Stick­ers a mes­sage to the world

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Ben Cran­dell SouthFlorida.com

It’s a con­ge­nial af­fir­ma­tion, with per­haps a whiff of ad­mo­ni­tion, on the back of the car in front of you on Fed­eral High­way, and a moth­erly re­minder that may feel sneak­ily sub­ver­sive in the park­ing lot at Publix.

If the gen­e­sis of the ubiq­ui­tous “be nice” bumper sticker that has bonded a grow­ing com­mu­nity of South Florida mo­torists is a de­lib­er­ate mys­tery, its mod­est in­ten­tions are in plain sight.

“It’s a sim­ple mes­sage. We need to be nice. There’s noth­ing wrong with it. We need to re­mind our­selves some­times,” says El­liot Wolf of Be Nice Restau­rants, a group of seven Fort Laud­erdale eater­ies that be­gan with Co­conuts on the beach. “It makes peo­ple feel good, makes them smile. If you can put a smile on some­one’s face, why not?”

The sticker idea be­gan five years ago as a lark, Wolf says, just to see if any­one would ac­tu­ally put

them on their car.

It wasn’t part of any grand mar­ket­ing plan: The stick­ers in­cluded no web­site or phone num­ber for any of the restau­rants, just the words “be nice” on a clear back­ground. The ca­sual, hand­writ­ten ty­pog­ra­phy and all-low­er­case let­ters gave the mes­sage added hu­mil­ity.

Sasha Formica, mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor for Be Nice Restau­rants, placed the first or­der for 1,000 stick­ers, which are handed out to cus­tomers by re­quest. She soon learned she hadn’t or­dered enough. In 2018, the restau­rants have dis­trib­uted 11,000 stick­ers.

Formica fields emails ev­ery day with a re­quest for a sticker to be dropped in the mail.

“They’ll say some­thing like, ‘We like that state­ment’ or ‘I say that to my kids all the time.’ It’s that they share that belief, that motto,” Formica says.

“There are so many great peo­ple out there, and a lot of times the peo­ple who are not nice, the loud ones, over­shadow the nice peo­ple.”

Peo­ple also send her pic­tures of the “be nice” mes­sage’s mi­gra­tion far be­yond South Florida.

You’ll find the sticker posted on the Bea­tles’ famed Abbey Road in Lon­don, stuck to the touristy Gum Wall in Seat­tle, in the Ba­hamas and Ber­lin.

Su­san Pen­rod, who owns a Fort Laud­erdale pub­li­cre­la­tions firm, has started each day with the “be nice” mes­sage since she put a sticker on her bath­room mir­ror a few years ago.

“It’s a con­stant re­minder of how I treat peo­ple and how I want them to treat me. It’s just a great way to live your daily ex­is­tence,” she says.

Re­cently elected State Rep. Chip LaMarca had a “be nice” sticker promi­nently dis­played on his lap­top dur­ing his ten­ure on the Broward County Com­mis­sion. Each time he got a new com­puter, he went to one of Wolf’s restau­rants and got an­other sticker.

“I pur­posely put it on the top of it so that when peo­ple would go to the meet­ings or see the meet­ings cov­ered on TV they would see the top of the lap­top,” LaMarca says. “In the po­lit­i­cal world it’s not the worst thing in the world for some­one to re­mind each other to be nice.”

LaMarca plans to dis­play the mes­sage on his stateis­sued com­puter when the State House of­fi­cially con­venes in Jan­uary.

“Hope­fully no­body will say any­thing,” he says, laugh­ing. “I don’t know the rules there yet, but I think it’s bet­ter to ask for for­give­ness rather than per­mis­sion, es­pe­cially when you’re telling peo­ple to be nice.”

Be­fore Wolf be­gan run­ning his own restau­rants he worked for a na­tional chain that one day re­quested he fire one of his em­ploy­ees, a sin­gle mom who, Wolf says, did not de­serve to be fired. Wolf re­fused, and soon left the com­pany.

Just af­ter open­ing Co­conuts a decade ago, when a cus­tomer asked about his big-pic­ture plans for the place, Wolf said, “I just want to open up a restau­rant and be nice to peo­ple.”

Thus a pithy mis­sion state­ment was born. Wolf ac­knowl­edges the phrase also makes a saltier al­lu­sion to a clas­sic Pa­trick Swayze line, ob­vi­ous to “ev­ery guy in the world who has ever watched ‘Road­house’ and had a good laugh,” he says. “We’ve al­ways made that part of the fun side of it.”

As the stick­ers caught on, the mes­sage has been added to busi­ness cards, Tshirts and some walls in the restau­rants. Wolf ’s Top Hat Deli in down­town Fort Laud­erdale has an out­door mu­ral that in­cludes “be nice.”

Be­yond the pub­lic-fac­ing mes­sage, the words sym­bol­ize a cul­ture, Formica says. On the first day of train­ing at Co­conuts, Formica learned that a new em­ployee must mem­o­rize the names of ev­ery­one who works there, from the gen­eral man­ager to the dish­washer, and to ad­dress them by their names.

“The joke is that it takes El­liot 30 min­utes to get out of the build­ing be­cause he will go and say good­bye to ev­ery­one who’s work­ing that shift,” Formica says.

A greeter at Co­conuts, a high school se­nior at Pine Crest who just got ac­cepted to pres­ti­gious Bab­son Col­lege, wrote his col­lege es­say on his ex­pe­ri­ence at the restau­rant, Formica says.

Asked why he goes out of his way to make sure kind­ness gov­erns his busi­ness, Wolf seems not to un­der­stand the ques­tion. He comes from nice peo­ple, he ex­plains. It’s how his fa­ther and his fa­ther’s fa­ther treated peo­ple when Wolf was grow­ing up in Mi­ami. How else should one live?

“Peo­ple are valu­able. They’re pre­cious com­modi­ties,” Wolf says. “Look, we’re not per­fect. There are peo­ple out there that don’t like me, but for the most part we try to do the right thing by peo­ple. We try to do the right thing.”

SU­SAN STOCKER/SUN SEN­TINEL

El­liot Wolf, founder of Be Nice Res­tarant Group, serves cus­tomers at the Top Hat Deli, one of his com­pany’s seven restau­rants in Fort Laud­erdale.

BE NICE RESTAU­RANTS/COUR­TESY

Ubiq­ui­tous in South Florida, this be nice sticker found its way to the Bea­tles' iconic Abbey Road in Lon­don.

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