Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - August 6, 2010

Who ARE those guys?

Mobile marketers motivate motorists to munch

by Glenn Wohltmann

Drive around Pleasanton on a weekday at lunchtime and you'll see them, waving signs, sometimes jumping around.

By far, the most visible is Pleasanton's Mr. Pickle. While other stores in the Mr. Pickle's chain also have dancing pickles, Mr. Pickle here has acquired a following, with people waving and honking, and, more than once on a recent afternoon, calling out, "We LOVE you, Mr. Pickle!"

Pleasanton's only costumed hero -- as far as we know, anyway -- our Mr. Pickle is a dancing machine. For three to four hours, four days a week, he's on the move. In fact, that's how he got the job.

"I just said, 'If you give me this job, I promise to be very energetic,'" said Zach Persin.

When he's not a dancing pickle, Persin, 20, attends Las Positas College, where he studies animal science and animal biology. He declined to have a picture taken of him without the suit, which is understandable.

Some of Persin's patrons -- diners at the deli he dances to draw in -- worry about him. One concern is whether he drinks enough water.

"I sweat right through my shirt," he said.

He goes through three bottles of water a day, he explained, stopping his dance to sip from time to time

Mr. Pickle also patronizes the people who pay him, although he admits he'd only eaten there twice before getting the job.

Asked about the waving and beeping and the occasional shouts of admiration, Persin shrugs, although it's a bit hard to recognize the gesture through the pickle suit.

"I just always hear it," he said. "It keeps me going."

Mr. Pickle may be in a league of his own, but he's not the only act in town. On Main Street, 15-year-old Kacey Martinez waves a sign to hawk Round Table Pizza's lunch specials.

Martinez isn't as energetic as Persin, but he's still become a fixture on Main Street. His mother is Cheri VanBonkhorst, who manages the restaurant; she joked that sign waving was Martinez's "summer punishment." When he's not out in front advertising specials, he works inside the restaurant where it's cooler than standing on hot pavement on a summer day.

And across town, at the intersection of Bernal Avenue and Stanley Boulevard, one lonely man who asked not to be identified stands in the sun, waving a banner for Little Caesar's. He doesn't quite generate the enthusiasm of the other two but he does make the sign move.

Does it work?

Patrons, business owners and even the sign wavers say the signs are an effective strategy.

"People come in and say, 'Yeah, can I have what's on the sign?'" Martinez said.

Jeej Singh, manager on duty at Little Caesar's, said he can tell the difference in lunchtime sales between Pleasanton, where sign waving is allowed, and another store in Dublin, where it isn't.

"How they dress, how they act in the street, people notice that," Singh said, adding it helps if the sign offers a good deal.

And diners at Mr. Pickle's -- the same ones who worried Persin wasn't drinking enough water -- said it was Mr. Pickle who brought them in.

"I hadn't been here before. Mr. Pickle's was, and he was right there, pointing me to the entrance," said Carol Erickson.

Can Persin see any way of tying his job as a dancing pickle to his studies in college?

"Not a chance," he said.

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