about what should come next, and how we can really push ourselves to the next step. But to answer your specific question, I think I’ve been most surprised by people’s willingness to support new things. If you have an idea for something new, you can find support in town to make that idea into a reality. But I do think we collectively have a problem with constructive criticism. Haha – I do, too, sometimes.

Q. Do you have any “best kept” secrets for things to do in Orlando and the Central Florida area?
A. I’m surprised by how many people I meet have never gone tubing at a Florida Spring but who choose to shill out a lot of money to go to the local water parks. So gross. I’m also trying to work up the courage to paddleboard from Ivanhoe Village to Winter Park, which you can apparently do via some creeks and rivers and interconnected lakes, but I hear there are a few spider-clogged bridges in the way and I’m pretty sure I’m not brave enough to Frodo Baggins my way through that.

And at the risk of overwhelming you with a brain dump, I’d say … the wood carvings in the trees at Lake Baldwin Dog Park of people’s passed pets, the burgers at The Grub Hub Cafe at Renninger’s, Boom Art in Ivanhoe Village, the catacombs under the old Ivanhoe OUC energy plant, Sacks Grocery Liquidators on north Edgewater where you can get two jumbo boxes of Cheerios for like $1, the orange orchard at the Genius Preserve, the neon sign collection at the Morse Museum, and looking for goldfish in the stream at Dickson Azalea Park.

Q. What’s one thing you’re always sure to do or share with someone who’s visiting from out of town?
A. Brunching and shopping in Winter Park is always a fun way to show how poor I am compared to Central Florida rich people. I think we always take people pontooning on the St. Johns River, or skinny dipping at Playalinda Beach, too. If they’re hip to my grooves. I love going to Renninger’s in Mt. Dora if there’s an Extravaganza, too, or going for a drunken bike ride around town so my friends can see brick streets while drinking local brews.

Q. OK – one of our favorite questions: What are your go-to and just-can’t-live-without food places in town?
A. Haha this is so tough because we work with so many amazing local food people but my favorites at the moment include the chicken skin stick thing at Tori Tori, the biscuits at Soco, this duck stack thing at HÄOS on Church (which is amazing and has the same chef as Kres but with burlesque dancers), the blue cheese burger at The Grub Hub Cafe in Mount Dora, the pozole verde with a side of cilantro rise from Black Rooster Taqueria, anything with the sweet potato noodles from Bolay, the ANZAC cookie from Drunken Monkey, the Mama Ling Ling from Pom’s (but her regional Thai/Isaan cuisine is delicious too), paella from Bulla in Winter Park, those decadent donuts from The Salty Donut, the meatball sub from Stasio’s Italian Deli & Market, and anything from Mason Jar Provisions, Orlando Meats, and The Aardvark. The New Standard in Winter Park was selling an amazing DIY BLT kit at the height of the pandemic, too.

Q. What are some of your favorite places in Orlando to be inspired, or just to be motivated?
A. I think you could be inspired anywhere in town, really. Jon Busdeker, my cohost on “Bungalower and The Bus” took me to a park by Lake Ivanhoe on the western College Park side to record an episode once that kind of took my breath away. Kraft Azalea Garden in Winter Park does the same thing to me too, especially with that almost-cheesy Roman ruin setup in the middle that is almost too pretty. I like seeing other creatives doing their thing, so the McRae Artist Studios in Parramore is a bit of a soft spot for me, especially since I helped them get the building after they lost their home in Winter Park. The beach is always a good spot to recharge and unplug.

I’ve been known to find an excuse to get out of town and see what other people are doing too. I launched a day trip series for Bungalower just so I could do that. FORD used to loan us vehicles that I could take for a spin up to Daytona Beach to go vintage shopping or to stay at an Exploria Resort, or down to Kissimmee to see their awesome mural program. St. Pete is always an amazing place to visit too because their downtown is just way ahead of the game compared to us. The SHINE Mural Festival and their abundance of local retail just fires me right up.

Q. What is one thing you personally hope to achieve during 2021?
A. We’re really ramping up our Bungalower Buddy membership program at the moment to help support local businesses and to get our readers out there doing the same. So we’re looking at helping to curate more experiences that are safe, fun, and out-of-the-box that we can plug them into.

Personally, I’d love to do more art and more placemaking projects around town. We had a bunch of pokers in the fire before the pandemic that really delayed a lot of things but placemaking is a big passion of mine and I think the pandemic is just reminding me how important design is to quality of life issues. So here’s hoping I get to do more of it in 2021!

What did you think? Enjoy getting to know Brendan? 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 (that’s how we got to know Julie, remember?) and why using the following form:

What are your thoughts on this topic?

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