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Friday, February 5, 2016

"We never once thought of doing what everybody else is doing"

Kimberly Shingledecker started Pies & Pints along with partner David Bailey in Fayetteville, WV in 2003 in the basement of a house. By 2005 they had two-hour waits and needed to buy a building with more space. The growth hasn't slowed down much since, and today they have nine locations. When I interviewed her for our podcast, Kimberly talked about consistency being critical, never closing earlier than the time posted on your door, the challenge of educating your market - and your staff - when you are doing something new, the importance of finding a way to say "yes" to customers, being kid-friendly, and the most important question to ask people interviewing for jobs.

Here is an exchange that stood out to me...

"In 2003 in Fayetteville, a rural town in West Virginia, our pizza was different than the pizza they were used to. In other parts of the country this was nothing new; everybody was doing high quality stuff back then. We put our sauce on top; we don’t put it on the bottom. And our thought on that is that cheese bakes into the crust and the sauce doesn’t make it all soggy. We use fresh herbs instead of dried and we are really letting people experience what they never thought was possible with pizza. Putting grapes on a pizza; people had never heard of that. All of that stuff made us stand out, made us be different. It started a conversation. People said, 'Oh, you got to try this pizza place; they put grapes on the pizza. I know it’s crazy but, you’re going to love it.' We tried to raise the bar on everything we did.

We really push the envelope on our toppings. We had this Cuban pork sandwich with pulled pork in Colorado somewhere, and we thought, 'This would be awesome on a pizza.' And that’s one of my favorite pizzas. We make our own pork butts in house. And then the pizza – pork, pineapple, jalapenos, cilantro – it’s just full of flavor. We finish it with crème fraiche and it’s really good. All of that stuff made us stand out. And another thing – people said you’re never going to be able to charge twenty dollars for a pizza in West Virginia. But price was not an issue; it really wasn’t.

I learned that you can educate people. Just sticking to your plan and knowing as long as you see a couple more people every time and you have people that tell you they really appreciate what you’re doing. We never thought, 'Oh, let’s just cave in and do regular pizza.' We never once thought about cutting corners and doing what everybody else was doing. Not one time. If anything, we try to go in the opposite direction."

If you like hearing from successful restaurant owners like Kimberly, you might like our book, Restaurant Owners Uncorked. It's full of interviews with 20 owners. We're working on our next book now.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

"Necessity is where creativity thrives"

Angela Salamanca came to the U.S. from Colombia, South America in 1993 as a 17-year-old rent high school graduate. She went to work for her uncle, who owned a popular Mexican restaurant in Raleigh, N.C. By 2007, she was planning the opening of a new restaurant with that same uncle, when he suddenly left the country to get married. He told Angela, who had a young child and a baby on the way, "You don't need me, I know you can do it on your own." Angela now calls his unplanned departure the biggest gift he could have given her. Rather than crumble under the stress and pressure, she rose to the occasion and used the situation to her advantage. Necessity forced her creativity tot thrive, and Angela wound up building the restaurant of her dreams, Centro, while bucking conventional wisdom and trusting her vision and her instincts. This is a highly inspiring interview with a wonderful person. Enjoy...

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Why we don't hope our videos will "go viral"

Recently a friend paid a nice complement to our "people of indie restaurants" video series. He told me the videos are fantastic, and asked why we don't have a YouTube channel for them. "Wil, I could just see tens of thousands of people watching those videos. They could go viral!" The funny thing is, that's the opposite of what we hope will happen.

That may seem silly. After all, we make them to highlight people we think are awesome and inspiring. We spend time and money on them. We are proud of them. So, why wouldn't we want tens of thousands of people, or hundreds of thousands, or millions of people to watch them???

Well, it goes back to focus. We have a clear focus at Schedulefly: build a brand independent restaurants admire and love. Now, if all we care about is independent restaurants, why would we want a gigantic general audience of people to view our videos? What's the upside? Maybe they share the videos with restaurant people? I don't know. All I can think of is people from all sorts of random businesses liking the videos, checking out our web site, seeing that have a scheduling software, thinking "Hey, we have scheduling problems, let's try this!" and signing up for free trials. That's the opposite of what we want.

Just as we'd rather have one restaurant sign up for a free trial over ten non-restaurants, we'd rather have 300 baristas watch our new video, The Barista, than 30,000 random people.


P.s. We have to house our videos somewhere, so we chose Vimeo over YouTube. Less traffic, no ads. And we also have them all here on our blog.

Monday, February 1, 2016

"Our goal wasn't to be wealthy"

We're working on our second book, and one of the interviews is with Van Nolintha, owner of Bida Manda, a Laotian restaurant in Raleigh, N.C. Here's an exchange that has stuck with me since he and I spoke last May...

It's well-known in Raleigh that the level of hospitality at Bida Manda is phenomenal. What are you doing to provide that kind of atmosphere consistently?

"I think the consistency is difficult and especially providing an intimate, meaningful, personal experience each and every time. I think it’s very difficult in any restaurant. At Bida Manda, for example, we serve more than three thousand meals a week. So how do we create that kind of consistency? It’s an ongoing challenge. But our goal wasn’t to be wealthy; our goal wasn’t to create the best restaurant in Raleigh. Our goal was to make sure that we share our narrative, food and culture with our community the best that we know how.

I think it’s that authenticity to what you love and allowing that to be the beginning of every decision-making process. I think it will always be something that’s organic and true. And I think 'hospitality' is an interesting word because for us it really is us hosting and welcoming people into our home. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. I think food is such a basic life offering. And I think when we overcomplicate that experience, that’s when it gets tricky. For us it really is about how we continue sharing our story and welcoming our guests to our home, and caring for them like we were caring for our friends. And that is our basic principle at the restaurant. We try to care for our friends and family and community."

How have you been able to find people on your staff that were able to also share that same passion and provide the kind of experience that you and your sister would?

"I think sourcing the right team is probably the most important ingredient in what we do. How do we create a team that’s cohesive and creative and fires all together to yield this experience? We spend a lot of time on the frontend of the selection process. We put a lot of attention and resources into that beginning phase of training and recruiting. It is so important to us that it doesn’t matter if that person does not even have to have service industry experience. What we are looking for is always someone who’s capable of caring; someone who is genuinely passionate about life. And that doesn’t have to be food. We have a lot of artists; we have a lot of 'makers' in the world; we have a Yoga instructor; we have a lot of students who are waiting to go to medical school; we have last year law school students. We are looking for people who are passionate in what they do, and in turn, they bring that aliveness to what we do and it adds a level of complexity and meaning to what they do.

'Intention' is the big word in our training process. And intention is actually really hard to train someone that doesn’t already carry that sense of pride in what they do. How do we make polishing glasses as meaningful of an experience as talking to a guest as a table? What we have learned is that when we find someone that takes a lot of pride and meaning in what they do and love what they do, that translates directly to our guests’ experience. We have such a phenomenal team and community at the restaurant that I’m so grateful for.

I think a lot of our success comes directly from that team. Developing and co-creating that team is very important to us. A good example is we take our annual staff retreat once or twice a year. We take three or four days off from the restaurant, and we spend some time somewhere else. The first year we went to Asheville and last year we went to Wilmington. It’s just really allowing our team to go through a shared experience, setting intentions and goals, and showing them how to work for each other’s development. We are just a community of passionate people who are just absolutely in love with what we do, and wanting to care for our guests."

Do do you close the restaurant for a few days when you do this?

"Yes, we do. It’s always a few of the best days of the year, especially for back of house and front of house to coexist in one home. We usually rent a big home and just cook together. Last year we had Tim leading a Yoga class. And we have massages. We share common readings and reflection times. I do my cooking class. I think it really is about being present and intentional together. I think when you have that seed, it’s really easy to develop at work. This restaurant is an extremely aggressive and intense environment. So for us to go into a shift feeling that you are with your team and you are with your family, I think it helps with the operation of this."

I'm not going to take away from the beauty and brilliance of Van's philosophy by offering my thoughts. His words say it all. Bida Manda is without question one of the best restaurants in Raleigh. And now you know why.


P.S. We are excited to launch or new book this spring. In the mean time, you might enjoy our first one if you haven't read it.

Friday, January 22, 2016

How else could you spend those hundreds of hours and that $15,000?

About this time in 2009, we began planning to exhibit at the annual National Restaurant Association trade show in Chicago. We paid to rent a booth, began the process of designing a backdrop and our collateral, and started the 5-month process of getting ready for the show. Fast forward to early June, and we had spent hundreds of hours planning for + attending the show, and around $15,000, and we didn’t have much to show for it. It was a total waste. A complete failure. I still shutter at the thought.

We’ve written here and here about why we no longer attend trade shows, so I won’t dive back down that well again. But one thing worth considering before you make a big decision that will require significant amounts of your time and/or dollars is, “What else could we do with the hours it will take do complete this project and/or the money it will cost us?”

We never asked that question in 2009, and frankly had we done so at the time we may have said “We’d do exactly what we are doing with that time and money. This is the right thing to do!” We thought that then, we later realized we had been wrong, and now we know we will never make the same mistake. But having been through that process, and making other mistakes with time and money over the years, I think we are pretty good now at stopping ourselves before we proceed with any significant commitment.

We rarely do anything now that costs much money, outside of investing in our hardware and software on the back end. But on occasion we still have new product ideas - additional tools that would be “very cool!” Fortunately, we always realize quickly that the new feature we are considering today will wind up taking tons of hours to build, add to our support levels, could confuse customers, could water down our core solution (make restaurant scheduling and communication easy), and so on.

Nevertheless, if we ever again get started down a road that leads to spending hundreds of hours of time and $15,000, I guarantee we’ll ask the most important question we could possibly ask before proceeding: “How else could we spend those hours and that $15,000?” In our case, the answer would probably be, “The hours could be spent with our families and the $15,000 could be divided amongst our team, and we can just keep doing what we are doing.”

How will you answer that question the next time you have a chance to?


P.s. I'm not anti-trade shows - just anti-trade shows for Schedulefly. They can be a good investment for some companies. I have friends who swear by them. They just aren't the right fit for a small company selling $40/month subscriptions to a web-based software. Or at least not for this one.

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