You’ve heard how Magnetic Marketing concepts help with business coaches, carpet cleaning companies, SEO consultants, and dance studios. But how can those same concepts help a restaurant during the COVID-19 Pandemic? Joining Joe this week is Holly Baker, the Co-owner of Marche Aux Fleurs. She tells us how she was able to keep her restaurant’s doors open during the lockdown.
About Holly Baker:
Holly is the co-owner of Marche Aux Fleurs restaurant in Marin, California since February 2001.
The Marché aux Fleurs is the famous farmers market in Nice, France. It is a daily place of community and connection over food; in emulating this principle, Marche aux Fleurs hopes to offer a place of conviviality and community in Marin.
Holly Baker - Magnetic Marketing Podcast Transcription
Joe Pardavila: This is Dan Kennedy's Magnetic Marketing podcast. You'll meet folks that are using the Magnetic Marketing principles to take control of their advertising and marketing dollars. I'm Joe Pardavila. Let's do this
Hello, Holly Baker.
Holly Baker: Hi. How are you today?
Joe Pardavila: I'm good. I want to talk about your place because first of all, the name is amazing. Did I butcher it?
Holly Baker: You did it perfectly, Marche Aux Fleurs. So the Marche Aux Fleurs in France is their farmer's market. Cuisine du Marché is the cuisine of the marketplace. So that is all of the great fruits and vegetables that come in from the local farmer's market and then implementing those into the menu.
So the idea of Marche Aux Fleurs came from Nice in the South of France. And my husband and I used to love visiting Nice before we had kids and became more rooted stateside. But we love the cuisine of that region, that it's just fresh fruits and vegetables, very flavorful and pretty light cooking.
Joe Pardavila: And your restaurant is located in a very affluent part of the country. Isn't Marin County, one of the most expensive places to live?
Holly Baker: It is, but it does have some amount of diversity. There are different little towns within Marin. So we live in San Rafael, which has a little more diversity than where the restaurant is, which is in Ross and that is more of an affluent community.
Joe Pardavila: That must be a good thing for a restaurant, especially a nice restaurant like Marche Aux Fleurs, right? Because you have a pretty good clientele there.
Holly Baker: We do have a great clientele. We've been open for over 19 years. So we definitely have strong roots in the town. And we feel like we're part of the family of the town of Ross, where the restaurant is.
But we also live in San Rafael. We have guests who come from all over. So it does not feel like it's a country club type dining, it's not a gated community. We are. Super welcoming of all people who love good food.
Joe Pardavila: You mentioned something that I want to hit upon. You guys have been around for 19 years, which I know the statistics for restaurant survival are not very good.
So to borrow a food term, what is the secret sauce for the survival of Marche Aux Fleurs to thrive for such a long period of time?
Holly Baker: Yeah, I think we are a very unique restaurant, especially in California or in larger marketplace, we don't have any financial backing. We don't have investors, we need to pay back for loans or anything like that.
It was just my husband and I opened in our twenties. It would be him in the kitchen and me working in the dining room. So costs on labor were very low when we first opened and we had a few years to build our business before having kids. And then we started hiring more people to help us. So we do have a full team at this point, but he's still the executive chef.
He's still at the restaurant twice a day, every day. And I make the desserts and I do the wine program and then all of the reservations and that kind of thing. So right now I'm there in the morning and in the evening also. So for us, keeping labor down, I think has allowed us to just manage that cost in addition to waste because we're both there every day.
So there is like no waste. I think those are probably two of the things for us, but it's super unique because so many restaurants have to pay a manager and a chef and a sous chef. And I don't know how they do it, but for us, that's how we do it. It's our first child.
Joe Pardavila: All right. Let's get into the serious part here. So you guys are humming along for 19 years and all of a sudden, March 2020 rolls around and a global pandemic hits the world. What were your initial reactions? Because California was pretty forward-thinking they shut things down very fast.
Talk me through what was going through your mind when that was going down?
Holly Baker: Everything happens very quickly for us in California. I don't know how much notice other States are getting, but we were open on Saturday night. It was busy. We had a full house. We knew that COVID-19 was out there.
People were talking about it. Some people were starting to stay put and not travel, but there were no bans of any type. So that was Saturday. By Tuesday, we knew that there was no more in-house dining. For us, it's like the next day of business, you don't have any indoor seating. So we really just ramped up on marketing.
We have been marketing crazy. We sent emails saying we're open for takeout. We always have nightly specials. So Tuesday night we do fried chicken. Wednesday night, we do house-made meatballs and hand-rolled pasta. Thursday, we do hamburgers. Those specials aren't always available to go. So this is the first time where all of our specials are available to go.
Our full menu is available to go. We started packaging ice cream in pints. We started making cookies that people could just order with their takeout. And we had a decent first week. It was all different systems. So we were really just scrambling to learn how to be successful with this new system.
And we had no idea how long it would last, when they first started, it was a two-week shelter. So it was like, okay. But in our state, Governor Newsom said within the first week that he thought schools might be closed until September. So when he said that, I was like, oh my gosh, they know stuff that we don't know, nothing is going back in two weeks.
The kids are going to be out until September, because I believe what he's saying, and that means we're not opening until September. So we used to send marketing emails maybe once a month. And we started right away doing marketing emails twice a week.
Joe Pardavila: Not that you were guys were pandemic proof, but since you had the sort of the farmer's market aspect of the restaurant that you guys were ready to transition to more packaged goods, you guys already had some sort of built-in structure.
Holly Baker: We had been doing takeout with some delivery companies over the past couple of years, that part of our business had been expanding. So we had bags and boxes at least because bags and boxes became impossible to get for takeout within a week.
So we had some things in-house and we had takeout soup containers. So we just filled those soup containers with ice cream and just did a little shift. We did start packaging a few things people couldn't get. Okay, you can buy flour with us, or you can buy yeast with us because there were certain items that people could not find in their local grocers.
Joe Pardavila: And so how were you handling that? Were you letting people come to the store? That was also a takeout.
Holly Baker: Yeah, pretty much everything was just a walk-up, we hand it to you. There were no mask requirements. There were no glove requirements. There were no six-foot requirements. Immediately we curbside if people want it so they can call and we can run it out to them.
But a lot of people just walked up and said, can we get this and that, but the regulations have changed so much since we first started doing all of the takeouts. So after the first week of takeout, we opened an online store and that online store had our full menu available and people could order online.
I mean that doubled our business by just having access. People order online, they schedule their own pickup, and people jumped at that opportunity.
Joe Pardavila: You guys have the bones for that online pickup? Like where did this e-commerce angle come in?
Holly Baker: We use Square as our payment system and Square has access to an online store for all of their accounts.
And we actually had tried to do an online store for pickup when we first went to Square, but people weren't really that into it. But I think with all of the delivery people out there now, like Uber and Caviar and DoorDash and all of those companies, people are used to ordering online now.
Like they get it, they get what the system is. That was tremendous for us because also answering the phone and taking a phone order when people don't really have a menu in front of them, it could take like 10 minutes to take an order. And now the order just comes in and we have so much more ability to handle more volume.
Joe Pardavila: And you've done a bunch of things to pivot using a lot of the No B.S. rules, but a couple that I've heard about is you're offering frozen food items.
Holly Baker: Yeah. First of all, every weeknight we do a special, but then we also started doing a weekend special and that was like craziness. We did braised short ribs the first weekend.
And I think we sold 80 short ribs. For us, that's a lot, because we're a small place. So okay, people want something special, people want to feel like they have a treat, this is hard for everyone. So then we did lasagna. A couple of times we did a chicken and mushroom lasagna, and we did a short rib lasagna.
Then we just made a little extra of those lasagnas and froze them. And so then we added that to our online stores. So that came after we started doing a larger grocery selection. So once we saw that people like ordering online, they want to order online. They don't have access to stuff.
We kept hearing people saying, I'm trying to order from these different online stores, but I can't get things for a week, or they said it was in stock, but it was out of stock. So then my husband and I said, why don't we try to sell more groceries? Because we go to the farmer's market twice a week. Why don't we just get extra strawberries and extra cherries, extra tomatoes?
We really ramped up the grocery sales and brought in artisan cheese and artists and dairy and little crackers and everything local really highlighting what Marin has to offer. So people have been pretty excited about the grocery options. I think for older people who don't want to stand in line to get into their local grocery store, or they're nervous about being near the virus, it's just been really nice for them.
We started ramping up the groceries and then we added some of those frozen items. And then we added meal kits where people can just DIY. So we made shrimp scampi and we use our meatballs that we make in-house and sell the tomato sauce and people can make it at home.
Joe Pardavila: You’re like the Amazon of restaurants, you guys are doing it all.
There's literally nothing you guys aren't doing there.
Holly Baker: I know one of our guests said, I just love seeing all the things you're trying. You guys are just trying everything, but it is an opportunity to see what direction this whole industry is going to take because a lot of people think, we can't wait till it gets back to normal.
From what I read from restaurateur, no restaurateur thinks that any of this is going to take us back to normal. What's going to be the new normal, that's our question. We've been here for 19 years. We're raising our family in Marin, owning our business gives us a little bit of flexibility with spending time with our kids.
So we like the fact that we get to own our own business and set our own schedule. And we don't want to just say, oh the restaurant business is changing and we're dinosaurs. So we're going to become extinct. We want to evolve.
Joe Pardavila: How are people like yourself in the restaurant business?
Because you do know that eventually, everything's going to open, but mindsets don't change. Like people are still going to be afraid to go sit in a crowded restaurant, no matter how few tables are. Is that one of those things that keep you up at night being like, I'll be able to open, the lights are going to go back on, but will all our regulars come back on a Thursday night or a Friday night and fill up the joint?
Is that something that worries you?
Holly Baker: For the industry that worries me a lot because we love restaurants. That's what we love to do. We market to ourselves because we love to go out to eat. And I care about a lot of these small restaurants that haven't been able to pivot and who don't have outdoor dining.
And they say up to 50% of restaurants in San Francisco could close. So for the industry, I am very nervous. The things that keep me up at night is just coming up with ideas and making sure that doesn't happen to us. So it's like, what can we do? How can we make sure that people keep thinking about us for takeout?
Because we only have eight tables. So we need all those people who are afraid to go out to eat. If they keep ordering takeout, that's going to make a difference to us. We have to continue to think, okay, we're doing these groceries. It's successful in a way, but is it successful enough to put resources into it?
So just watching things and seeing where people are drawn to, it's just problem-solving. I think it's a lot of problem-solving, but I don't stay up at night us thinking, are people going to come back? I know that there's a group of people who want to go out to eat.
They don't care about the virus. They just want to be outside. There's want to go eat and they want to get on with it. So many people say, if we get it, I don't care. Like I'm going to be okay. And then there are people who are rule followers and who are like we'll go out to eat, but what are the rules and what are you doing to keep people safe?
There's the whole gamut of what people are looking for, and with only having eight tables, we know there's the demand for eight tables. For the future, it's really making sure that we're staffed appropriately, that our team is all supported in opening up new parts of the business.
So we hired someone who helps us with groceries. We do the groceries, but now we have a helper to help us just get those together and get them out to the cars. And then for takeout, I accept all of the orders. I track all of the orders. But now we have someone who helps us run the food to the car and greets people who want to walk up and then the team of people who will handle the patio.
So just making sure you have people in place, but by staying open for takeout during the shelter, we were able to keep most of our staff and that allows us to be able to make some of these pivots and changes.
Joe Pardavila: Awesome. To borrow a line from the general manager of the Oakland A's there in Northern California, you have to adapt or die.
And that's what you guys are doing.
Holly Baker: Yeah, that's what we're trying to do. That's our plan.
Joe Pardavila: Her name is Holly Baker. She's the co-owner of the restaurant, Marche Aux Fleurs in Marin County, California. Holly, you guys are doing a bang-up job in this whole new world, so I wish you the best of luck going forward.
And if I'm around there, I'll make sure to stop by there and get some cheese and wine.
Holly Baker: Yeah, we will be there. Thank you so much. Nice talking to you.
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