Ep. 9: Building a Brand That Lasts Generations with Russ & Daughters
Opening Soon is a weekly show about the journey of opening a restaurant featuring conversations with some of the world’s greatest chefs, restaurateurs and the vendors that help take their business from an idea to opening soon. Opening Soon is hosted by the founders of Tilit NYC, Jenny Goodman and Alex McCrery, who bring their unique perspective as hospitality industry insiders and many questions as the former proprietors of a now shuttered restaurant. Each week we'll extract the strongest takeaways from our guest interview so that if you don't get the chance to listen you can still get the drop.
1. Sometimes it helps to take a step back in order to gain perspective. When Niki took time off from Russ & Daughters, she was able to think more clearly about the business and what it meant to her. She came to the realization that the business doesn’t have to remain the same - it can grow. Long time customers may have strong feelings since they often feel a sense of ownership of your brand and might be averse to change. You have to balance changes with what makes sense to your existing customer base.
2. Don’t be afraid to modernize! Since Russ & Daughters has been in business for over a century, Niki and Josh realized that it needed updating in terms of its website, order taking process, and business operations in general. You can make behind-the-scenes changes to make operations smoother while keeping the same brand that people love on the surface.
3. Build things to last and think about the long term. Think about what you want to pass on to the next generation of owners and customers. Niki and Josh just opened a new 18,000 square foot space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard as a production center. Although it might be too large for their needs now, its size will allow them to expand for the next hundred years.
4. Understand the essential elements of your brand. When Russ & Daughters opened their cafe, they didn’t try to replicate the original space. Instead, they took key elements, like the Lower East Side location and kitchenette counter inside the restaurant, and incorporated them into the space. There’s a fine line between falling back into the past versus making your brand too contemporary when it has so much history. Brands are not always neatly packaged, so don’t stick yourself into a box. Make sense of the time and place and tailor your brand to keep the full experience.
5. Businesses have a soul, and your employees should understand that. Employees have to understand the brand in order to provide the right experience. At Russ & Daughters, employees are trained for two weeks about the brand’s history and how to describe the food. Translate the “weight” of the brand’s history to your staff so customers can feel its impact.