COLUMBIA — It's not that Kurt Mirtsching isn't used to being busy. After all, he's a restaurant manager.
But he had a particularly frantic few hours Saturday morning: He posted the "Good Morning America" homepage link on Shakespeare's website and Facebook page, fired off the restaurant's newsletter and made plans to Tweet each hour between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. to get out the vote for Shakespeare's in the TV competition, "Best Bites: College Edition."
The contest featured four restaurants in college towns, chosen for their food and "college hangout" atmosphere. In an early morning segment Saturday, the show's anchor and general correspondent Ron Claiborne, was shown eating a beef, bacon, chicken finger, jalapeño, and mozzarella sandwich called the Fat Doboy, from Sandwich University (Morgantown, W. Va.); a sausage, BBQ, cheese and onion sub called the Brent Nelson, from Ol Stuga (Lindsborg, Kan.); a bacon, ham, onion, Swiss and American cheese and chili omelet called the Chef Special, from The Camellia Grill (New Orleans); and Shakespeare’s Masterpiece pizza topped with sausage, Canadian bacon, ground beef, pepperoni, mushrooms, black olives, red onions, and green peppers.
Then the show's hosts in the studio ate the same signature dishes live — no ordinary breakfast.
“I shipped them a frozen Masterpiece,” Mirtsching said with a nervous chuckle.
Claiborne asked viewers to go to the show's website to help pick a winner. The winner will be announced during the "Good Morning America" Sunday edition, which starts at 7 a.m.
At 7:20 a.m. Saturday before the clip aired, 627 people had already voted, and by 8 a.m. the number had risen to 2,280. But there was no way to see on the website how many votes each restaurant had.
Mirtsching had been keeping an eye on the competition’s Facebook sites. He said that if social media buzz is any indicator, then Shakespeare’s had a good shot.
Saturday morning, Shakespeare’s Facebook page had 22,761 “People Like This,” Ol Stuga had 1,998 “People Like This,” Sandwich University had 494 “People Like This,” while The Camellia Grill, whose page is not set up as a business, had 4,514 friends and 679 “likes.”
In social media and geography, Shakespeare's closest competitor was Ol Stuga. For 33 years, Owner Mark Lysell has concocted original sandwiches for customers — like Brent Nelson, for whom the competition sandwich was named. Nelson was a customer who kept coming back and asking for the same combination, then sent in friends who did the same.
Ten years later, the "Brent Nelson" was officially added to the menu. Lysell said he was hopeful the sandwich would lead Ol' Stuga to victory but said the odds were against them. Bethany College in Lindsborg has just 600 students and a population of around 3,300, Lysell said.
While the Shakespeare's virtual “event” was meant to remind people to vote, Mirtsching also invited fans to show up at 7 this morning to watch the show, eat bagels and drink coffee.
Friends of Mirtsching felt confident about winning because of Columbia’s dedicated community.
“Columbia as a community has always supported itself…Columbia comes together on national competitions," Scott Meier, a Mizzou alumnus, said.
For example, Big Brothers Big Sisters, University of Missouri’s Alumni Association, Columbia Public Schools and Heart of Missouri United Way had all sent out mass emails reminding people to vote, said Meier and Sean Spence, another Mizzou graduate.
Jessica Weir, a Shakespeare’s manager who had watched the show at home but was at work at 8 a.m. Saturday, said Shakespeare’s fans on Facebook, in the community and all over the world will help.
“I was in Australia a couple of years ago with a Shakespeare’s T-shirt on, and somebody recognized it," Weir said. "I am confident that we can win.”
To the anonymous essay writer who put Shakespeare’s in the competition, Mirtsching said, “Thanks!”