Meet Sean O'Neill, creator of Winter Garden Rants, Raves and Reviews
| 8:13 a.m. October 1, 2015
West Orange Times & Observer
WINTER GARDEN Just 18 months ago, Sean O’Neill was sitting on his couch, bored.
And in that moment, he conjured up something in his mind that eventually would sap any down time the Winter Garden resident had.
O’Neill is the brains behind the über-popular Facebook group, Winter Garden — Rants, Raves and Reviews. Now bursting with more than 7,000 members, the group has become a regular platform for lively, local discussion.
The premise is simple: Group members are invited to add a rave, rant or review about a local business. Self-promotion is a no-no — O’Neill doesn’t allow a business to advertise itself.
A 20-year background in restaurant management gives O’Neill a unique perspective with which to curate the content in his group. Moreover, his current job as a locksmith adds to his understanding of quality customer service.
“I know what it’s like to run a restaurant — how it can go bad, how it can go good,” O’Neill said.
Since its inception, the page has contributed to the success of several local businesses. Winter Garden’s Bates New England Seafood & Subs was the first business that stole the group’s spotlight.
“It’s right there next to a Publix, and nobody would even know where (it is),” O’Neill said. “And ever since our page blew them up — you know business-wise — we’ve been throwing them on blast, and they’ve had to hire two new people.”
The Ocoee Taco Company opened a store location in April, after eight years of owning a food truck. Co-owner Julia Enamorado mostly had regulars from the food truck come to the store.
But then, the raves began.
“Little by little, my customers started telling me about the page,” Enamorado said. “I started seeing new faces.
“People really look at reviews,” she said. “They start talking and take pictures of the food.”
Now Enamorado turns the group to see what restaurants to try on her day off.
Some users complained about the “rants” section of the page, saying the rants hurt local businesses. But O’Neill doesn’t think it’s harmful.
“If you don’t know what’s wrong, you’ll never know,” he said.
O’Neill credits the explosion of the page in part to the effort he puts into it. Every day, he poses a daily question to the members of the group. He believes if people see that question, it draws them into scrolling down the group’s feed, where they can spend a lot more time exploring the posts.
“You have no idea how hard it is to post on there every day,” O’Neill said.
Occasionally, he will ask a professional to moderate a discussion. From 9 a.m. to noon, he or she will answer any question people have related to their expertise. Both business owners and group users really enjoy that, he said.
HARDER THAN IT LOOKS
Despite the page’s beginnings, O’Neill finds himself busy — and he’s usually not sitting bored on the couch. He is one of three administrators on the page, but the other administrators only step in when O’Neill absolutely needs the help.
His job as a locksmith is flexible and allows him to glance at his phone and manage the page when necessary. He claims to spend two hours a day on the page, but his wife, one of the page’s other administrators, would disagree.
O’Neill must vet posts to see whether they are ads or unrelated to the group. If they are unrelated, he sends the person who posted it over to another group — West Orange Residents Discussion — he created solely for discussion.
1. Winter Garden —Rants, Raves, and reviews members
“Sharing their thoughts, experiences, and stories about Winter Garden. We learn from each other. Without the input and time they have donated, we may not have learned about all the wonderful things in Winter Garden.”
2. Bates New England Seafood & Subs
“Until people started raving about this place, others may never have known. Until this group, I never knew what a lobster roll was. Most delicious sandwich I have tasted in a long time. The owners, Joe and Elaine, are a treat and show the passion they have for New England-style seafood.”
3. Ocoee Taco Company
“Before being introduced to this little slice of taco heaven, my version of a great taco was a soft shell steak taco at Taco Bell. I had no clue ... Mexican-style street food could be so tasty and addicting. The owners who run it, Francisco and Julie, are the nicest people in the world.”
4. Daniel’s Cheesesteak House
“Although Harold and his family have been selling cheesesteak sandwiches out of his store for (more than) 20 years here in Winter Garden, he only recently got noticed (because of) our group. He has the most amazing and freshly cooked cheesesteak sandwiches around. He also sells wings. The medium ranch wings are simply amazing.”
5. Get Hooked Bait & Tackle
“Rodney Hillerich owns and operates this little store. Not only does he sell bait and tackle, he also serves up some mean biscuits and gravy in the morning. What people may not know is that he gets dougnuts brought in daily from the local doughnut shop in Clermont, The Donut King.”
BONUS: 33 & Melt
“What a find this was. Gourmet grilled-cheese sandwiches. Who thinks of this stuff? What an amazing experience. This is a little restaurant in the Windermere Summerport Village that sells the most amazing, buttery, mouth-watering sandwiches. They have several different takes on what a grilled cheese is, and every one I have had is wonderful. My current favorite is ‘Mac The Knife.’ It is a grilled cheese with macaroni and cheese, gouda, bacon and some type of mystery drug that makes you want more.”