Shawn Walchef is the owner of Cali BBQ which is a company that not only sells memorable slow-smoked BBQ but also specializes in media and marketing. He is the host of the podcast, Digital Hospitality, which features in-depth conversations about what successes and failures propelled their guests to where they are today. Shawn and I talked about how to market in today’s world, the future of restaurants, ghost kitchens, how to create a memorable online experience and so much more.
So the game plan is slow. Food fast, really what’s happening now is there’s a great race. all the smart brands of restaurants are converting to drive through converting, to take out models, converting to better menus, ignoring the digital side and the online side of business, especially for food and beverage, it would be to people’s detriment. So we’re going to build a primary smokehouse. That’s going to help us service at least five to 10 micro locations in San Diego and those locations will be based off of search results, not the location, location, location. And we’re going to go into places that typically are underserved.
I got Sean Walchef here with me on the Establishing your Empire podcast. Thank you for so much for joining me today. I’m excited to have you here. My first question is, you know, actually let’s give a little background about who you are and what you do, Darren. I appreciate you having me on, I am a barbecue media owner.
I own a single unit barbecue restaurant. We’ve become a media brand, in the hospitality space. I also have a podcast called digital hospitality. So. We are overly obsessed with digital storytelling and empowering business owners to learn how to do it for themselves. the same way we were able to grow our $300,000 business, 18 employees to 64 employees pre COVID.
3.3 million in sales as a single unit restaurant and sports bar. we also pivoted during COVID COVID, and now we’re operating three times more profitable than we ever have. We’re opening up a ghost kitchen. We’re documenting that process all along the other, all along the way. So business owners can learn how to do it.
the things that we’re doing successfully and our failures as well. but no, I’m really excited. I’ve been listening to your podcasts, before this show and, I, I knew we had a connection. I knew I liked how you roll and I love how you’re giving back to entrepreneurs. People that are curious. I mean, if we get down to the heart of the matter, Digital storytelling, whether it’s in video form, audio form, written word or images, we all decide what we do with our time.
We’re all at attention merchants. So what we do with our time, where we choose to get involved, read a book, follow up with an email, follow up with a direct message, send a tweet. we all get to pick that. What I love to pick is things that compel me and move me. And, that’s why we’re here on this podcast today.
talking during movies, I was on, your boy, it was podcast who was absolutely Jepsen. Yeah. Jason is I, I listened to his episode with you too. And that it it’s, it’s phenomenal to me. When you get into long form storytelling, how much you can learn about somebody that, you know, I mean, I know you and Jason know each other, but.
When I interview someone on digital hospitality that I grew up with, that’s building, you know, cloud beds. Adam Harris is the CEO. It’s the top tech hospitality. Software that’s available for the hotel industry. I mean, he’s just absolutely crushing it. but to sit down and interview him for the podcast, I learned stuff about him that I would never have learned in any other form, unless I sat down to do it for a podcast.
So grateful to have you on, grateful that I’m here on the show and, excited to, to hopefully get compel somebody that’s listening to this podcast to get involved. I mean, that’s ultimately the, the. The game is getting involved. Staying curious gets you here, get you listening to the podcast, but if you don’t actually follow up and send that email, send that tweet, ask for help.
then the magic doesn’t happen. It’s all about creating those OSHA internet moments. I, I mean, I love that. That’s a great way to start the podcast. My first real question is, and you kind of already answered it a little bit. Is. Why does, you know, restaurant owner, barbecue place get into, the digital hospitality, the podcasting business, the media business, right?
So we opened in 2008 at the height of the other economic recession, the big crash. And, it was me and one of my best friends from college, Corey Robinson, we were doing real estate, some residential commercial real estate beforehand. But we had an opportunity to take over an existing liquor license, full liquor, beer wine, and it was in a part of San Diego that most real estate professionals, most restaurant professionals would say, that’s not a place to go to.
It’s always location, location, location, and that’s pre digital, which we’ll get into later, but location, location, location for offline businesses for the traditional real estate model. Is about traffic, right? It’s about where’s high visibility, high traffic, but that also leads to high rent rates. We had an opportunity to open up in an underserved part of San Diego.
So East County, San Diego, about 15 minutes East of Petco park, downtown San Diego in a eclectic part of the town. You know, there’s industrial, there’s commercial, there’s rural, there’s tire shops, liquor stores, but there really isn’t a family friendly sports bar and that’s what we were trying to do. So we opened up.
In 2008 and we failed a lot. It was very hard to turn an existing breakfast business into a dinner business sports bar in a part of town where people just didn’t think about going out in the nighttime to go have a beer or to have dinner with their family. typically it’s just only been a breakfast business.
we turned into a barbecue restaurant about a year or two years in didn’t know, one thing about barbecue. The fact that a San Diego restaurant is talking about barbecue is talking about a slow smoking craft, barbecue cooking on old Hickory pits, doing barbecue the right way. I mean, I had to reach out to an expert and Jean was my expert.
He taught us. He helped us put on an amateur barbecue contest, which helped us raise money for local youth sports. And you know, this digital hospitality journey has been out of necessity, pure necessity to how do we market? How do we brand ourselves? So people give a shit about us. we’re a small business and in order to survive in order to pay payroll, in order to, you know, do the things that we want to do, people have to care, back to attention.
You know, they, they have to care. Obviously we have to have a great product and we have to kill it on hospitality. But the branding and marketing side really what happened from 2008, when we opened to now has been the growth of the smartphone. The iPhone came out in 2007. You know, that is not a long time.
The first iPhone 2007, we’re here now. It’s election day. It’s November 3rd. When we’re recording this podcast, it’s going to be available on demand. But I phone 12. We’re already at iPhone 12, but we take technology for granted, whether you are an iPhone user or an Android user, whether you like Facebook, you hate Facebook.
We take technology for granted and as an offline business, what we learned is that there’s customers online. So that’s the thesis of digital hospitality is every business needs to be digital. You need to be digital first. You need to understand that customers that are on those places, like Yelp, like Twitter, like next door, like Google, like Apple, like all these different things that happen.
If your business isn’t there, you’re essentially irrelevant. Like that’s the location, location, location that’s happening. And it’s in the digital space. So you’ve got to do it on both fronts. And I know it’s. Overwhelming at times. once you start getting deep, I know your background is in, actually helping businesses build their digital infrastructure.
And I can only imagine the conversations that you’ve had in the last 10 years, trying to convince businesses that this was coming. COVID is only sped up what we all knew was already happening and that’s that the internet is at a place of scale. but it also means that your business needs to be searchable.
When somebody is searching on Yelp, you need to be there. And I think there’s also a lot more to it than just getting the customer in the door with, with technology. There’s a lot of ways to make their experience a better experience. You know, I, I started to get excited about cause COVID is moving things forward very rapidly of like the simple thing of paying your bill, you know, digitally real quick.
So you don’t have the, the, the waiter doesn’t have to come back and forth three times. There’s going to be a lot of those things happening. Well, let’s, let’s go back a little bit. Why restaurants? You know, why did you get in the restaurant business in the first place? Because that’s not an easy business.
I’ve worked in restaurants plenty of times, especially growing up in college and high school. It’s not fun. So, I never, I never met my father. I’ve seen two pictures of my father. my mom had me when she was young and it was probably the biggest blessing in my life that she had me when she was young and my grandfather, her, her father.
Told her to move back to San Diego, to LA Jolla so that he could help raise me. And my grandfather was an immigrant. He was born in Bulgaria, in a village in 19, 19. He was born and destined to be a farmer. literally that was his life path. but there was an American that came to his village, by the name of Dr.
Haskell that established an agriculture school for children. So essentially he was teaching children and teaching the farmers education to help them farm better. But this gift that he gave to my grandfather was this love of learning. And this love of curiosity. And my grandfather just fell in love with the fact that there was a man who had a bicycle and no one else in the village had a bicycle.
Well, why did he have a bicycle? It was because he had an education. So he wanted to learn. He wanted to read, and he started reading every single book in the village, which led him down the path to go into the next village and asking for more books. he became the best student in his class, skipped a grade in Bulgaria and applied for medical school in, in Bulgaria.
He got rejected, even though he was the best in his class because of the power structure, because he didn’t have the money because he came from a village, he got rejected. So, what did he do? He went and he said, well, I’m still going to be a doctor. How can I become a doctor? There were great medical schools in Germany.
He didn’t know a word of German. He had somebody help him translate the application so that he could actually get in, apply to medical school in Germany. He applies to medical school in Germany, not knowing any German. So literally he was, I went through study German to study medicine and he did this all during world war II.
this was the basis. This is the patriarch. This is the person that raised me, in lawyer, in LA Jolla, in a privileged, background where I was very fortunate to have the best education that he could provide for me. I was the eldest of seven grandkids and, you know, my path was how can I do good in school to either become a medical doctor or become a, an attorney?
I studied for the LSATs and I didn’t do as well as I thought I should do. and I got rejected from all three law schools in San Diego. it was more devastating for me than it was probably, it was more devastating to tell him that I didn’t get in than it was for me to accept the rejection. I still have those rejection letters that are hanging right over on in front of my desk.
But that kind of just gets back to how did I get into hospitality? Where was my life path? We all go down these different paths. And you know, one of the things that I was fortunate, I was having this father figure, really towards the end of his life, wanting to share his story. he started, he was a medical doctor after he retired from being a medical doctor, he got into real estate development.
He, built an assisted care facility, built a con couple condominium complexes, single family, residential. but he built a restaurant that he leased out. And eventually when I was in eighth grade, we took over that restaurant. not as a place to make money, but a place to keep the kids working. he was old school that way.
So eighth grade on the weekends, I would go bus tables and wash dishes. something that I truly did not enjoy doing and resented and despised, because all my friends were playing sports. They were all going to the beach. They’re all doing their thing. But ultimately it was one of the greatest gifts that he could have given me, primarily because it taught me what hospitality is.
It taught me that when you’re at a place where people come and they gather, for all different types of reasons is whether it’s a celebration, whether it’s a celebration of life. whether it’s just another Monday, people come and they gather over food. And you can make that a memorable experience and that can be impactful for a family.
just in one part of the day. And I went to school, I thought I was going to take business classes. None of the business classes resonated with me. none of them made me more curious, made me want to get involved. Sociology did, in explaining sociology degree to my grandfather was a difficult conversation because how are you going to, what are you going to do with that?
but nonetheless, he still supported me and it got me to the point where I was doing commercial real estate with one of my closest friends from college. And we had an opportunity to take over this business, this business that I grew up in, we sold the property to another business, another development group, and they had a couple tenants that were doing a terrible job running the restaurant and, Corey and myself, we said, You know, let’s take this liquor license and build a sports entertainment, destination, family-friendly sports, entertainment, destination.
the place has always been great with breakfast. Didn’t have a dinner, didn’t have, a bar. and we said, why don’t we do it? And that led us down that entrepreneurial Oh, shit moment where you jump off the cliff and you try to figure out, well, how are we actually gonna make this thing work? Yeah.
Something real quick. I at. At 13 years old, I worked in a restaurant was where I first started. My whole family worked in this one restaurant that it was a family friend in Boston tables, dishwasher, move up to waiter right then cook. But, you know, it’s a whole different, you know, I think you came from it with a, you know, with it being your family ran.
I think there’s probably some, you know, romanticism about it, right. Of being able to serve people, food to people, what I’ve taken from it is the hospitality. How to talk to anyone like the sh very short conversations to make those Interestings, which helps when, especially when you’re like, you know, I’m married now, but when I was single, you’re pretty good at, you know, short conversations.
And, the other thing is, is now I enjoy cooking a lot. Right. it’s a little easier when you’re cooking for two people instead of 200, but so let’s, let’s talk about COVID, let’s dive in. Cause I think that’s probably something that you’ve talked about a lot, right. how were you guys hit? And obviously you did some pivots.
So let’s talk about what you guys did. What’s been successful and what’s actually been very difficult. Yeah. So, March 17th was the order from, governor Gavin Newsome, which was that we were going to have to shut down, indoor dining and only essential services, which was takeout or delivery, which is something that we are, we had already been planning for.
We had saw it, we saw the writing on the wall that, this thing was getting a little bit out of control and we need to do what we can to protect our own, which is our staff and our guests. And. It was the most difficult day on March 17th, a day. That’s typically filled with, St. Patty’s day celebration, March madness, a full bar, a full staff, green beer, filling out brackets, to go onto social media, go on Twitter, go on Facebook, go on Instagram.
And basically just ask the community for help. say that, you know, we had to lay off 29 employees, people that are family, people that we love. Servers bartenders back of the house. we kept a core staff of about 27 laid off 29 and, just basically went all in on what we were already doing, which is digital.
focusing on third-party delivery. We were already set up with door dash. We added grub hub and Uber eats. we started figuring out, how do we optimize our mobile first website? we got to the point where we decided that in order to build the digital business that we wanted, we needed a primary technology partner.
And we partnered with toast toast allowed us to create that mobile first site that allowed managers, and my team, my Cali BBQ media team to update content as needed as we saw fit. that wasn’t, we weren’t able to do that with Aloha, which was our point of sales system beforehand. So we kind of just, we went all in on this digital restaurant and we reduced our menu by 90%.
like I said, we already reduced our staff, but we’ve really focused on what do we do best and that’s barbecue. And we’d cook, slow, smoked barbecue. it takes time to cook barbecue. It takes expertise. It’s taken us 13 years to get to where we are to learn how to slow smoke ribs, cook brisket the right way.
cook cooked, pulled pork, how to make, you know, everything that we have as far as sides go from scratch and how to create a great experience when someone picks that up. And when it travels, you know, that’s a big piece of what’s happening is a lot of restaurants aren’t set up for to go. because of their menu offerings, we just made sure that we were going to give the best possible service, when somebody ordered through their phone, when they came to pick it up, how are we going to integrate the technology partners that we have to notify guests, that their order is ready, to make sure that when someone comes from Uber eats or third-party delivery, that they actually ordered from a different side of the restaurant.
So there was a different window for them to pick up, because. Let’s face it. When you’re dealing with digital sales, it’s hard to explain to somebody that’s physically in front of you that somebody else ordered before someone else, like when you’re, when you order something digitally, there’s no way to skip the line.
I mean, yes, you could bump the order technically, but we’re going to make it as it’s received. So when somebody comes and they order at the restaurant in person, and it takes a half an hour on a mother’s day, because there’s not many restaurants opened during mother’s day. It’s always the most busy day of the year, to see somebody from door dash, come and pick up the food and 15 minutes, explaining that to them.
Doesn’t make much sense, especially when people are hungry and they’re trying to feed mom and take care of mom. Boston seems like that’s a traffic flow that just keeps, keeps it open for the, for the new customers coming through. So, so it sounds like you are open physically. Now we are open still for delivery and, pickup only, we’re also doing cocktails to go, which was a regulatory relief from the department of alcoholic beverage control in California.
I’ve know a lot of other States did it as well. Yeah, they did it here in Texas. Do you think that’ll stay around? I hope so. We’re, we’re advocating for it. We’re going to do whatever we can to push on the media side and the partnership side. I know there’s a lot of incredible restaurants and bars that have been able to be successful to continue to sell alcohol and sell craft cocktails to go.
it’s something that I really hadn’t thought about until the law changed was how much people appreciate a properly made margarita and how great our bar staff are at preparing cocktails with, right. Proportions, right. Amount of ice, right. Amount of garnish, and just somebody else doing it for you. Or like, I don’t for the margarita.
I don’t have Margaret as often, but sometimes it won’t one. And I don’t want to buy all that stuff for one margarita for every seat, six weeks, you know, like, and, you know, especially during COVID there, it was just like, Literally just to not have to do the same thing. You’ve done 40 times. You know, I’m not a huge, I’m not into a lot of these sugary cocktails and stuff, but you know, if it’s a hot day and I might want one, you know, and it it’s been really nice to have that to go.
Cause it is sometimes the experience is the restaurant experience is a drink as well. Right? It’s not just the food, it’s usually the ambience, the drink and the, and the food. And sometimes it can obviously get the. The, in-person the way it feels to be there, but, you know, we can get at least two or three.
what about, so what do you feel like your next, I don’t know, three months, six months. One year where everyone take it, like what’s, what’s what’s the game plan. So the game plan is slow food fast. really what’s happening now is there’s a great race. That’s happened. I mean, digitally that’s been happening, but more specifically in the restaurant space, hospitality space, all the smart brands of restaurants are converting to drive through converting, to take out models, converting to better menus, Panera bread just announced that they have markets where they’re selling beer and wine, because they can do that to go.
They can do that for pickup. if you just look at, you know, if I look at my own buying habits, I have a son that’s three years old. I have a daughter that’s one. we just moved to a different part of San Diego. and during coronavirus we’ve been ordering more takeout than we ever have. you know, from local restaurants, from chain restaurants and seeing how are they doing their packaging?
How are they doing their menu items? these are all things that are going to change. people’s experience of how do I eat food? How do I get food? well, there will always be. Face-to-face like we will get through coronavirus and we’ll get to the point where we gather again and there’s groups and there’s events and there’s bars and there’s restaurants, but ignoring the digital side and the online side of business, especially for food and beverage.
It would be to people’s detriments. So everything that we’re doing is building the digital infrastructure. That’s going to help us not just sell more barbecue, cook more barbecue at a primary location. So we’re going to build a primary smokehouse. That’s going to help us service at least five to 10, micro locations in San Diego.
And those locations will be based off of search results, not the location, location, location, that traditional real estate. landlords commercial real estate brokers are going to pitch. we’re going to go into places that typically are underserved and we’re very confident in underserved markets because we’ve been able to do that for the last 13 years, on the backs of all these smartphone technology.
Yeah. Kind of sounds like the food truck to point out, right. That the thing that the food trucks did is they were able to change the locations, but also. Get into a spot that people wanted food and certain types of food, but you know, it didn’t have a, you know, either too expensive or, you know, could be underserved area or whatever it would be.
so, and I think you kinda already answered this a little bit. What Bella was going to ask is like, so what advice would you give somebody who wanted to open a restaurant now? Right. And I think it is, or it is what you’re, what you’re saying is like, you know, choosing. To look at digital first is interesting.
Right? Cause I don’t think that anybody would have been doing that a year ago. Correct. And I think that’s the most important thing is that a lot of the headlines are obviously a lot of the closures, a lot of the bankruptcies, a lot of the small businesses that are going out of business, but from what I see, I mean, it’s, you know, It’s what I think about every single day and night when I wake up in the morning when I go to sleep at night, but it’s how, not just restaurants and bars, but how are businesses in general, adapting to this offline world and the online world?
How are we creating digital hospitality? Because customer service is bullshit. I’m gonna just going to say that straight out is because customer service in the retail sense, it’s the reason why we care about restaurants. We care about bars is that it’s hospitality. We’re talking about how do you feel.
We talk about all the five senses. How do you anticipate needs? How do you know that somebody wants a refill on their ice tea before they ask for the refill? How do you know that we want to put the kids’ food in before? Because that way the parents don’t have to, you know, hear screaming kids. They actually can feed their kids because it went in as an appetizer.
Those are things that we teach our staff. Those are the things that we hire for. those are the things that digitally. Have been ignored traditionally. Now they’re more on the forefront. So what we talk about with digital hospitality is everyone’s been into a restaurant at some point and saw a sign that says, please see yourself.
That sign is literally a hospitality hack, so that please seat yourself, or please wait to be seated. The reason why a restaurant operator puts that sign out is because they want to reduce payroll during non-peak hours. So during non-peak hours, they’re not going to pay for someone to be at the front of the restaurant, or they’re going to pretend that a manager is going to cover the front of the restaurant.
We all know what happens when you walk into a restaurant, it says, please seat yourself. You feel empowered. Okay, great. Now I get to pick where I want to sit and you go and you sit there and what happens? You get shitty service, you get shitty hospitality and you get shitty service. Because the server is either on break the servers in a section that’s too big for them.
there’s a lot of different things that happen in this full service restaurant model that technology now is embracing. So what we talk about is when somebody opens up a restaurant, they spend so much time, so much money, so much effort, blood, sweat, tears to decorate every single room in that restaurant.
To paint the walls, to put tables, to put chairs, to make sure the music is right to make sure the menu is right. The, you know, the staff was wearing the right uniform. Well, what are they doing digitally? Because every single room, if you think of Facebook, if you think of Yelp, if you think of Twitter, if you think of next door, if you think of Google maps as a room in your restaurant are restaurant owners claiming those rooms and having somebody there available for the guests that are interacting there, chances are most of them aren’t.
The ones that are winning right now. Yes they are. And they get it. And that’s what excites me is that, as restaurant owners, we’re, you know, we, we have a special skill set of caring about people in ways that most traditional retail businesses don’t have to, the retail businesses will catch on the best brands that are winning right now.
Understand digital Haas, whether they call it digital hospitality or not, that’s what happens. Like, they’re not doing marketing in the sense of they’re advertising on commercials or radio or. Flyers, they’re creating something that’s so compelling that you and I, we share it on our Instagram feed. We share it on Twitter.
We talk about it. We post it on Facebook. Like the amount of the amount of interactions of me seeing somebody else’s Peloton bike. Before I convinced my wife that we’re going to buy a Peloton bike because we’re saving money since we’re not joining the gym right now, and we’re not paying for it and we’re going to pay it off.
And then now that I have a Peloton and I’m posting about Peloton and other people, I mean, I’m selling a Peloton bike. Why because they have an incredible business. It’s a hardware business, it’s a software business, it’s a lifestyle business. It’s a media business. It’s a technology business. That’s an incredible company.
Yeah. So, and I think a lot, what we’re seeing when you were talking about a lot of people closing down is, you know, you either have to evolve or die in the restaurant business, I think has been behind. A lot of other areas, like obviously tech businesses are they’re up and up on changing and pivoting.
What advice would you give somebody? Who’s had a, he had a restaurant for 30, 40 years and they’re struggling, you know, like what would be one thing they could do real quickly to try to get in more of this digital space, right. I mean, number, number one, you have to own your website. So the problem right now with digital marketing and social media marketing and internet marketing, and thinking about that is it’s very complicated and the languages that people use, they use specifically to make it more complicated to make you think, you know, the same way an attorney is going to start speaking and lawyer talk so that you think that, you know, you’re paying for something.
The more that we break down communication into, what is it and why is it important? Your website is what you own. Your website is your e-commerce platform. That’s how somebody is going to interact with your brand. That’s how all the search engines are going to find you. But if you’re creating content for your website in the form of audio, video, written word and images, and you’re updating that every single day and then distributed it for social, because social media is very important because that’s where everybody is.
But nonetheless, you can’t just rely on just Facebook. I mean, I can’t tell you how many restaurant owners they have that they’ll only post on Facebook and then Facebook they’ll talk shit about Yelp yet. All these people on Yelp are searching exactly for their business. And it’s a business page that they haven’t claimed for free.
Literally for $25 a month, they could feed you. Sure. The photos and make a sexy Yelp page, respond to Yelp reviews for something that, whether they do it or whether someone on their staff does it. These are the new job codes that are changing. It’s not just, I’m a server in the restaurant, or I’m a host or I’m a manager like no it’s offline and online.
You have to know how to update a photo. You have to know how to update your toast menu item. You have to know that that also has to be updated on Uber eats like there’s resources for people to find. And I think the biggest challenge is if you’re listening to the podcast, you’re curious, but now you need to get involved.
You need to get involved and you need to ask for help. there are so many people that are proficient, what you do as a company. I mean, I, the S the, the websites that you build are phenomenal. I couldn’t be more impressed. I don’t know if I’ve seen a better podcast website than yours. Anybody that’s listening to his podcasts, please go on his website and see, this is how you lay out content in a way that’s visually compelling.
I mean, I feel like I’m looking at, I was talking to Stover. Who’s my producer for Kelly BBQ media, and we. Talk about all the podcasts that I’m going on, but it’s an Apple experience. And back to the Pelotonia experiences, how is that experience? How are you showing up? You’re showing up by the look in the field.
And now whenever I’m talking to another podcast about their website, these people are spending time, effort to research guests to produce audio content, but. How are they presenting their guests and that content online that matters. So not all podcasters, probably 90% of them don’t care like you and I care about this work that we’re doing this interview that you and I are doing.
Well, and, sorry, sorry to interrupt. I always hate that. It’s always tough on the virtual, right. So though, you know, with my podcast websites, obviously I make websites, so there’s a certain pride there, but I also, I believe I always, I always have to think about like, what’s what do you want the customer experience to be when they come to the website?
And who are you making this for? So I actually made the website for the guests, meaning I want somebody that, you know, who doesn’t know who I am. To be excited too. If when I ask them to be on the show that they get excited to be on the show, or they’ll say yes, literally, that’s what I’m trying to do is get people to say yes.
So, and then that’s why the experience now it’s great also for a listener, but Alyssa is probably going to find me a little bit more through the channels, your Apple podcast, Spotify, YouTube, Facebook. And I hope to get them on the website so they can get more involved in more episodes and such. But, so that’s why it’s completely tailored.
Cause I know that a guest will like, Oh, I want to be on that website. Right. I want that big photo when it’s shared. I want that to look like that. and I think the same thing as a restaurant is you gotta think about like, what is your customer flow like and your own website? Like you said, you own that flow.
You own that process because you’re. You said a couple of other things, there are two of, you know, you spend all this time designing all your different rooms and, you know, making sure people go through this certain they walk a certain way. They pass the, you know, if you’re a high end restaurant, they would pass all the wines and stuff.
The same thing for your website. Think about that flow, how they go through it, how they’re going to feel right. and also what do you want them to do? Cause I see too many restaurant websites that just want to look pretty, but then like, I’m like, where’s your menu? How do I do a reservation? Like I don’t need to see, you know, don’t give me a big video that I can’t click on anything.
Right. You know, give me something like, let me do what I want to do right away. But anyway, I’ll let you continue. I forgot what I want you to interrupt. I’m happy that you’re do interrupt because that gets me. I mean, if there’s one book that I always recommend at StoryBrand by Donald Miller and he talks about if you confuse you lose.
So he talks specifically about the storytelling. But storytelling in a manner where we are attention merchants. So when you come to our website, we’re a BBQ media company. We for, we have a blog, we have a daily blog. We have a podcast, we have YouTube channel, but when you’re coming to our website, chances are you’re coming for barbecue.
So if you come to our mobile first website, if you go to Cali bbq.media, it says buy barbecue. That’s it. Like, there’s not about where we are. All the accolades, none of that. It’s by barbecue order for pickup order for delivery, free peach cobbler. If you sign up for our email and that’s it, if you want more, you can go podcast episodes.
That’s a different landing page. Blog is a different landing page, but don’t make it hard for people to do what you need them to do, which is we’re an e-commerce business right now. We’re driving. All of our sales, if not a majority of our sales, we’re doing some consulting work, but as a media company, we’re producing media content, like the journey for the person that’s coming to the restaurant.
That’s ordering barbecue here in San Diego. I’m trying to figure out how do I get barbecue? Barbecue sauce, all kinds of different barbecue products, drop, shipped to different parts of the world for all the people that are listening to our podcast. But that’s like inside for me, but back to, if you confuse, you lose, so make it sexy, make it easy and make it memorable if it’s memorable.
And if it’s easy, people will come back in the order again. Completely a great. So what, so, w let’s let’s pivot a little bit to your, your digital, business or whatever. Yeah. I mean, your digital experience, your digital business. What is your what’s, what’s the, what’s the game plan there? What’s the five-year goal for that company?
I mean, do you want that to be something where you’re helping in consulting for a large amount of people locally, internationally? Like what, what’s kind of some thoughts there? The biggest thing is I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently, and I think, you know, one of the greatest gifts that I can give is to teach other people what Dr.
Haskell taught my grandfather. And that’s that, that curiosity, but also the action behind the curiosity. So teaching digital storytelling and breaking it down to having more access, because the more kids that learn how to read, the more kids are going to have opportunities outside of that village. The more people that understand that there’s this digital world, this game within the game that’s happening.
and that’s by producing content, you, you only produce content and we break it down. Like I said before, it’s audio, it’s video, it’s written words and it’s images. Like when you think about it like that, and you don’t think about the algorithm and how does Instagram work and how does Instagram stories work and what do I post on Tik TOK?
Or I don’t know what I’m supposed to post on LinkedIn, you know, as a restaurant or as a restaurant owner, or what’s the difference in the brand? Like the only reason we know about all that stuff is because we started a long time ago and every single day we went down that path of staying curious, but then getting involved and then asking for help.
And developing deeper relationships and consuming content of people that inspired us to do better by looking at what they did. So, you know, for the five-year goal is to continue to work with small business owners, medium-sized businesses to do consulting work, to really empower, not just CEOs to do it themselves, but to empower entire marketing teams.
Because the more teams that we talk to, you know, through the restaurant hospitality space and the tech space, Technology companies have grown so fast, but they need content too. They need content to help their sales team. So what kind of content are they producing? Are they just producing, you know, a photo for Instagram and then checking the box saying, Hey, we like, is that actually driving sales?
No, you need to create compelling content of another restaurant owner using this technology. That’s actually helping them and get it, make it in a way that’s shareable that some other restaurant owner goes, Hey, I was thinking about that. Maybe I should follow what’s some tips and tricks to create content.
What’s some stuff that you’ve, that’s helped you create some stuff. cause it’s always so hard, right? You get in front of the camera or for the computer writes out and then it’s like, ah, you know, what, what, what what’s helped you guys, create a content on a regular basis? I think number one is mindset.
number one is the fear and. Fear of getting out of your own way of posting online, I think is something that’s real. And we need to talk about, because you don’t need an iPhone to do it. You don’t need an Android to do it. Having a smartphone is really all you need, whether it’s an iPhone or Android, like you need to use the camera app.
And you need to go live, you know, record a video that’s less than a minute or take photos and then learn how to take more photos and learn how to take more videos, but not be afraid. What, what fascinates me is how many people are so passionate founders of what they do, what they’re creating, how they’re going to create it.
Having these team meetings, these board meetings, these executive meetings, talking about all these incredible ideas, but there’s no documentation of those ideas. You know, the amount of time before coronavirus that people would spend to go to conferences, the amount of money that they would spend to go to conferences to get great education, but to put their business in front of key clients, key demographics.
But nobody’s recording that content for podcasts, content for video content, for blog content, people are blogging every single day, except they’re blogging on Instagram. That’s it like? Why aren’t you blogging on your website first and then repurposing that on, on Instagram. People are blogging on Facebook.
They’re producing content for Facebook, but they’re not thinking about the internet. Like, Oh, we’ll actually have a brand and my brand needs to have a voice. And the founder is always the one that can tell the story of the best, you know, it’s we always want to outsource that story to somebody else. And my fear when we first started getting local media opportunities for TV and for radio was.
What if the, what if the host, what if the TV host, what if the anchor comes out to the backlot and they asked me a question about barbecue and I look like an idiot because I’m not the barbecue guy. Jean’s our barbecue guy. We learned how to do barbecue by learning from him. Do I know how to do barbecue?
Absolutely. But I’m not, I’m not the go-to guy. He’s the expert, but nobody knows the Kelly barbecue media story like I do. And once I got over that, You just learn, you do reps. I mean, it’s the same thing that you, if you watch master class or if you watch, I mean, any great person that’s done anything of significance.
they all do it by learning their craft and every single day, the more reps that you do, you know, Mamba mentality, Kobe Bryant is somebody that has had a profound impact on me and on the court. But it’s, it’s understanding that you have to do what no one else is willing to do. And that’s doing the work actually posting.
So let’s, let’s say that you get your mindset, right. And, and you you’ve, you’ve done it plenty of times. So you’re feeling decent. Is there any, like, do you create a content calendar or is there any things that you actually do kind of on a routine basis that would help people? So, yeah, that gets, so the real transition for us, what I like to say is.
We were doing digital marketing, meaning we were learning how to promote our own brand. We were learning how to use our smartphone to post on social media, doing digital marketing, talking about ourselves. Once we started doing digital media, it was not about ourselves. It was about. Everybody else. It was about the story.
It was about the podcast guest. It was about the village. It was about the charity. It was about the vendor relationship. It was about why we’re picking this product, why we’re using this product. So it became less about us. And it became more about why are we using the service? Why are we using this product?
And that becomes into document documenting, you know, you’re learning these skills and these tools and you realize, well, we have all these incredible partners that we love to do business with. But we’ve never even learned about their business or how did they grow their business? You know, how does a linen company get more restaurant clients?
I don’t know. Maybe I should have that conversation with my sales rep, with their regional manager, with their CEO, the podcast allowed us to do that. So the podcasts back to a content calendar, the podcast became our North star of content. We knew that every week, no matter what we were going to produce a podcast.
That podcast was going to be audio. First, later we added video, but then we added show notes, which became a blog. we have Ian Stonebrook from Austin that takes the show notes from the transcription from Trent. And we’ve repurposed that into a blog, but we wouldn’t have learn how to do this. If we weren’t focused on.
Being storytellers and being storytellers and learning and being practitioners understanding how do we do it and how do we learn how to do it better. And also, how do we ask for help? I mean, the amount of different people that we’ve leaned on that have made us better at Instagram, better at Facebook, better at creating videos for self cell phone videos, people that were podcasters going to podcast conferences, subscribing to email newsletters that gave us industry insight on why people are.
You know why podcasters are now producing video content and produce publishing and on YouTube? Well, it turns out a lot of people listen to podcasts on YouTube. That’s why and how have you measured success? Right. And I know that the media game is a little bit of longer tail, right? And you mentioned some numbers early on, but how has this actually affected your business?
Because I think somebody listening be like, great. I know I need to do that. No, I need to do that. But sometimes they actually, you know, if they hear how it’s actually changed your business or helped your business, maybe that will push them forward. Right. Well, I mean the, the number one thing I can tell you is our focus on digital has allowed us to pivot during coronavirus to operate three times more profitable than we ever have as a full service restaurant.
So if that doesn’t tell me all the facts that I need to know about digital, we never wanted to open up another full service restaurant because I knew it was going to cost me, you know, three quarters of a million, $1 million to go raise money, to go down to a very low margin result. Why? Because we invest in hospitality.
We spend a lot of money to make sure we don’t put that sign. Please see, please, please see yourself. We, the reason why we don’t use that sign very early on, we realized our restaurant was built in a way that. If someone came in, there’s so many rooms in the restaurant, they would just get ignored. So Eric, my general manager and I very early on said, we’re always going to pay for a host to be upfront.
We invested to have a host upfront. But that made us forward-thinking in hospitality that made us care about the, every single step of that consumer’s journey. That customer’s path through our restaurant, outside of our restaurant, how they park, how they’re greeted in the parking lot by our security or our parking support staff on fight night, you know, all of those things led us to offline treating our business one way, but then online understanding that that same thing needs to happen.
You take yourself back, you know, cause you were going to be, you’re gonna go and wanting to be a doctor and all that or lawyer or whatever it was apologies. But, go back to your high school days or even college. What, what, what advice would you give yourself back then that you know now? Right.
So the it’s funny, the, the, the best advice that I would give to myself is to listen to the signs. So listen to the things, those, Oh, shit moments where I remember God, it had to have been, I don’t know, sixth grade when the first teacher told me that I had to learn how to use a computer to type up a report, you know?
And I was like, I don’t need to do that. Like, I don’t need to learn how to type, like, no, you’re going to have to learn how to, like the computer’s not going anywhere. You’re going to need to learn how to type. So like, that’s like a first aha moment. And then, you know, you go further down the line of how quick technology has changed, just, you know, in my life, the more that I look at it and analyze it and go, Oh shit, you know?
Wow. I was already. I care about technology. I’m not a technologist. I’m not a, I don’t have an it background. I’m not an engineer. I don’t know anything about it, but I’m using it. I’m consuming it. And how is it impacting who I am and what I’m doing and what I’m consuming? there’s never been a time where we’re, we’re, we’re building on the backs of giants.
I mean, in the last 20 years, the companies, the last 30 years, the companies that have been built, I mean, we’re just in the beginning of this game. We’re so much opportunity has get, is going to get created. And especially with COVID with all the, you know, businesses closing, but there’s never been a time for content creators for people that are writers for people that are in photography, videographers, people that love to speak people that have good business ideas to share those ideas online.
And the problem is we’re all, we’re all obsessed with the viral video, right? You want to make the video and you want to go viral. And you think that that all the business is going to come because of that, you know, ocean spray tech talk video, that’s phenomenal. You know, ocean spray, Tik TOK video, if you haven’t seen it, you know, Google it and you’ll see all the best marketing brands, ad agencies, all talking this case study about why, what they’re doing, what ocean spray did with this tick TOK video, was so impactful.
But the point is. That’s just the start. They need to keep doing that. They need to keep leaning in. Like, that’s just one, one thing that happens. And if I look at my path all along the way throughout high school, throughout college, I mean, when we were running the restaurant, Adam Harris. Who I talked about before the CEO of cloud beds, you know, he ran a, a digital agency where he helped, restaurants, California restaurant association, people here in San Diego, you know, all the significant restaurant groups.
He helped them with their website. And I told him that I was trying to figure out a way to update our website for fight night. You know, if many pack yells fighting Floyd Mayweather, I need that updated on our website and I would email our webmaster and then he would email me back two days later and it wouldn’t be the right information or any what I would need to update it.
And like all that time I’m learning. I’m, I’m losing search engine optimization. So when somebody is searching for fight night in San Diego, they’re not going to find me on the first page because of my inability to update the content at speed. So, what did I do? I went to him. I said, well, how can you help me?
He goes, I’m going to teach you something. I’m going to teach you that any platform, no matter what it is, if it’s not easy enough for the end user to use themselves, it will not last. And it won’t exist. I’m going to put you on WordPress and I’m going to teach you how to update the website yourself, like an OSHA empowering moment where I go in somebody that has no computer background.
You know, back in whatever this was 2010, and he’s telling me, this is how you update the website. This is how you update the photo. This is how you update the caption. This is how you hyperlink, you know, the link to the tickets. Like that was part of my education in a way that I never thought as a restaurant owner, I would have to be learning how to do that.
But now that I know how to do it, 10 years later, I know a lot more. And I also know that I can’t learn it all. I need to have people like Kyle who’s part of our Kelly barbecue media team that actually has a company that builds webs. I need to lean on him because it’s all moving too fast. You know, it’s moving too fast.
One thing that’s great about that is you understood how it was. You have an understanding of the platform now, though, like you didn’t have to be an expert, but. Knowing 10% is Oh, mile from knowing 0%, right. Of how, how websites works and how to update them. And I’m a big fan of that. You know, let, let the web map, you know, the web team or whatever, and the closer you can get to your web team the better, but let them do the big stuff, but you gotta have somebody internally be able to do the basic updates, changing out a photo, throwing some texts up, doing a blog post cause those, and those are getting easier all the time.
So what’s one of your favorite memories of running your restaurant? it’s funny. I actually just posted today, a picture of my wife. So my wife went through naturalization process, my wife’s Bulgarian, and she became a us citizen in 2016. And 2016, we were heavily involved in a group called save our bolts, which was trying to keep our San Diego chargers here in San Diego, trying to work with local politicians, the mayor to pass a measure, a measure C which would help us fund through tourist taxes, a stadium in downtown San Diego so that the chargers would be able to play.
And stay here. we started a challenge called the San Diego love letter challenge, which was a hashtag, essentially asking charger fans, San Diego fans, NFL fans, to write a love letter to Dean Spanos and to, the mayor asked telling them why it’s important for them not to leave. we got a lot of local media traction, but more importantly is I was able to establish relationships with different charger fan groups.
So these diehard charger fan groups who we are one, we’re a chargers bar. We built the bar for charger fans, season ticket holder, you know, tailgating four hours before kickoff. And in the second date, I took my wife to a charger game so that she knew how crazy I was and how, you know, tailgating was a part of our life.
And. What we were able to do through the, save our bolts through these relationships with bolt pride and all these different other charger fan groups was essentially create a movement, you know, a movement on digital as well as in-person of why we cared about our team. the night of the election in 2016, most people know where they were, when Trump was elected.
and I don’t care what your politics are, whether it’s Trump or Clinton. We know where we were and we were hosting a, save our bolts party, at our restaurant with over 300 charger fans with four local news stations with two news stations from Los Angeles, all covering the result of measure C, which we lost.
It was 43%, 43% voted. Yes. And the rest voted. No. So as everyone knows, it’s the Los Angeles chargers. We lost the team, but nonetheless, to have all of those fans there to be the one location. For two cities for San Diego and for Los Angeles where all the media was to cover this event. I mean, that was digital hospitality and its finest.
That was us participating in the story, being part of the story, doing, getting involved, even though, you know, what was our involvement like actually, can we actually. You know, convince the NFL. No, we can’t convince the NFL. Like that’s a game, that’s a game that’s so deep. And so, you know that we can’t impact, but we can also be part of the story.
It wasn’t, we didn’t sit on the sidelines and go, Oh, well, that’s, you know, that just happened. And what happened because of that, a lot of incredible things. We develop relationships with people at NFL network at ESPN on San Diego sports radio. we were able to cater for the chargers. I mean, literally get a check to pay, pay for barbecue, to feed Antonio Gates and Joey Bosa barbecue at this, that, the practice facility.
I mean, we would have donated that for free, but we actually got checks, you know, at least four different times, you know, over $25,000 in money from the NFL chargers and most. Small businesses, most barbecue restaurants. They don’t have a relationship with an NFL franchise. There’s only 32 of them. we were fortunate to put ourselves on the map and to do something of significance.
And we still to this day, I mean, we even have, San Diego fans that want us to close our restaurant because we continue to support the Los Angeles chargers. But. Well, what you’ve got to kind of love that, but you know, of course not, but you know, that’s, that’s a lot of fun. I love it. So what does success look like for you?
Success? Yes, for me, looks like, one of my favorite words is occupy and AGA pay is in Greek is unconditional love. getting back to who I am as a man, who I am as a husband, who I am as a father. who has M as a leader, as a friend, those are things that drive me every single day to be a little bit better, to work on digital storytelling.
And if I’m doing the things that I think I should be doing, which most people have told me and a lot of people along the way that I love and respect and admire told me, what the fuck are you doing? Why are you opening up a restaurant in spring Valley, 2008? You’re crazy. What barbecue restaurant. You can’t do that.
You can’t go all in on barbecue. That’s a terrible idea. Like what are you doing with the chargers? Save our bolts. Come on. You’re you look ridiculous. Why are you posting that on, on all these different social platforms, but now 13 years later, friends that I respect admire that are making significant amounts of money that have significant impact in different industries.
They’re asking us for digital storytelling advice. They’re asking us, how do they do a better, how can we work with their marketing teams to make it easier, make it more compelling? and that’s really exciting for me. And my last question I end every podcast with this is how would you like to be remembered?
Forever a friend, somebody that true friendship does win. It’s not always, yes. True friendship is when you’re willing to question somebody and you always want the best. So supporting somebody when their wagon is heavy, and helping them pull that wagon is very important, but also challenging them. I want people to remember me as somebody that.
When they talked to them, they remembered it. When we talked, it was inspirational. when we talked and made them think differently and hopefully that led to some sort of different action that made a positive impact, you know, on their life, on who they are as a husband or as a wife or as a father, as a mother.
And, you know, that’s a high standard. but I don’t think there’s really any other way. My grandfather gave me the greatest gift. Of all time and that’s this endless curiosity to know that, you know, no matter what work we’re doing, whether it’s in barbecue or hospitality or media or marketing, always be curious, knowing that what we know today, we’re not going to know tomorrow and we need to be a little bit better.
every single day, if we’re, if we’re a little bit better, we’re willing to ask for help. we’re willing to admit when we’re wrong. I think the world will be a better place if we all can do that. I love it. Well, Sean, thank you so much for being on the establishing your empire podcast. This is a great episode for restaurant owners, but also just for small business owners or somebody who wanting to get.
More in depth into the world that we currently live in. You know, you got to get digital. Otherwise it’s going to be a tough road. So I really appreciate you being on the shelf, Darren. I can’t can’t thank you enough. Sincerely. if anybody’s in San Diego and they listened to this podcast, you have a VIP tour.
If you hit me up. On any of the social channels. If you tweeted me, Sean P well-check, I’ll give you a VIP tour, free cobbler, a copy of my grandfather’s book. but yeah, it’s all about getting involved. So. You keep on. Sorry to cut you off again. You just keep talking about the cobbler. I, man, that gives me like fond memories of camping.
I was grew up a boy scout and we would make cobbler and this, you know, cast iron big old thing. And I’m like, ah, that might have to sit there and, break that back, you know, try to make one again. Well, once, once I figured out how to, how to deliver it, to the standards that we want, we’ll be mailing it out to you.
I’ll give you your beta beta testers to send it on my way. Cheers, Sean. Thank you so much. Appreciate you.