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Restaurant Marketing Entrepreneur Turns Lessons Learned at SJSU into Successful Venture

Dishcrawl founder Tracy Lee poses in The 88 Sales Center in downtown San Jose, while Dishcrawl participants eat food from the Oaxacan Kitchen Mobile in the background.

Tracy Lee poses during an April 26 Dishcrawl in San Jose, as patrons eat food from the Oaxacan Kitchen Mobile at The 88 Sales Center.

By Sarah Kyo, Public Affairs Assistant

The lobby of downtown San Jose’s condos buzzed with activity. On a windy April evening, 150 people gathered for dining and socializing at a few of East San Fernando Street’s foodie hotspots.

At the helm of the festivities was Tracy Lee, a SJSU alumna. Lee is the founder of Dishcrawl, a series of organized food events.

Participants walk to and experience different restaurants within the span of a few hours. Current locations include various Bay Area cities, Sacramento, Montreal, Ottawa and New York. Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. are upcoming sites, according to Dishcrawl’s website.

In 2009, Lee earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in marketing. Lee credits her SJSU education for some of her success.

“It wasn’t until I transferred to SJSU, I suddenly became an organizer,” Lee said. “I started organizing things and bringing people together.”

While enrolled in what she describes as “practical” and “high-level” courses, she started seeing that she was also developing strong leadership skills.

Lee said one of her most influential professors was Marilyn Easter, a professor of marketing and decision sciences. Lee was in Easter’s integrated marketing communications class.

“She was so precise about what we needed to do,” Lee said of Easter.

Easter noted that Lee always came to her class dressed professionally, as if attending “a high-level business meeting.”

“She was the most driven student I’ve ever met while at San José State University,” Easter said.

For the semester-long project in Easter’s class, small groups came up with products and designed marketing plans. Lee came up with the idea of selling jewelry and turned it into a full-fledged business.

“I was amazed, I was surprised and I was happy for her,” Easter said.

Lee said she wants to give back to her alma mater and would be interested in speaking to students about social media and entrepreneurship.  Lee advised students to apply what they learn in school to their job without being boxed in by those concepts, a lesson that she has applied to her own business.

“When I first started, I thought had to follow marketing guidelines,” Lee said. But “what we learn in school are guidelines, not strict, rigid rules.”

Dishcrawl started out as a marketing tool for a start-up website called Battledish, which provided a list of restaurant recommendations based on the user’s tastes. The marketing tool ended up becoming more successful and so popular that the business was re-launched within a couple weeks as Dishcrawl.

Lee described Dishcrawl as a fun way to bridge the gap between consumers and business owners through social media and bringing people together. She would like to see restaurants organizing similar events for marketing themselves.