We recently sat down with Michele Roesch from The Brasserie in Camillus, New York to talk about how her restaurant has been handling the challenges of COVID-19 and to find out how they have been so successful over the last five years that they have been in business.
Here’s the conversation we had, enjoy!
Mark Olson (Gerharz): Social media is a big deal for marketing in the restaurant community? Is that your main focus for marketing The Brasserie?
Michele Roesch (The Brasserie): It’s probably the easiest and the cheapest form of marketing today. It’s what people care about the most. I think about myself and how much time I personally spend on social media and I know I am not alone, there are plenty of others just like me, spending maybe too much time on social media and on their phones. We market more towards Facebook than Instagram or another platform. I’ve just found that there are more of our customers focused on Facebook.
MO: You have been in business for five years. That is a very big accomplishment and even more so when you add in a global pandemic like we’ve been facing for the last year. Why do you think you have been able to stay open and remain successful for the last five years?
MR: I own the restaurant with my Mom and we run the business together, as partners. She has strengths that I do not have and I have strengths that she doesn’t have. One of her many strengths was making sure we were prepared financially for the first year and a half. Those can be the toughest times for any business, especially a small local restaurant. So her ability to see into the future and be prepared was a really big deal for us making it through those early days while we built our following and brand.
MO: That’s such a good point. Our founder, Dick Gerharz, always said that you should put every extra penny back into the business. He grew up during the time of the Great Depression and he knew the importance of saving for the rainy day. That influence has helped us weather this storm. I have seen some owners who take every penny out of the business and I just want to tell them “leave it alone. You never know what could happen” It is a very difficult time right now but I feel like we’ll all be drinking from the fire hose once the springtime comes.
MR: Yes, I think people are just scared right now. You know, you have your bubble of close people that you see and do things with and that is really it. I feel like once the vaccine starts to get traction and people feel safe that we’ll see a lot of business across the community and then we can get back to some of the projects we have planned.
MO: You pivoted pretty quickly and put up those shelters or igloo’s in the parking lot. Did you take them down? Were they popular?
MR: We did end up taking them down after a month or so. They were very successful but the position we had them in caused some problems with the wind. Not to mention, we had them around the corner from our entrance and in the parking lot. So we put a lot of effort into making it feel nice and homey. They were also more than a few steps away from the front door and it was a lot for our staff to walk back and forth and keep the igloo’s sanitized between each customer. So we pulled them down just before Thanksgiving.
MO: So who does all the menu development for The Brasserie? Is that you or you and your mom sitting down to talk strategy?
MR: We have these brainstorming sessions and chat about ideas we have for the menu and specials. I do like to look around and see what other restaurants are doing all over the Country. Sometimes I will find some ideas of things I want to try and we will sit down to talk it through. Then I usually take that and go think of ways to implement it and how it will function inside the restaurant and with our staff.
MO: At Gerharz, we have been talking about ways to make things easier for our customers. How do we help these local restaurants source what they need in the easiest way? Have you given thought to that with the restaurant?
MR: Yes, we made sure to have online ordering set up on our website so that it could make ordering for takeout or delivery easier for our customers. We haven’t gone into the family packs that a lot of other restaurants are doing. I mean, our menu just doesn’t work for family packs. But we have been doing a lot of to-go cocktails and working on making creative ways to let customers order our drinks to-go in a fun way.
MO: So what has made you so successful? They say that something like 90% of restaurants close in their first year. So what has made you successful enough to stay open for five years?
MR: I feel like it’s our staff. The turnover is so high in the restaurant industry and we’ve been very lucky to not have such a high turnover at the brasserie. It’s part of the environment that we have cultivated here at the restaurant. It extends to our key players on the team and then down to all of our staff. I just had a customer the other day call me over to their table to tell me that they’ve never seen a staff that was happier than my staff. And that’s the best compliment I could get as a restaurant owner. So I feel that it’s really important for me to cultivate that positive environment inside the restaurant and amongst the staff.