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Laudisio’s Restaurant: Cibo, Vino, Amici!

Laudisio's Restaurant Boulder“Cibo, Vino, Amici” (Food, Wine, Friends) is the motto Antonio Laudisio has followed faithfully over the course of 20-plus years in the food service industry.  His landmark restaurant, Laudisio’s, has long satisfied the hunger, thirst, and loneliness of Boulder locals and visitors alike with authentic Italian cuisine, fine wines, and an atmosphere that is at once inviting and comfortable.

Laudisio’s menu includes applewood-fired pizzas baked in onsite wood burning ovens, seasonal offerings sourced locally whenever possible, and a delectable wine and dessert list, making for a delicious array that could put a warm smile on the face of even the most strident critic.

“Italian cooking is ingredient centric,” he says.  “I like to run a proletariat kitchen, where you let the ingredients speak for themselves and the cook takes his ego out of it.”

Food and wine may make up two thirds of the words in the Laudisio motto, but anyone who has spent time with Antonio knows that friendship and community come first in his book.  “The challenge of all business is how we treat our employees and the community.  We’ve been living in a CEO-take-all culture that is subject to the tyranny of the cash register.  I think it’s more important to close the circle with the community.”

Laudisio’s commitment to sourcing locally means he serves the freshest ingredients possible while also supporting local business and agriculture.  The restaurant is also committed to an environmentally sustainable business model that is progressive even for a Boulder restaurant: waste is composted or recycled; energy efficient dishwashing units, compostable to-go containers, waterless urinals, and natural lighting all reduce the operation’s energy use.

But perhaps his biggest contribution to the community is the gathering space at the restaurant.  Long famous for its extended Happy Hour and extremely friendly staff, Laudisio’s is a place where the people of Boulder can congregate and enjoy the pleasure of their mutual company.

“Especially during tough times, it’s important to have a refuge, and I think it’s important to nurture our customers,” says Antonio.  His patrons know exactly what he’s talking about.

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Beano’s Cabin: A Slice Of Rocky Mountain Goodness

Beano's Cabin RestaurantNo one would say seafood tastes better anywhere else than right beside the ocean.  There’s something special about enjoying food in the place that produced it. Local food, or “regional cuisine,” has enjoyed resurgent popularity in recent years as restaurant patrons rediscover the unique experience of combining physical place and cuisine.

If a great meal is about gaining a sense of place as well as flavor, then Beano’s Cabin is truly an extraordinary place to experience everything the Rocky Mountains have to offer.  Nestled in a high alpine meadow in the heart of Beaver Creek Resort, just getting to your table at Beano’s has an air of expedition and adventure – a fifteen minute sleigh ride through aspens and deep snow drives home just how remote the West really is.

After settling in the spacious, comfortable cabin and taking in the stunning mountain views, the real Beano’s experience begins: Rocky Mountain cuisine so fresh it will make you want to leave the suburbs for good. Elk, buffalo, trout, and lamb are all a regular part of the menu, as well as fruits and vegetables from farms along the Colorado River.  Local flavors enhance these offerings further, including wild blackberries and sweet potatoes.

Chef Steve Topple is the chief architect of this idyllic slice of the Rockies, and his work at Beano’s has been recognized nationally.  He discovered the possibilities of American West cuisine while working in ski resorts further east, including Lake Placid, New York.  Eventually he followed his culinary nose to Colorado, where Beaver Creek and Vail ski resorts welcomed his fresh approach to the local cuisine.

“It’s not your every day type of menu.  It’s really cool when people come up and find elk and buffalo on the menu and they realize that Colorado has a lot to offer them,” Chef Topple says.  His handiwork, in the expansive yet cozy venue of Beano’s Cabin, is a testament to just how great the blending of place and food can be.

“Getting creative with Colorado cuisine is something I love doing,” Topple adds.  After you take a bite and gaze out at snow-capped peaks, you’ll be glad he does.

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The New Age Of Restaurant Marketing: ModMarket

modmarket founders

ModMarket founders Rob McColgan and Anthony Pigliacampo

You’d think finding a place to eat lunch in a health nut haven like Boulder, Colorado that featured simple, all-natural ingredients made from scratch for a good price would be pretty easy.  Boulder residents Anthony Pigliacampo and Rob McColgan realized a couple years ago that unless they wanted to eat at Chipotle every day, finding good, affordable, healthy food prepared fresh and fast was much harder than it should be.  The two friends then set out to fix this problem.

Their solution is Modmarket, a fast casual restaurant located in the heart of Boulder’s 29th Street Mall.  The menu and the food follow a simple set of principles laid out by Anthony and Rob when they started: serve food that

  • Tastes great
  • Is made from scratch
  • Features simple ingredients that anyone can recognize
  • Is served quickly
  • Is affordable
  • Wouldn’t turn you into the guy from Super Size Me if you ate it every day

The crazy thing is how revolutionary this simple credo has turned out to be.  Modmarket’s daily offering of fresh salads, brick oven pizza, gourmet sandwiches, and made-from-scratch soups has been an instant hit with the Boulder locals, and founders Anthony and Rob are hard at work on a second location in Denver that opened at the start of the year.
Even more impressive than Modmarket’s fresh and tasty menu is their extremely savvy marketing campaign.  4174835126_86884a9d6d_m

Modmarket’s founders are skillful practitioners of  cutting edge restaurant marketing techniques,  but one of their mostModMarket Receipt successful campaigns comes from an innovation all their own: using receipts as advertising space.

“We view the receipt as an asset,” says co-founder Anthony Pigliacampo, “We’ve taken what was going into the trash and turned it into a marketing tool.”  All Modmarket receipts list nutritional information for each item the customer ordered, not only placing the restaurant ahead of the curve on menu labeling but also reinforcing Modmarket’s message: we’re a healthy alternative to other fast casual chains.

“People like the fact that it’s transparent.  We’ve had people come in just because they’ve heard about it,” Anthony says of the nutrition information on receipts.  But Modmarket’s use of all that white space on customer receipts doesn’t end there.  At the bottom of each receipt is a bold black arrow pointing to the right that reads “Turn Me Over.”

On the back is a limited-time promo giving the customer 10% off their next order, provided it happens in the next two days.

Below the Modmarket promo is an ad with a coupon for a local chiropractor, which Modmarket prints for free in the name of supporting local business.  Below that ad are instructions for connecting to Modmarket’s Wi-Fi network – a great way to get customers to come back on their next lunch break.

Modmarket also uses catering as a secondary revenue stream and as a way to get their brand of fresh, tasty, healthy food in front of more potential customers in the Boulder area.  “Catering has spread through word-of-mouth and it’s great because it exposes our brand to new people and helps us utilize dead times at the restaurant,” says Anthony.

Catering can sometimes present a logistical challenge – especially when customers request Modmarket’s services with very little lead time.  On the other hand, margins are higher on the catering side and “getting our food into more hands,” as Anthony puts it, only helps find more Modmarket converts.

By far the most effective marketing campaign for Modmarket has sprung from local media.

Generating buzz around a story can be a delicate art, but when done properly can result in some great publicity for a restaurant.  The Modmarket guys landed in the local news after they placed a street sign in front of the restaurant that read “You Can’t Eat At Chipotle Every Day.”

On the surface it seemed like a fairly straightforward statement, but the Chipotle location a few hundred yards down the 29th Street Mall didn’t see the humor.  They asked Modmarket to take down the sign and soon enough the story was in the papers and a lot of new customers were coming through the door.

Of course, recruiting new customers doesn’t do a lot of good unless they become repeat customers.  A large part of the process of turning new customers into loyal ones depends on good food and great service, but there’s no reason why some smart marketing can’t help that process along a little.

Modmarket definitely recruits loyal customers through their receipt promos, but another method that has turned out to be very effective is email marketing.  There’s a computer terminal placed on a prominent wall in the restaurant that encourages customers to sign up for messages.  In a little over a year the list has grown to over 5,000 email addresses.

modmarket pizza“We make it so people want to open the emails we send them,” says Anthony.  “We don’t send them very often, and when we do, there’s always a great deal.”  In fact, Modmarket has seen as many as 1,000 redemptions on coupons they’ve sent via email.  Three elements of their email marketing strategy contribute to their success: 1) getting customer permission to send email, 2) carefully controlling how much email is sent, and 3) always including a compelling offer with every email.

Of course, no restaurant can call their marketing strategy effective without wading into the messy world of social media and the web.  Modmarket has rolled up two sleeves and plunged in on this front, with positive results.

For starters, the Modmarket website is clean, informational, and easy to navigate.  It’s also been optimized to show up in search engines like Google for specific keywords unique to people searching in Boulder for a great, healthy place to eat.

Anthony’s advice for other restaurateurs wanting to get more traffic to their website is to have Google help for free.  “The Google Local Business Page is the easiest way to increase visibility on the web,” he says.  “Even if you don’t have a website, at least create a Local Business Page for free.”

As far as social media goes, Modmarket is active on both Facebook and Twitter.  They test different marketing messages on the two social sites by using a unique coupon code specific to each message and then track code performance through their POS system.  The messages that work get used again, those that don’t are tossed.

These marketing messages are then mixed with a healthy dose of non-promotional messages that help create a conversation with customers.  For example, on Modmarket’s Twitter feed, a message promoting “Free Lunch Fridays” was followed by a link to pictures of the new location in Denver before opening day.  Posts like that give customers a behind-the-scenes look at the restaurant and help engage loyal customers even when they aren’t there.

The conversation continues on Yelp.  Many restaurateurs have viewed the review site with a mixture of suspicion and fear, especially after revelations that Yelp was aggressively selling $300-a-month “sponsorships” that allowed users to decide which reviews ended up at the top of the list for a restaurant.

Modmarket views Yelp as an opportunity to engage customers, no matter what they have to say.  “The thing with Yelp is that you can respond to customers,” says Anthony.  “We’ve had a ton of reviews that started as 3s and are now 5s because we talked to that customer and addressed their issue.”

The secret is to respond to customers on Yelp as you would if they were standing in your restaurant.  Accept blame – even if you know their criticism isn’t true – and then win their trust by offering an incentive to try your restaurant again.  “We like to reward people for criticizing us,” says Anthony.

Modmarket also uses the criticisms they receive on Yelp to motivate their staff and hold them responsible for service.  Negative reviews are posted on a bulletin board in the back of the house so that employees get direct feedback on their performance.  This approach in turn helps Modmarket gain more positive reviews in the future.

Another aspect of web marketing for restaurants is using the website as a tool for collecting orders.  Some restaurants have struggled with online ordering systems in the past because the orders interfere with service in the dining area as staff try to fill online orders while dealing with a rush in the front of the house at the same time.

Modmarket dealt with online ordering by integrating it with their existing POS system.  That means the process of taking the order and getting it to the line in the back of the house is fully automated and frees up precious staff resources to handle in-store customers.  “I wouldn’t do online ordering without point-of-sale integration,” says Anthony.

modmarket frontThere’s not a single one of these Modmarket strategies that emerges a clear winner in the battle to gain more customers and keep the ones they have coming back again and again.  But taken together, the sum of these many parts adds up to a very effective campaign that has generated a lot of business and helped Modmarket expand very quickly.

None of these strategies require a huge budget, although they all do need some investment and especially some time to succeed.  And what works for Modmarket may not necessarily work the same way for another restaurant.  The key is to take a comprehensive strategy and test different parts until you find what works for your restaurant.

Continual improvement is the hallmark of any successful marketing campaign, and Modmarket founders Anthony Pigliacampo and Rob McColgan are no exception to that rule.  Even as they see success with their current efforts, Modmarket’s approach is to look for ways to make their marketing and customer engagement initiatives ever more effective.

“Nothing has ever been good enough the first pass,” says Anthony.  “That’s why we track what happened and then try again.”

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The Big Red F Restaurant Group: One Vision, Many Places

big red  fIf you’re at all familiar with the favorite local haunts of Boulder and downtown Denver, then you probably know a Big Red F restaurant or two, even if that name doesn’t ring a bell.  Big Red F is a group of unique concepts started by Culinary Institute of America graduate, former Q’s Restaurant owner, and Boulder native Dave Query.  Big Red F’s concepts are as varied as they are fun, including Zolo Southwestern Grill, Jax Fish House, Centro Latin Kitchen & Refreshment Palace, and The West End Tavern.

As differently as each concept approaches their cuisine, all of Chef Query’s restaurants take a singular approach to guest services, and anyone who has visited a Big Red F restaurant can tell you exactly how that feels.  Anyone who walks through the door is treated as a friend and a welcome guest at an exclusive party where the host knows exactly what he’s doing.

Chef Query sums it up the best: “Running a successful restaurant is like juggling ice cubes on a hot day: you have to be quick and precise, sourcing the freshest foods, being the home of all things seasonal, and keeping the chalkboards constantly fresh in an effort to do your very best to serve an incredibly fresh product smack in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. This is what we try to accomplish at our restaurants every single day.”

Big Red F restaurants view sustainability as an integral part of customer service, and since service is a thing they take very seriously, each restaurant is dedicated to reaching a high bar.  All paper products and many plastic products, including straws and trash bags, are either compostable or recyclable.  Big Red F offsets 100% of its energy usage with wind power and CFL light bulbs are used whenever possible.  Most Big Red F restaurants are also either PACE (Partners For A Clean Environment) certified or in the process of getting certification.

Bryce Clark, Big Red F’s PR director, explains why sustainable practices are so important:  “Some things like having CFL light bulbs save us money down the road, but most of our eco-friendly practices are just important to us and our customers.  Our customers come into our restaurants not only for the experience, but also because we care about being socially responsible.  To us it goes hand in hand with helping out the community.”

The synergy between Big Red F and their community reveals how powerful great customer service can be when you’re in tune with more than just a customer’s desire to eat great food.

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Boulder Spotlight: Chef Radek Cerny’s L’Atelier Restaurant

Chef Radek Cerny’s love of French cuisine is explained easily by using another of his passions for comparison: fast cars.  “Why buy a Fiat when you can drive  a Ferrari?” he asks without further elaboration.  And none needed.  A taste of his exquisite menu explains the rest.

The celebrated chef and owner of the critically acclaimed L’Atelier restaurant in Boulder, CO, has been tantalizing the palates of Colorado for more than 20 years.  With 11 restaurants under his belt, Chef Cerny has proven time and again that his effective blend of mastery of the culinary arts and savvy business sense brings success.

That success hasn’t slowed in recent months, despite the sharp decline in sales at fining dining establishments.  L’Atelier has fought back with clever promos like twice-a-week Recession Dinners ($29 per person for appetizer, choice of entrée, and dessert on a specialized menu), wine specials, and Thursday happy hour.  “I’m helping the customer in tough times, and they appreciate it.  They come in for the dinner deal and maybe they buy some wine or some drinks.  We both win.  You have to give them something in this economy.”

Full Belly, Chef Cerny’s new project, is the perfect remedy for patrons with the economic blues: excellent food from a top chef at an affordable price.  The “downscale” bistro features affordable breakfast, lunch, and dinner without losing the style and flavor of signature Cerny cuisine.  “This menu is perfect for these times,” he says.  “Everything is affordable but the food is still great.”

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Boulder Restaurants Getting Some National Respect

Boulder RestaurantsBoulder area restaurants are garnering some respect on the national scene, including a write-up in the Wall Street Journal.  As you may know, The Back Burner is based in Boulder, so we took it as a great sign that some of our favorite restaurants in our own backyard have been recognized on the national scene.

Between well-known chef Radek Cerny’s French fusion cuisine at L’Atelier, The Kitchen’s gourmet sustainable fare, and Black Cat’s chef Eric Skokan’s recent appearance at the famed James Beard house in New York City, Boulder’s restaurant scene seems to be maturing very nicely.

Boulder’s restaurant scene is home to a great concentration of highly diverse, sustainably driven, and ultimately very high quality menus, and if you’re visiting the area any time in the future, we encourage you to take the time to enjoy this vibrant local scene as much as we do.

Check out all of Boulder’s offerings here.

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