LA Business Podcast

46. Deagon Williams, Principal Of Culinary Business Strategy

Deagon Williams, Principal at Culinary Business Strategy
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Get The Essential Recession Marketing Guide

We speak with Deagon Williams about bringing the business side to the food world to successfully create and run a restaurant.

Intro: [00:00:00] Welcome to the LA Business Podcast, a form for business owners and senior executives to share the experiences about the elements that drive their success. Your host is Robert Brill, CEO of an Inc 500 company. Delivering the power of hyper-local advertising. Robert writes for Forbes, Inc. and ad trade publications.

Our goal is to bring you the stories about successes and failures of people who are making big things happen in marketing, entrepreneurship, and management.

Robert Brill: [00:00:36] Hey, everyone. Welcome to another episode of the LA Business Podcast. We are here today with Deagon Williams, Principal at Culinary Business Strategy, Chef, food and restaurant business consultant.

By all appearances Deagon, it appears that you have an immensely successful business. You’re a foodie as am I. So we have that in common. Tell us a little bit about yourself and tell us how you got here to 2020, and you have, by what it appears in all aspects of very successful business. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Deagon Williams: [00:01:08] Thank you so much. I knew that I wanted to be a chef from the time I was a little kid. It was like what I wanted to grow up and be, you know, when you’re in kindergarten or preschool and somebody asks you about that. And I knew that that’s what I wanted to do. And when I was, in fact, I did do that, ran away, kind of join the circus, went to cooking school.

I did my senior year abroad in France to find a cooking school. When everybody thought I was doing some Scholastic trip. And in fact, I was just on a cooking school, hunting expedition. I have always had that been lucky enough to know like, that’s where I’m going, and this is what I’m doing. Or for that part of my career, I should say, at least.

Robert Brill: [00:01:49] That’s incredibly valuable by the way to know, early on where, what you want to do.

Deagon Williams: [00:01:53] Right. I mean, on some level it can be. And so I was a classically trained chef. And when I came back to the States, it was at a time when it was okay to have women at the home of fine dining restaurants. And so there, I was like 17 to 24 cooking school apprenticeships, cooking in France. And I came back to the States and all of a sudden I found myself at the helm of a $12 million restaurant with a 24 person kitchen staff, daily changing menu. And I knew how to cook and I knew how to pull sugar. And I knew how to saute in 18 burner saute station. But I had no idea how to manage or lead or do have any kind of business analytics or any kind of business skills whatsoever, because my career was that I was trained as a French Chef and I learned how to cook really well and nothing else.

And I had this notion of, if you cook it, they will come, which is nice for a movie, but it’s actually not how one runs a business. And so I rapidly learned on the side thinking I was the only person or only chef on the planet that didn’t know how to. Do food costs or labor costs, or be a leader in motivate people or meet customer needs and know what a customer need was or a market need.

And as I was teaching myself on the side, hoping that nobody would notice that, you know, basically I was illiterate in the ways of business. I had friends kind of come out of the woodwork and say, dude, do you know how to do that? Costing stuff. You know how to figure out margins? We didn’t even know the word margin at the time.

And so organically, I ended up becoming a food business consultant over time and space. It took about 20 years for me to officially hang my shingle and launch Culinary Business Strategy, which is a food and beverage business consultancy. And we help bring the business side to the food world, because I know that when I was actively a chef and most Bs that I know people don’t get into this industry.

Because they want to crunch numbers. They get into this industry because they want to feed people or make great beer, great wine. And so I want to help people do that and also remain successful because there’s such a cultural norm where people are like, it’s so hard in this industry. And I just don’t subscribe to that narrative.

I don’t believe that that’s true.

Robert Brill: [00:04:14] What are some of the key, like what are the top five common things that you help restaurant owners with? That sort of like is the common thing that they have, they’re having challenges with.

Deagon Williams: [00:04:28] That’s a great question. Top five, you know, I think a lot of it has to do with the stage of where somebody is.

I often describe what I do as helping food and beverage business entrepreneurs and owners realize the next level of success. So what I do is I help people grow from point a to point B or from the point they are to where they want to be. Ironically, one of the top five things I do is help people define their goals and decide where they want to go.

Because without that, I can’t help. I always say that that’s like the one thing that I cannot do for a client is, where are we going? What’s our ideal dream. And sometimes people work really hard and haven’t been making money for a long time, but it’s hard to dream. So they’re trying to spark that, let’s take a deep breath and start dreaming again, even in the middle of a pandemic, you know, like I hope people look up and see where we want to go.

Let’s dream big.

Robert Brill: [00:05:28] I like that. I like that a lot because, you know, I was just having, I had it. I was having a conversation with a client last night at like 11.30 – going into midnight. And one of the key things I said was what’s the goal of this campaign to drive leads? Is there, or is this to get your video viewed?

Because if it’s significant video view, that means you’re actually striving towards it. It’s a different goal. Goal is building brand. Do you even want to build brand, do you have the money to build brand? Do you have the time to build brand? I think I’m sitting here thinking you probably need leads because the more leads you have, the more people who you could potentially do business with which will further fund your bread.

And by the way, you get a little bit of branding effect when we run ads. That are a direct response, but that, that singular question, what do you want, what are we doing here? Opens up a whole box of opportunities.

Deagon Williams: [00:06:24] Right? That somebody wouldn’t necessarily see, they would be like, are we doing lead gen? Are we building a brand and a client, but somebody on the outside that doesn’t know your work would say, yes, we’re doing that.

And you’re like, no, no, no. And so

Robert Brill: [00:06:38] Chocolate or vanilla.

Deagon Williams: [00:06:40] Yeah, right. I mean, they can compliment each other, but so what are we doing? So I helped define goals, which would include shockingly often are not in place. Above all. I would say the thing that I do most is strategy. I help people. I read strategic game plans of how we’re going to get from where we are to where we want to be.

What chapters, what exits, what freeways, how many different analogies that we could look at it. And organically, I didn’t intentionally set out this way. I do a ton of financials at this point. And those two things have been income accentuated since the middle of March, because as it turns out, there’s a lot of, food and beverage businesses that had really shaky financial ground.

And so when the cash spicket got turned off on March 15th, All of that became glaringly obvious of like, Oh, this is why cash is a problem.

Robert Brill: [00:07:38] We have two weeks.

Deagon Williams: [00:07:39] We have two weeks or two days sometimes. Right. And so we had to really figure it out quickly. And so I’ve been, that’s why I’ve been so busy since the middle of March.

It’s just like everybody in their strategic plan is how are we going to survive? Like, and we don’t know what the end date is right at the beginning. I remember thinking my birthday is near them in those last two weeks of March. And I remember thinking, so by like the first week of April, April, we’re good.

Right. I have to sit out my birthday. That’s it? Yeah. Little did I know any of us knew, right? Yes. And so wehave to really find a way to strategically have like, especially when there was no cash on hand, but then a lot of people got PPP or EID money. What do we do with this wad of cash? How do we use this wad of cash too? Grow another wad of cash to keep us in the game.

How do we survive so that we can be around long enough to thrive?

Robert Brill: [00:08:36] What are restaurants doing with that money? I know what they should be doing with that money. I know what a restaurant is actually doing, right? Because. Sometimes people don’t want to come back sometimes you’re not even sure if you can actually operate your business from one week to the next, because sometimes you’re open and sometimes you can’t be open. How do you get product? If I’m a restaurant business owner, it stresses me out just to think about that because of the immense uncertainty in that space right now.

Deagon Williams: [00:09:08] There’s an immense uncertainty.

It’s absolutely true. I think there are a couple of opportunities to mitigate that uncertainty. And bring it down to something that we can wrap our minds around so that it’s not just completely driving into a fog bank. We can handle the uncertain we can drive. We can, manage some of the uncertainty within the next week or the next two weeks in the next month.

So since we don’t know what’s going to happen in three months, we can handle what’s here. But what a restaurant’s really doing with that. In may experience are doing one of two things. They are either. Holding onto that money and waiting it out to see if like, do we want to use this? Because EIDO is absolutely alone and PPP is potentially alone.

And so you don’t want to necessarily spend it. I have restaurant owners that are like, that’s though most of it is unsecured. If not all unsecured debt, what do we do with that? Like, I don’t want to take it if I’m not going to make it. Does that mean I’m going to have. It’s $350,000 debt walking around on my back as I’m getting a job at Starbucks.

You know, if I have to close if I don’t make it. So some people are just waiting it out and others mostly are just using it to buy time. They’re continuing as normal with, trying to do fewer expenses. And they certainly have fewer sales and they’re trying to just buy time with it.

Robert Brill: [00:10:36] Do you see any restaurants, pivoting in any effective way?

Is there any, like, I just had a conversation, as I recorded this, had a conversation with, um, so the last podcast that they listeners will have listened to is Jeff Press. He’s the Area Representative at, Firehouse Subs and you know, I was like, okay, well, how do you, how do you pivot? Like you pivot into like doing a food truck where the food truck is, has two, three types of sandwiches and that’s all you have.

You just go around town, three types of sandwiches, like not over a variation of 30 different sandwich options. Are ghost kitchens and opportunity? Right? I’ve read that Chucky Cheese was selling their pizza as a premium pizza under a ghost kitchen, completely separate name. How do, how do restaurants, is there any digital component?

Is there any digital restaurant pivot that’s available for these people? These restaurant owners?

Deagon Williams: [00:11:39] Digital. I mean, there are lots, digital narrows it down a little bit more. I mean, one of the things that’s happening right now is technology is working beyond 24 seven, trying to catch up with the need.

Right. It’s just like, how do we have effective ordering would be really helpful. One amazing opportunity is reaching out to the customer base that people have digitally. I believe that there’s a huge opportunity to reach out and communicate because I’m a restaurant consultant. Everybody I know calls me and says, where should I go eat?

Who’s open. Where can I find food? And I want to like preach to my clients and be like, please start communicating. Right.

Robert Brill: [00:12:23] It’s so it’s so basic. I am a massive fan of Tommy’s and I am I’m on a keto diet, so I’m not actually eating Tommy’s right now, man. I keep seeing their ads and I’m drooling. My mouth is watering. Just thinking about Tommy’s and I know that’s very, you know, it’s, Tommy’s, it’s, it’s not fine dining or anything.,

Deagon Williams: [00:12:43] Right. You’re a fan that’s, what’s important. And you’re drooling thinking about it. I spend like so much of my time bopping around to hospitality, you know, businesses. And I love it. It’s the industry I chose to be in and I’m grateful to be in it.

But at the same time now I hear somebody like a friend of mine, drove to Napa and took his mom out to lunch last week. And I’m like, where’d you go? Where’d you sit what’d you have what happened? Like I am hanging on to his, every word of like, Food tells a story. Food connects us.

Robert Brill: [00:13:17] That was a hundred percent me on Keto.

I asked my wife, so was that good? It smell good. It tastes good. I will smell the cookie. I will smell the McDonald’s on my wife might be eating or some random fancy food. So yeah, I think, you know, it’s the basics. I, you know, we, we think that’s interesting and I really love that you said that because to me, it’s like a further affirmation of some of the ideas that we have internally, which is.

You know, we wrote a recession guide and a recession marketing guide, basically that says  around March, March 15th, March 20th, I was like, okay, Holy cow, I’m a marketing business. People are like going into like scared mode. What are, if I’m a prudent, practical risk averse person, I’m not spending a dime ever on anything until this thing is taken care of.

So they’re not like. Do I even have a business? Do people need marketing when people don’t want to buy anything? So I’m like loading up on all these assumptions. So I did some research and what the research found is that companies who invest in marketing in downtimes, end up within 4% or three, four to 300% better, stronger revenues and stronger business, more profit as the economy rebounds.

And even today, like marketing words, it’s like in a way you just validated for me a completely independent person, you should be communicating to your people, whether it’s email addresses, not even advertising, but the email address acquisition is such a renewable gift that companies have.

Deagon Williams: [00:14:54] Absolutely email addresses are the single most valuable asset in my business.

I am abundantly aware of that. Like my list is that it’s not Instagram. It’s not Facebook cause I don’t own that. But my email is those lead gen is the most important thing. And also when you have it, I just heard, there’s an org. Tyler McCall is doing an online business association summit this week and I heard somebody talk about a presentation that was on there and said, community engagement is something that cannot be bought. It has to be earned and it has to be maintained.

Robert Brill: [00:15:32] It has to be organic. It has to come from the heart. It can’t be manufactured.

Deagon Williams: [00:15:41] No. So that’s so important because I have people like, literally, even in my hometown, I have friends.

Yeah. Who’s open. Where can we eat? And I’m like, am I like a one person Yelp? And I guess I am because so many people, my clients, restaurant owners are head down trying to survive that they forget that our single most important thing is do our customers know where they can buy, where they can interact with us.

And then secondarily as COVID waxes and wanes, there might be a time when I don’t want to go out and be in a restaurant or a business. And so if I go give me the opportunity to buy more, to fulfill more than one needs data at a time. So your wife goes out to lunch. She meets her sister.

She meets her girlfriend. They’re sitting socially distance outside. And guess what? We also have a KETO menu. Did you want to get a KETO meal to go? And she’s like, Oh, you know what? I will be number one, fancy person. If I come home and be like, honey, I brought you a KETO tree. I bought you a keto meal. I brought you something, right?

Like, of course you want to eat anything that comes from outside of your home right now, it’s such an exciting gift.

Robert Brill: [00:16:55] It is. I went to the bank to deposit a check. I was just so excited to see the sun.

Deagon Williams: [00:17:00] Right. I’m talking to strangers walking down the street and I’m like, it’s nice to see you.

Robert Brill: [00:17:06] We have been deprived.

Yeah. So that’s interesting. Like, and so I guess, I guess one of the things that I’m taking away from this, right. If I want to, if I want to market to restaurant owners, The first question, like I’m thinking about the ad that I’m going to craft, which I may or may not actually do, but I’m like, that’s not where my mind goes to like, do your customers know you’re open?

Deagon Williams: [00:17:31] Absolutely.

Robert Brill: [00:17:32] And secondly, for the ad message from the restaurant to their consumers, it’s testimonials, I think one of the biggest things, like to your point as, as a pro in the restaurant business, if you can amplify cause you’re what’s happening is you’re the word of mouth. You were, you were the trusted source for all things restaurant.

So the only way an advert a restaurant can manufacture that to a degree. It’s not going to be as qualified, as you being the source of news for your, your circle of friends, that your influence of your friends and family. But number one, influencers, but number two, just showing real running ads, featuring real customer testimonials probably would bewould be really impactful.

Deagon Williams: [00:18:22] Absolutely people getting, I mean, so I once said something that I thought was really goofy and I didn’t think it was very serious. And I said it too a colleague friend of mine. And I said, look, running a restaurant is not that complicated. It’s about selling the right product to the right people at the right time, the right price at the right place.

And she was like, stop, write that down. That’s smart. And I was like, that’s not smart, but I’ve worked with it ever since. And it, it really is. It’s about the alignment, right? It’s not about whether McDonald’s hamburger is better than a Thomas Keller hamburger. Right. It’s not different time. Different place, different customer.

It’s about aligning all of that to the right, getting it in the right place. And one of those things right now, in order to have the five, when I call now call the five R’s to have them in alignment, is those people, your people need to know that they can get it. I just read an article that came out online last night that actually had four people that were interviewed three of which were clients of mine. And one of them was quoted as saying, we’ve done everything that we can now it’s time for customers to do their part. And I was like, Oh, where you quoted saying that because customers don’t even know that his bar is open.

They got to know your open. They got to know that I want to serve you. I want to talk to you. I miss you. If you can’t come sit down, tell you what, we can still share a sandwich. We can share a salad. We can share a drink. I mean, there’s a digital opportunity. That absolutely is true is, having tasting sessions or having cooking classes on zoom.

That’s happening all over the place. Facebook live doing cooking classes, doing tastings together, just jumping on. Saying, Hey, this is, you know, remember when we used to share a beer together.

Robert Brill: [00:20:28] Yeah. I mean, you know, what I’m thinking about here is like, like if there would be a program where I could pay whatever the price is, anywhere from 20 to 50 dollars or a hundred dollars or whatever it is, and three or four of those meals.

Have them shipped at the exact same time to my friends and just say, Hey, like, we’re going to get on a zoom and we’re going to share a favorite meal that we have.

Deagon Williams: [00:21:00] Yeah.

Robert Brill: [00:21:02] Now whether the restaurant even participates in that or not, doesn’t like the restaurant obviously is delivering the food and gets paid for the food.

But I’m saying like, that’s just a way to share a cohesive experience with four different people that are unrelated to the business. As a marketing opportunity, the business can host a chat or talk about it, or some, you know, especially for like better, you know, I don’t know what the phrase is. Finer dining, fine dining, and like less than fine dining, but not fast food casual fast.

Deagon Williams: [00:21:32] Fast casual.

Robert Brill: [00:21:33] That type of food, like talk about why you’re eating this food and why it’s interesting and how we developed it, which really speaks to the authenticity of why, why or why a chef gets into the business to begin with, because most of these people are passionate, nurturing artists. Artists through food.

Deagon Williams: [00:21:54] And never in my wildest dreams five months ago.

I mean, I doing it right. I was doing lots of zoom work because I have clients that are all over the United States and all over the world. So I was doing zoom meetings when we, but we always thought it was like, it was less than, and now I don’t think of it as less than I ended up having like a weekend of the pandemic.

Again, like I had a bird zoom birthday party and it was very early on and people were like, you, what? And I was like, I dunno, let’s try it because a friend of mine and I had the exact idea that you just mentioned. We all get food from the same restaurant and we all jump on zoom. And so we ended up having a dinner party with like 25 people.

It was a little unruly. It was in the beginning. None of us knew how to have big zoom parties then, and then we kind of went around and it was like all my friends, whether they’re professionally in the industry or not like, are all good cooks and all love good food. We were like, what are you guys eating?

What are you guys eating? So there’s this moment to wher food connects us. Right. It tells a story and it connects us and it makes us feel endeared with one another and seen.

Robert Brill: [00:23:01] You know, and there’s going to be certainly a contingent of people who are very screwgy about this and they’re not going to be happy until it goes back to the old ways and you’ll never, no one will ever convert them.

And they’ll, they’ll be the naysayers. There’s always naysayers and everything.

Deagon Williams: [00:23:16] That’s cool. They can do that.

Robert Brill: [00:23:17] Yeah, that’s fine. They can wait to you until this thing resolved itself where they can make now. Just for the injury, just don’t wear masks, you know, like whatever the thing is, but for the people that actually care, there is a way to adapt and I think there is a marketing opportunity there and a product opportunity and actually a way to get back to the storytelling aspect of what food is and isn’t, and actually the restaurants who adopt this type of innovation will be the restaurants that have come out on top.

Deagon Williams: [00:23:49] Absolutely. I can confirm that you asked me like prior to this and you said, wait, I don’t want to know about it. Let’s talk about it when we’re live. Like, how is it that I went from having 25 clients a month to 400 clients a month? It was almost cartoon ask as if I had an old flip phone and I was sitting here on March 15th and March 17th, and my phone just started ringing so much that it was like vibrating off the desk.

My phone, like blew up. There’s no other way to say it. Every communication that I had was just like, somebody opened the gate and they were like, you can talk to Deegan now. And I was like, wow, email, instant message, DM, voicemail, whatever. Like, it went, literally just blew up. And I was like, how did this happen?

The truth of the matter is so let me.

  (Phone Rings) Sorry about that. That’s my dad ordering his Sunday dinner. I’ll bet you telling me what I should make and bring to him. The reason why my phone blew up is I’m not the only restaurant consultants in the world and I’m not necessarily, I’m certainly not like the best restaurant consultant in the world.

I’m not somebody that’s famous. I work hard. I take care of my clients. I do absolutely create results for my clients, but it’s not like. I’m the only person that somebody could talk to. And I, the reason why I believe that my phone rang is it because I show up in good times and in bad, like I’m always there, I’m consistently available and I’m willing to, anytime there’s an opportunity to have an authentic meeting or a network opportunity to shake somebody’s hand or to connect now with zoom, right?

Like you and I are doing the equivalent of shaking each other’s hands and saying, hi. Then when there was a need and nobody else needs somebody needed to not have at what felt like a digital strategy, but a human being, everybody turned around and they were like, what do we do? And I pivoted like on phone calls because I went from having like three to six months strategies to two to four hour.

Like we have to figure out strategy how we’re going to save your business now. And I remember thinking, okay, everything’s going to pivot very quickly. And I launched my two online courses because people aren’t going to have this people currently don’t have the same kind of money to engage. Like with marketing people see absolutely need to market and communicate, but maybe their budgets are very different.

Robert Brill: [00:26:26] Okay. So let’s talk about this, right? So it’s March 15th, March 20th, your phone is ringing off the hook. And are you like feeling accelerate? Like a what’s the word accelerate? Like I’m excited. Like, is this like exuberant? That’s the word I’m looking for?

Deagon Williams: [00:26:46] I was feeling very much alive and very much awake.

I didn’t need a lot of coffee. I didn’t eat a lot of sleep.

Robert Brill: [00:26:53] That’s how I feel. There’s no drug that can, that can, that can give me a better high then when all of a sudden things are popping. Okay. So March 15th, March 20th phone is ringing off the hook. At what point did you realize that okay, I can’t give you and you and you and all, all of you the exact same, like you can’t service 30 people the way you can serve as one person.

Right. So my question is, how do you, in real time work to capture all of this attention that you now have and all those demand that you now have, how do you ensure that. You can serve all these different constituents at the same time. What do you do?

Deagon Williams: [00:27:47] I mean, I would say the first thing is just that I realized very quickly, it wasn’t a question of working harder. There was no way that I could work hard enough to catch up. Like that option was taken away from me very early on. I was very lucky that I had systems in place. That I could be sloppy on before that I got dead serious about like every single call had every single zoom session has notes on the other side, and I’m muting myself.

I’m taking notes during, I am paying attention and I’m thinking, and I’m working with people in the sense that I knew that I had to move very quickly. And give them strategy, homework, set up the next appointment, everything was,incredibly streamlined. And I was like I said, lucky that, I had systems in place before, so I just had to implement systems that were kind of there.

I didn’t have the luxury of time anymore.

Robert Brill: [00:28:47] So you had systems in place and the systems were a lot about how you operate and how quickly you turn around information. Okay.

Deagon Williams: [00:28:54] Yeah.

Robert Brill: [00:28:55] The course, did you have a course prior to this, or did you create this after like the pandemics started happening?

Deagon Williams: [00:29:03] You know, I had a course and I ran the beta to it last year and I was marketing to my list and I sold it to my list right off the bat and I sold.

Out my first round, the beta round really well and got feedback and it was great. And then I tried to sell that same list again, and they had already been sold to, they were either had been clients that are still in my world. Most of them, I would say 95% of my clients are repeat. So they come back.

But anybody that wanted to buy that course within my very small list, cause I hadn’t really paid a bunch attention to building a list had already been sold to. And so I knew I was working on it on the side of like trying to build a list, trying to build a marketing strategy or not trying to, but building a marketing strategy, getting out there.

So I already had the content. I knew that it needed to be refilled. The workbooks updated a little bit, but I had the app. I had the framework for the course. And then since then, since the pandemic I’ve been doing double time to, make it accessible to everybody. What I did do in during the pandemic is I created a very small digital product called reset relaunch, which is a comprehensive cashflow toolkit, exclusively for the food and beverage industry.

I have a lot of EIDL or PPP money. How do I make it work? How much runway does that create in front of me? And I developed that during the pandemic.

Robert Brill: [00:30:37] So you had existing assets, you reframe them, repurpose them refilled cases. So you had the software in place to run, to operate a course. Right. So you see good.

I mean, that’s incredible. Like

Deagon Williams: [00:30:54] There was a little duct tape and bailing wire to my software, but yes.

Robert Brill: [00:30:58] Sure. It always is. That’s what you’re doing when you’re marketing, you’re kind of like constantly tinkering, right?

Deagon Williams: [00:31:03] Yeah.

Robert Brill: [00:31:05] Okay. So did you need to hire people?

Deagon Williams: [00:31:08] I do need to hire people. I had a three part time people that I increased their hours.


Robert Brill: [00:31:25] That’s fascinating.

Deagon Williams: [00:31:27] Is it? I mean, I think I will think so probably in a year or so. But at the moment, I was just like, keep moving.

Robert Brill: [00:31:36] Yeah. You can’t stop. You can’t stop. You gotta like, just like you said, keep moving.

Deagon Williams: [00:31:42] I do know at the moment that, I am doing exactly what I recommend. I coach most of my clients out of doing, which is, I am now currently the bottleneck to my business.

Robert Brill: [00:31:55] Right.

Deagon Williams: [00:31:56] And I do need to hire digital assets really.

Robert Brill: [00:32:02] Interesting. Yeah. I mean, I’ve we’re going through a growth spurt right now. One of our partners is going through a big growth spurt. And the only thing I know is that, and I can tell you this from experience, if we don’t catch that wave in a way that respects the fact that this is a big growing thing and it’s super fast, it will crash.

And we will crash along with it. It’s happened to me.

Deagon Williams: [00:32:33] Tell me what do you mean by that? That backs away that’s crashes.

Robert Brill: [00:32:37] Yeah. So in 2018 we had a fantastic year in 2018, big year for us first year that it was a big year. We went from, I think so 2017 are we did like five or seven times revenue or something in 2018.

I think it’s more like three or four times revenue in 2018 than we did in 2017. Okay. I didn’t realize how fast we were growing because we got a bunch of big campaigns. I had one and a half employees. So plus me, there’s two and a half people. And the person that I had hired, I hired for one big campaign that was coming.

So by the time that campaign came, we had like 20 other campaigns. So when that person left and she left because she was off to get a PhD. Right. I feel like I have to say that partially because it’s cool that I know someone that’s like getting a PhD and she’s going to be a big deal soon. But secondly, also I say that because I want it to be clear that I didn’t run the business into the ground and she left because she was, she raged quit, you know, that sort of thing.

Yeah. And it’s happened in other cases, it didn’t happen this time. But the point is by the time we hired folks, we didn’t hire one person to replace her. We hired like three or four people to replace her.

Deagon Williams: [00:34:02] Right.

Robert Brill: [00:34:03] And she knows that when she left, I was like, just remember we’re taking three or four. I don’t remember exactly how many it was to replace your one FYI.

Cause she was amazing by the way. Her name is Bridget Barrett for anyone who’s listening and wants her.

Deagon Williams: [00:34:18] Good job Bridget.

Robert Brill: [00:34:21] So, but then it takes time to train and set up standard operating procedure. And by the way, I didn’t realize I need standard operating procedure until like seven months later. So all that is to say, I’ve been through that.

I know any standard operating procedure. We actually have it now. We have an incredible chief operating officer, a guy named Tony price of all that is to say, if you think you have to hire, you’re probably a month or two late.

Deagon Williams: [00:34:50] Absolutely.

Robert Brill: [00:34:50] Actually hiring. And if you wait too much, the longer it will crash, you won’t be able to serve as clients.

They won’t eat you. Your service levels will drop off these things. And by the time you realize it’s happening, I’ve learned by though. And I’m trying not to get to this point. I’ve learned that I have a certain feeling in my gut that gives me that like, Oh man, we’re really at that point. And I don’t want to get there and I don’t want to operate on feeling.

I want to operate a logic and operational process. That’s what I mean, if you, if this is, this is we’re in a growth spurt right now, we’re hiring and we’re doing this quickly because we have to, because we don’t, I know exactly what happens. 

Deagon Williams: [00:35:37] I say the second digital asset that I’m actually working on, putting out at the moment, it’s called Data Driven Decisions, because it’s exactly what’s happening.

That’s important to make data driven decisions right now, especially right now. It’s always important. But, it’s so important because I hear a lot of restaurant owners saying. That’s too expensive. That’s not going to work for me. I’m in a big city where there’s a lot of competition, so it’s not going to work.

I’m in a small town, so there’s no competition. There’s no people, it’s not going to work. And I’m like enough with the gut feelings. Like I am Northern California, totally happy to process and have feelings, but  in business there’s some things that are it’s data driven decisions. And I watch myself do it right now.

Like my output, my financial output. I felt myself gasped the other day. And it reminded me very clearly how important mindset and growth mindset work is all the time. Because the work I did six months ago is what I’m operating off of now.

Robert Brill: [00:36:40] Right? You need to eat. If you want to keep growing, you need to spend money.

You have the processes and systems. And by the way, the other challenge that we had for like seven months, was there was no process and the process was it’s in Robert’s head and clearly, you know what you’re doing? Do it. That was a process. It didn’t work because no one likes to be told what to do, but actually have no direction whatsoever.

And then it’s not the way Robert had it in his head and it’s now wrong.

Deagon Williams: [00:37:20] All kinds of problems. Nobody wants to work really hard and do it wrong. I mean, the number one thing, research shows that the number one thing that people want even more so than pay and money is that we all want to be part of something that’s greater than ourselves. We all want to be part of the winning team.

And so as business owners and leaders of teams, and I also believe, especially as B2B service providers, It’s my job to make sure that my clients and their staff know where we’re going and what kind of great thing that we’re all part of this. And that way we don’t, we can get away from it’s in Robert’s head or deacon’s head because nobody has ever accurately reflected what’s in my head.

I mean, most of the times, like you just can’t know, cause you’re guessing, and you’re seeing the world in a different way. And my responsibility is to give you the opportunity to succeed.

Robert Brill: [00:38:13] The turning point for us. So I hired, so this person, Tony price, he’s someone I have now hired three times, and this is the third time I’ve hired him.

And, know him from college, we worked together multiple times, friends for 20 years. And the turning point for us was my wife said, you have to hire this role. And the right person for the job was Tony, even though I felt like we didn’t have the money for it, or I didn’t want to spend the money or whatever the turning point was when we went to Vegas on a team, whatever outing for a couple of days, and him and I sat at the Park MGM over a, an espresso and specifically an affogato big fan of off affogatos at the Eataly over there.

Deagon Williams: [00:39:03] Oh, good

Robert Brill: [00:39:05] And also at the pool earlier in the day we sat down and we basically, he extracted out of my mind every step of the process from, we might have a campaign to here’s a request for a proposal to campaign launches. Two campaigns running to campaign is delivered and like there’s probably a hundred different bullets in there.

Or, or more so that when we hire, an ad buyer, there is no question what they should be doing. Question where they are in the process. And there’s also resources, by the way, you don’t know how to, check that a pixel is tracking. Go to this one note document that tells you three different ways to check that a pixel is firing on the website.

It’s a standard operating procedure and that I don’t want to say revolutionize our business, but sure changed how  we operate for much better.

Deagon Williams: [00:40:05] It’s kind of close to revolutionizing. I remember looking up and realizing that I unbeknownst to myself. I mean, I knew for a long time I was a one person shop and I had a job rather than a business and I loved it and I was just shocked that like, I could have my own job.

And then a couple of years ago, I realized I want to build a company. I want to build a business. That’s important. Like I don’t have the duct tape and bailing wire is not, I want to build something that’s real. And I heard, then somebody say, build a systems before you need them and build them in the beginning. Cause you will need them. And I was like, okay, I guess so. And I was so grateful. I did, because there’ve been a couple of times in this business, they turn around and I open a drawer and I’m like, thank goodness we have pixel firing questions. One note document. Thank you.

Robert Brill: [00:41:00] And on top of that, the challenge that I have is that I’m a stubborn sob, right?

Like I’m not, I’m not to like the challenge with that is how could I know what the systems are and what the process is before I know what the challenges are. So I have to, for me, the way I work, I have to go through that painful phase of realizing all the holes. Process until someone with much stronger emotional intelligence than I have Tony: who is a systems and process guy was like, you don’t, you’re not here.

The 20 things you’re not doing right. Because no one knows what that right thing is fascinating.

Deagon Williams: [00:41:44] I’m willing to have a system and then change the system. If I have to. I love that your wife said you have to hire for this role. That was super smart of her to know that it was a role rather than like, you need to work less.

I want you around on weekends or whatever it was. But she was like the fact that she knew that there was a role as opposed to a task, but somebody could own a certain portion of that business. Was she smart girl? You should marry her.

Robert Brill: [00:42:17] I’ll marry her again.

Deagon Williams: [00:42:19] Good.

Robert Brill: [00:42:20] She’s a, she’s an incredibly valuable part of the business because she sees the macro.

She has an opportunity to see the macro. She’s not in the weeds on trading, but she knows what’s going on. And she hears what I’m saying is he is able to see the trends, the macro trends that are happening across the board.

Deagon Williams: [00:42:37] Well, she’s valuable. I mean, not just as your wife, but that is a really valuable place to have.

Yeah. I have the good fortune of being one of those weirdos that can play both in macro and micro, but I can’t be the bottleneck because when I become the bottleneck.

Robert Brill: [00:42:59] I’m a worker bee. That’s the interesting part about this. I just told Tony, I was like, I’m, I’m kind of just a worker bee. Like I also want, I started this business for a few different reasons, but like, Like at the end of the day, like I just a guy who goes into the ad buying platforms and runs ads. Like that’s what I know how to do.

And so when I feel stressed and I like have five things I have to do, my stress response is to go into our ad buying platforms and look at campaigns.

Deagon Williams: [00:43:29] You and I are cut from the same cloth. As the chef, I would say my favorite thing in the world is on a Saturday night working the hardest station in a restaurant back when we were busy in restaurants on a Saturday night.

But like, and so when I went from sous chef to executive chef, I was like, on a Saturday night, I get to work a saute station at that particular restaurant, I had 22 burners and there was nothing more exciting than like, you can hear the ticket machine going to teach. Kicking out tickets. And you’re like, I’m about ready to get slammed.

I’m about ready to get very, and you just start to get really logical and really focused.

Robert Brill: [00:44:08] So how do you know when, like when you hear those tickets come in and you don’t even see what the orders are like, do you know that you have like, are you a statistician in your mind? You’re like, okay. I know I need five of this type of sauce and I probably need three steaks and four chickens and what, you know, whatever chicken plates or whatever.

Deagon Williams: [00:44:28] I don’t fire anything. I don’t let start anything until the tickets are read. So there’s going to be one person on the line that will read out. And then we’ll say, okay, Degan you F you know, you get going on two fish, Robert, you get going on two sticks. Cause we’re, they’re cooked in different ways. And so somebody is going to start firing orders.

The key is, is that you need, I mean, this is one of maybe one of the reasons why I believe so much in systems and standard operating procedures before I knew I had them. Because you, there’s no time to mess around when 6.45 on a Saturday night happens. And you know that the entire restaurant or most of the restaurant was seated at 6.30 and they’re going to keep coming for the next couple of hours.

Your salt and pepper containers have to be full and clean and ready to go. And in order it’s like you, when you have three campaigns or five huge campaigns, like you don’t have time. Check the pixels as you’re installing them to make sure that they work because you don’t have time for half-assed in the middle of it.

Robert Brill: [00:45:29] How do you, so, so yeah, that’s where I was going. Like, what do you, what do you prepare? Like what types of things do you prepare so that you can, so it’s already all set up

Deagon Williams: [00:45:44] what they call the Nissan class in the kitchen. Do you mean in a restaurant or what do I prepare?

Robert Brill: [00:45:49] Well, as when you’re a chef, what do you prepare is fascinating.

I’ve never, I’ve always had this question. What do you like when you know, you’re about to get busy and you can’t pre cook the steaks because they’re all done differently. Like what can you prepare? What’s that mise en place. I have no idea what that is.

Deagon Williams: [00:46:08] So ‘mise en place’ means to put in place and cooks often called it meas.

It just means that like right now you could have like sauteed corn with roasted Jimmy Nardelli peppers and a piece of swordfish on top of it with the ancho avocado sauce. I just made that up. I don’t know because it’s hot and that’s what we should all be eating tonight. So I know that I can have my corn cut off of the cob and all of the silks and ready to go so that it’s prepared there.

And I know that I’m going to need two handfuls of corn per or two spoonfuls of corn per plate. And then with that, I’m guessing that we’re going to do 200 covers tonight or 200 dinners tonight of which most of them 20% are going to order steaks. And so I would have 20%. Yeah. I have 200, right. So I would have enough corn for 40 steaks and maybe I would do some extra I’d have 50 just in case.

Cause there’s no room for mistakes simultaneously I would have Jimmy Nardelli was washed and cut and ready to go. So I could roast them to go with the steak. So you would prep, whatever you need for your portion in the menus. And there’s some guesswork, but there’s some scientific guesswork, right? It’s not like running up and down, running out to the garden to pick tomatoes.

We don’t do that.

Robert Brill: [00:47:30] Right. What’s the equivalent of that for your business right now.

Deagon Williams: [00:47:37] What’s the equivalent of a mise en place for my business right now. Yeah.

Remind me of the guy’s name that you hired. That’s brilliant.

Robert Brill: [00:47:47] Tony Price.

Deagon Williams: [00:47:48] Tony. So I kind of Tony Price to myself. Let’s make him a verb. I heard Tony Price’d, my systems. I went back and looked and I went okay. If a client walks in the door, like right now, it’s almost guaranteed. Very few people. I have had a couple of people open restaurants, because once that ship gets moving, there’s no stopping it. Like you have to go. But mainly when people are calling me right now, it’s about financial strategy and how do we figure out what to do? So I have templates in the background of the information that I need to know.

It’s the same thing. When you walk up to the table and you’re like, hi, welcome to Roberts grill. Here’s your water? Here’s your menu. Here’s your bread. Keto guy don’t eat the bread, but you know, everybody else, like here are the specials and I’ll be back in a minute. Like I had those things that I do. So in my business, I intake when they got their stimulus money, how long it works, what their goals are.

And I really take a check on how the owner is doing. Cause some owners are like, I’m out. I don’t want to. And if you don’t want it, it’s okay to get out. You don’t want to play. That’s totally cool. But if you can’t, if you’re in the game, then it’s all about like, let’s get positive.

Robert Brill: [00:49:11] You got to keep your mind, right?

Deagon Williams: [00:49:14] Yeah. Yeah. So I mean, the other thing that I do honestly, is I’m an avid cyclist. And when the pandemic hit, a friend of mine said, well, if we’re not going to be driving all over the San Francisco Bay area, we’re going to have time to ride. And so I’ve written. Basically a lunchtime ride almost every day since the pandemic happened.

And I don’t know that I’ll ever go back to anything other than riding five or six days a week, because that keeps my mind.

Robert Brill: [00:49:42] Right. That’s incredible. I totally should be doing that. And I don’t leave the house.

Deagon Williams: [00:49:48] I will call you at 11.30 on Mondays and be like, what are you doing, buddy? Go for a walk, just walk around the block.

It’s amazing. I mean, I’ll tell you, I don’t want to write there’s there’s days when I’m like, I gotta get this work done, but, that helps a lot.

Robert Brill: [00:50:06] How do you going, how can people contact you?

Deagon Williams: [00:50:10] I would love for people to contact me, my website, which is There’s a lot of S’s in the middle of that word.

It’s culinary business strategy dot com. Instagram DM would be my preferred, really loving to get people in my DM. And I’m happy to talk to anybody. One of the things that I’m offering is, I have a couple of pro bono assets available. One is something called the six step process to managing a successful food business. That’s found on my website. Culinary business and I’m willing to give a 30 minute intro call to anybody that wants help with strategy. Whether like if you have the money or not, it doesn’t matter. We can figure out some broad stroke strategies of how to survive this. If anybody wants it.

And then I have a cashflow toolkit as well. Like I said, that is not a pro bono, but that is priced such that everybody can afford it.

Robert Brill: [00:51:09] And those are all on your website.

Deagon Williams: [00:51:11] All on my website, my homepage, and just like COVID-19 button to where you’re like, what can I find?

Robert Brill: [00:51:18] Deagon Williams everyone.  Principal at Culinary Business Strategy, Chef food and restaurant business consultant.

Thank you so much.

Deagon Williams: [00:51:25] Thank you. I love being with you. It was a pleasure.

Robert Brill: [00:51:29] Thank you for listening to this episode of the LA Business Podcast. If you like what we’re doing on this podcast, please consider subscribing on Apple or Google. Play, leaving a five star review and sharing with your friends. If you have any questions, comments, or recommendations for a guest you’d like to hear on this podcast, please email me [email protected]

Thank you have a fantastic day.


Share this episode with your friends

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on email

Recent Episodes


Audio Production – Echegoyen Productions

Creation and Marketing –, a hyperlocal advertising company.