Meeting the challenge: How digital marketing helps launch Mookie’s NY Deli

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John: Hey everybody, welcome back to Life is Digital, I’m your host, John Bianchi. Get ready to learn about digital marketing as we share our knowledge and perspectives on current trends, best practices and actionable tips to help you grow your business in the digital age.

Well, I am so excited today. I am here with Nina and Ron- the owners of Mookie’s New York deli. Hey guys, it is so exciting to have you both on the show today. How you guys doing?

Ron: Thank you for having us, it’s a pleasure.

Nina: Thank you for having us.

How to tackle your marketing when starting a business 

John: Well, it’s been an absolute… just fantastic ride. Ron, I’ve known you for quite some time. I knew that this opening of your restaurant was a dream for you probably two or three years ago when we had some conversations. And, now to see this come all the way through to… We’re almost there, probably next couple of days, we’re going to be opening… That’s just to me, it’s really cool to see the dream come all the way through.

What I wanted to talk about today is to learn a little bit more about what it’s like to open a small business. How does marketing help you to get set up? And, what are some of the important pieces or things maybe you guys learned along the way in this process that you didn’t know before? Nina, I think we were talking a little bit before the show, and you had mentioned an interesting fact about small businesses learning the importance of delegating and having someone help along the way. Maybe you both could expand a little bit on that, and some of the things we’ve been working on to get you ready for launch.

Nina: Yeah, so it’s really hard to be an expert in everything. And, when you’re trying to open up a restaurant, there’s so many little details that you have to take care of, and it’s really helpful to enlist the help of a firm like BOS to really help set us up with a really strong digital marketing foundation. We don’t have the expertise in that. And, if you’re not up-to-date on digital marketing in a year, the whole landscape can change dramatically. So, it’s really great that we have your services, but it’s also great too, as you mentioned, to delegate to people who have more expertise so that we can focus on actually delivering good food, delivering good quality, and making sure the operations of the restaurant run smoothly.

About Mookie’s New York Deli 

John: That makes absolute sense. So I’m glad you led into that, Nina. Ron, tell us about the restaurant, tell us about the food you’re going to be serving because I can’t wait to get down there, but I don’t want to spoil it for the audience.

Ron: Sure. As both of us are native New Yorkers, and I definitely spent a lot of time at 2nd Avenue Deli, Catz’s Deli and Carnegie Deli. Moving away from Manhattan, definitely had some withdraws, as well as also living on the Upper West Side, one of the fun things to do when you’d walk home at midnight or 2 o’clock in the morning from going out would be stopping at a bagel place with serving fresh bagels and you didn’t know what you were going to get until you knew what they had just pulled out of the oven… and that’s what you were getting.

So, you know, in Durham and Raleigh where I’ve lived, you just don’t have that experience, or at least we really haven’t found it. We discussed over the last year or two. We’re trying to bring an authentic New York deli to the Triangle, so authentic corn beef, authentic Pastrami, we’re going to have tongue. We’re going to have smoked salmon and Scottish smoked salmon and white fish salad and Knishes that we make ourselves. And, then my personal favorite, the black and white cookie. So, what you would expect in New York or items that we think also represents what we want with food. I’m looking as I’m a New York deli, I think a good point is the New York Ruben is an institutional item, but not everyone wants meat.

So we actually, there’s a local farmer here that forages and brings in and grows their own mushrooms, Amy from Fox Farms. We’re using her mushrooms, and we’re making our own vegetarian smoked mushroom Ruben. So, Boylan soda is a soda that’s actually bottled and made in New York City. I don’t know how they pay their rent, but they do. But they also use sugar cane and they don’t use artificial colors and they don’t use… For lack of a better word… crap.

And so that’s the bottled, traditional deli soda that we’re going to be using – their cream, their black cherry, their birch beer… Items like that. So, a combination of everything that I found a lot of people that have come from New York or people that are from North Carolina that have had a trip to New York or spent time there that have really missed, but doing it in an ethical, humanely food possible way of good ingredients and, you know, food that I’m happy to serve my son. That’s the best way to put it. And, then the last thing that I would have to say is there’s something about the New York water when it worked with dough… and stuff like that. So our bagels are actually boiled in New York in Nassau County, Long Island, so that water, they boil them there, they part-bake them for 15 seconds or a minute, then they send them off here, and so that we’re then freshly bringing them each day.

So, you’re getting a fresh baked bagel, but you’re getting one that actually has been boiled in New York water because that was easier to bring the bangle down than the water.

John: That is absolutely fascinating. I got an image in my mind of Ron, you, on the New York City subway system with buckets of water trying to transport water to North Carolina.

Yeah, I definitely think it’s easier to just to bring the bagels…

Ron: I actually know a restaurant in Manhattan that wanted to have Neapolitan pizza, and so they actually brought in cases of water to make their dough from Italy all the time. And, it was the craziest thing you’d ever seen so we’ll go with the bagels instead of the water.

Informing customers on your restaurant’s protocol for COVID-19 

John: I want you to expand on one thing as well, because something that’s been important, especially in this climate as you are ready to open up a new space and obviously passing your health inspections, but can you talk a little bit about in this new climate and environment, how COVID-19 is going to impact how you’re going to serve your customers, because that’s something that we talk about on this show a lot, is customer service, and how important that is to marketing and letting your customers know how much you are going to do to serve them and specialize them?

Ron: I think COVID is really important on multiple levels. So, first of all, in a safe and health mode, I think the important thing is all of our staff will be provided with KN95 masks. All of our staff are going to be asked to take their temperature before they leave. If they don’t feel appropriate or good to not come to work. Even though we’re a very, very small startup company, if someone is staying out because of COVID, we are definitely going to make sure that they are paid for that time, so we’re doing that. There’s hand sanitizer at each table.

We’ll also have an infrared thermometer here. We will be sanitizing and disinfecting each table top. Our staff will be wearing gloves. We request that if you are doing just pick up or curb side that you either don’t come in and we’ll bring the food out or if you are coming in just to go in and out that you will wear a mask. Obviously, all of our tables are separated by 6 feet, we have more tables outside, which I think is a lot better for people to be able to dine in, Nina – am I missing anything?

Nina: No, I think you got most of it.

Ron: I think actually what’s more important that I think is actually really, really relevant for our podcast is COVID is also making it a challenge in the way that we actually market to our customer base.

I’ve opened up restaurants before and I’ve never had such a debate on the take-out pick-up and delivery platforms, and how we’re expecting people to join us at our restaurant or to dine from us, and how we are really going to try to reach them. Before it was opened up, everyone will come in, you’d have big parties at your restaurant, everyone would see it. You’d invite different press, they would come in, and none of that is realistic or prudent or appropriate, so now it’s much more on a digital platform how are we engaging people? What are we doing? Nina has done a phenomenal job. I will let everyone know is really, really galvanizing interest through our email list and our website, which I will totally now discuss things in terms that I do not really speak of properly because I am the food and accounting guy, not the marketing liaison or the marketing company, but we posted our site and we even started a Facebook contest, and we’ve done things to gather interest and get people to like us so that other people like us or share, and I think… I’m going to stop discussing what I don’t now, but just the way we’ve approached this to try to gain interest and market is a lot different than what we’ve done in the last two years.

When I opened up Vidrio, it was all bringing different people and talking things about that, and now it’s much more on a social media platform.

Key Takeaways

John: Well, I couldn’t agree with you more, and especially since this is the side that obviously, Nina, you have a lot more experience and where we work with and help our customers. I think the pendulum towards the digital transformation has swung now. It’s now not an option to talk to your customers, market to them using digital and social channels. Nina, what’s maybe one or two things that you’ve learned along the way here or are really important for other small business owners to learn and understand when it comes to marketing your business?

Nina: So, digital marketing is amazing because it is so low cost compared to a lot of other options. Just to put an ad in a local newspaper can cost $500, $1000, and the amount of return that you can get if you put that money into Facebook advertising or Instagram, it could be on many more fold… And, so I think it’s really important for small businesses to capture that because it can really lead to a lot of revenue that they might not be expecting, and again, if they’re not experts in social media, digital media, they really should consider enlisting the services of another company because again, it could be a really good outlet for them.

Ron: I’d like to give one example, as an old school restaurant person that would never do any of this. So, Nina and my brother were discussing that they have got to a restaurant and they don’t have menus, they have the little code thing… the QR codes and that’s when people are so Nina made the flyer in conjunction with BOS for the QR codes for Instagram, Facebook and our website.

And I thought, oh, that’s kind of interesting. And actually, I didn’t even know what it was, so I asked Nina to make me a flyer and she’s like, “That’s what that was, guy!” So, when I posted, I thought that’s nice. I didn’t realize it would actually be relevant, and the amount of people that walked by as we’re just setting up that are using their phone and taking that and… Which I think is great, okay. But, what I thought is even better is they’re now forwarding that code, I don’t know if it’s a link or a code is the best way to put it to other people, and I’ve seen how that is gained us, Facebook, Instagram and website hits, because you can tell from the time that they take it is I’m watching and then I get the instant notification from our website. It’s something that was never done in an old school restaurant or a deli has probably got us 50 additional people on our emailing list, and I don’t know how many likes on our Facebook. It is more looking at new ways of doing the old flyer that are [a] environmentally… I’m not wasting paper, and [b] it’s a lot easier for someone to send that link to their 30 friends then to forward a flyer that’s never going to get anywhere.

John: Absolutely, I love that point that you’re making, because that’s the beauty of the digital transformation, is not only are we looking at new ways to message and engage with our audience, but it gives them the opportunity to message and engage with their friends and exponentially grow that sphere of influence. I appreciate having you both here today. Ron, I know you’ve got a lot to do today, being a business owner, a small business, especially in the restaurant space, you’ve always got something going on. I wonder if you both could maybe leave the audience with one or two key takeaways, something that they could ponder on and maybe give them a little bit of inspiration. Obviously, working with you both has been fantastic, I think we’ve all learned a lot along the way. What are maybe one or two key takeaways that you either didn’t know beforehand or now you realize are really important as we’ve gone through this process?

Ron: I would say probably the most important for me, even though I’m only 47, I think it sometimes I feel like in the restaurant industry, I’m 88 like one of the mentors that I had to shadow me in George Lane is the fact that as the core to my business will never change. Give a good product, exceed customer’s expectations and treat people and the food, the way that you want to, but what I think is a really, really important thing to know is that although that main tenant will never change, the way that you communicate to people is always changing, and the medium that isn’t… If I’m running a restaurant and I’m spending more time reading Facebook for dummies, I am going to go down.

You know, there’s no better way to put it than that. Whether it’s working with BOS, whether or not, it’s different vendors that I’m dealing with or different inspectors that looking, listening and finding out the new ways to navigate the interpersonal as well as the digital relationships are probably the most important challenge to every business owner, because the difference between… I’m hoping the difference between my bagel and somebody else’s bagel… is it measurable? But the reality is, is a lot of people are not always going to be able to tell the difference. One person tastes the glass of wine and they go “It’s wine.” Another person tasted and will say “Chardonnay.” A third person will say, “It’s a Marpuche blah blah 2017.” So, everyone’s going to look at it differently, but the way that you communicate to those people is more important, and the relationships and partnerships that you have to help you do that is the best way to go ahead.

John: I love that, I love that. Nina?

Nina: Yeah, so I think when you’re marketing a business, I think the most important thing is to just always be willing to think outside the box, especially because a small business, you have budget constraints, and so you need to be able to make that money stretch as far as it can go. And, so thinking creatively, working with other people, gleaning thoughts from friends, from BOS, from your investors, from other people in the restaurant can all help to try to hone and clarify a strategy that can really communicate the message that the deli is trying to convey.

John: Sure. Well, like I said, first of all, I can’t wait to your opening. I think we’re shooting for probably very soon next couple of days, I don’t want to give a specific date, Ron, on here, so I’m not tied to it, but I’m really excited you guys are definitely going to be opening in July. Please check out Mookiesnewyorkdeli.com if you get a chance. Ron and Nina are great friends, great people and the food is absolutely amazing.

As we come to a close today, I really appreciate you both joining us for the episode of Life is Digital, and the audience as well, don’t forget to rate, review and subscribe to the show. I am your host, John Bianchi. Until next time. Don’t stop marketing.

Ron: Thank you.

Nina: Thank you very much.

John: Thank you both.

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