Change is good. It’s a phrase oft said but never quite one anyone enjoys hearing. For entrepreneurs and business owners it is a phrase they deal with on a daily basis. Change is everywhere in their world. One day you find a fantastic supplier, the next day they stop carrying what you need. One minute you’re getting a real handle on an SEO practice, the next week Google changes it all up again. The flow and shift of what customers want, what your business can handle, and the demands of being a small business owner can overtake you in an instant. Nevertheless the idea of change is here to stay. It’s that hand nudging your forward and jerking you in different directions. Jon Eisen, VP of Development for Between the Bread, took to change in order to help grow and expand a family business.
Tell us about your business background
I was a Finance major in college with a concentration in real estate, but even during my studies I constantly experimented with entrepreneurship, at one point helping Between The Bread launch an e-commerce bakery as an offshoot to their core business, which was a pretty novel concept at the time. I also had my hand in sales and marketing for BTB over my summers, but after college, I went off to work as an analyst in real estate asset management and acquisitions for the private equity firm Onyx Equities. I have always loved real estate which made it very interesting work, much of which I enjoyed, but I found that the very nature of that vocation was lacking in certain levels of creativity, and I missed having my hand in the food and beverage industry. I was anxious to apply much of what I learned in that analytical role to my new position at Between The Bread, being in charge of strategic growth initiatives.
What made you decide to shift from the finance world to assisting your mother with a new brand?
As a kid, I’d end up after school at my mother’s café sitting at an empty table doing my homework. Even from a very young age, I picked up insights about the restaurant business and even cooking – from the chefs who used to show me recipes when I was back in the kitchen begging them to whip me up an afternoon snack.
After I worked in real estate finance for a while I realized that I missed the thrill of the restaurant business, and wanted to create something of my own. Or perhaps I just wasn't cut out to analyze leases and stare at Excels spreadsheets all day. But I was watching the steady rise of consumer interest in organic and seasonal food and I knew that the retail side of my mother’s catering business had real potential to take off – since we had already been embracing this type of cuisine since our inception nearly 40 years ago. Here was an opportunity to mix my love for business and real estate with food and marketing, so I jumped right on it.
How do you deal with the stresses of building a new brand and opening new eateries?
I think that’s where having grown up surrounded by the business really helps out. There are just so many moving parts and logistical challenges to running an eatery – let alone three of them – so from day one, you just learn to enjoy problem solving and putting out fires (sometimes literally!) It’s something you have to enjoy doing and have a lot of experience handling. Then it doesn’t come off as stress… it’s just part of the work day. It is crucial, though, that I am able to rely on individuals within our company that have accumulated decades of experience with us and with whom I can place my trust to accomplish things in my absence. But yeah, the gym works miracles on those really trying days!
What differences have you found building a brand which appeals to Millennials as opposed to an older generation?
I think the biggest difference is that Millennials define the market – whereas older generations were happy having the market defined for them. So when marketing to millennials, you really have to have your head in the game as to what’s trending with them, because they’ll walk in the door expecting it, and they will leave very quickly if they don't receive it – there's much lower brand loyalty. If you can supply it… and maybe even surprise them with a similar add-on or improvement to their expectation, you’ll make them happy.
We also attempt to make our marketing strategies extremely streamlined and well defined. Specifically, we try to use industry-specific vocabulary and buzz words that may go unnoticed or unappreciated by older generations, but which give millennials a greater insight and transparency into our operation. That’s something they appreciate having. Once you’ve provided them this, they’ll actually shoulder half the marketing job for you, by spreading the word throughout their social circles.
What are your tips for standing out as a brand on social media?
For us, I think we are still quite young in our social media marketing strategy, and have a long way to go before we build a more effective digital brand strategy – a lot of it is just not having the time to move forward as fast as the internet is growing. But right now the keys to success lie in being hyper-visual on your social platforms- and posting consistently. Too many restaurants simply post their menus and their hours and then essentially abandon their online presence. Sure, maybe around the holidays they’ll post some decorative pictures or offer a seasonal special. At Between The Bread, we make a conscious effort to post pictures of all the new dishes we come up with – or the fresh ingredients we’re working with that week. But of course with a limited social budget (which is now ever-growing), and only third-party photography resources, this makes this very challenging and expensive for us.
What is your advice for entrepreneurs and business owners looking to rebrand their business to help attract a younger audience?
You’ve got to live where they live and speak how they speak – which is really just a convoluted way of re-iterating that tried-and-true adage; know your customer. In this case, it’s a little more challenging – because this younger audience presents an ever-moving target for what attracts them. It keeps shifting and morphing, since theirs is a culture of rapid change and quick adaptation. But if I had to give one piece of advice, it would be to get the word out there about your business’s specific strengths, and do everything you can to label those strengths. For us, it’s our small batch cooking methods, seasonally changing menus and healthier, more wholesome ingredients. We try to remind our customers, every day, that what Between The Bread fundamentally offers is a BETTER lunch. Better in flavor, better in sourcing, better in health. Something a cut above the mundane offerings and chopped salads they see with the other guys. And that seems to be working for us.