A targeted ad from Applebee's popped up on Kevin Matuszak's Facebook feed. Matuszak, a 25-year-old Temple alum, "liked" the ad, which hawks a new appetizer by making light of Philly's proclivity for soft pretzel consumption. Then he commented, positing that Applebee's should hire him to be the face of the company, or at least the GM of a location in Tempe, Arizona.
Just a few weeks later, Applebee's reached out and Matuszak has an interview to become the new company spokesman. The idea is that he'll be touring the country in a van or a bus or a Wienermobile—something—to see what's really eatin' good in the neighborhood. But, right now, he's not even sure if they're going to fly him out to Kansas City for his interview. Welcome to 2012, where you land a shot with a massive, national restaurant chain by trolling them on Facebook and then audition via Skype.
After his initial posts gained a bit of traction, someone dubbed over the now infamous (thanks, SNL) Brad Pitt Chanel commercial to make it sound as though the Killing Them Softly actor was endorsing Matuszak's bid for the Applebee's gig. There are now four or five #HireKevin support songs posted to YouTube and Matuszak made a video himself, in which the people of Philly endorse him as the next spokesman of Applebee's.
He tried this once before, kind of. Years ago, he suggested that Taco Bell make him their spokesman, but it was really just a gag (this was before the company returned to prominence with the legendary Doritos Locos Taco). Back then, it was just something to do. He'd take the occasional shot at a major company, or make fun of Snooki's baby to see whom he could get a RT from.
"Troll" is a strong word, though, because this Applebee's thing is like a passion project for Matuszak, who talks about the restaurant's menu with authority. He says to try the Napa Chicken & Portobellos—swears it's a delicious, low-cal option. Matuszak also recalls a night or five when he ended up at an Applebee's and may have been too drunk to taste this chicken.
"One time, I went to Parx casino," he says. "It was me and two buddies. There's an Applebee's there and we figured we'd grab dinner before we went out gambling. We ended up getting drunk and staying at Applebee's until 1 a.m. because we were having fun and there were so many people there. Never made it to the casino."
Matuszak, an Archbishop Ryan grad who sells ads for 94WIP, doesn't exactly have an image that screams "Northeast Philly."
"I get defined as the rare Pokémon of Northeast Philly," he says. "Most people rock sweatpants, but I wear jeans, a V-neck and a beanie. Though, I do own a pair of Jordans. Sometimes I get called a metrosexual."
Matuszak isn't exactly your typical ad salesman. He works out at Aqua Swim Club where he claims, "the median age is, like, 52" and he spent time as a cardiac tech assisting in open heart surgery. He's dabbled in stand-up comedy for the past few years and says that he works with Joe Conklin whenever possible. Michael Ian Black—a writer and comedian who, at one point, was the face of the now-extict Sierra Mist campaign—is somewhat of an inspiration for Matuszak, who's deeply fascinated by Twitter.
"Kim Kardashian can tweet 'Good morning.' And get six million retweets," Matuszak says. "I could tweet the joke of my life—something I poured myself into—and lose a follower. That's just how it works."
"You have to be able to stay positive and get people to respond," he says of social media interaction. (You can follow him on Twitter at @Tooozy)
As for his current bosses, Matuszak says one thinks #HireKevin hilarious, but suggested that he tread lightly because the campaign could jeopardize his job. The other boss gets it, but made sure that Matuszak knows he can't be shopping #HireKevin when he's supposed to be selling ads for WIP. "They're the coolest bosses ever," he says. "If I didn't respect them like I do, I would have left a long time ago."
Matuszak wants out of sales. He enjoys his time on stage and likes doing comedy, but swears he's got one focus right now, and that's Applebee's.
"Right now, my goal is to nail this interview and become the face of Applebee's. My job would be to make Applebee's cool again."
That hardly seems like a reach for Matuszak, either. While at the Center City Applebee's for an interview for this piece, Matuszak introduced himself to the manager on-duty, talked his way behind the bar for a few photos, and flirted with the bartender, Jacque Brown.