Opening a restaurant can be hard. Opening a restaurant that uses local, fresh ingredients and works to benefit the local economy is even harder.
But that’s exactly what Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano and her husband Victor are doing at Don Emiliano’s Restaurant, a made-to-order Mexican restaurant that opened in O’Fallon, Missouri, in 2015.
Ramirez-Arellano, who kick started the business alongside husband, said the restaurant aimed to help her town by hiring local employees and pumping up the local economy.
In order to open the restaurant, Ramirez-Arellano said they had a steep learning curve finding a location with reasonable rent, forming relationships with food vendors and buying quality kitchen equipment. In addition, she said they wanted to focus a menu around traditional Mexican recipes with vegan options since her daughter is vegan.
Deciding to focus much of her menu on vegan fare required the duo to do hard math on how to make recipes that were solely vegan and how to best source the right products.
Since opening, Ramirez-Arellano said there are certainly a few things she would have done differently. She said she should have hired an attorney to look over her building lease and talk to an insurance broker. More importantly, she wishes she had talked to people with more experience to help ease her transition to operation, not just family who tell you what you want to hear.
Seeking outside information, she said, would have made some of the critical decision making easier. Instead, they were often left to make difficult decisions without the ability to relate their choices to those of other successful small businesses.
Now, with three years of experience under their belt, the team at Don Emiliano’s is working to expand her customer base and build her business.
In order to get more customers through the door, the restaurant has leveraged social media and more traditional marketing tactics to boost word of mouth. The restaurant is currently working to use DoorDash, an online food delivery service, to deliver food to customers who can’t come to the restaurant. In addition, the business advertises in local hotel books and offers a vegan specialty menu that attracts eaters with dietary restrictions like diary and gluten.
Some ideas have been less successful, including a monthly coupon book and a birthday coupon mailing for discounted coupons on customers’ birthdays.
But even with a successful restaurant, Ramirez-Arellano said there are number of difficulties facing any small business owner in 2019.
The main challenge, she said, getting people through the doors and understanding how to best leverage social media and online tools to get more customers in the door. For any brick-and-mortar restaurant, in today’s world, communicating with potential customers over social media is crucial. That extends to Yelp, the online review app, which gives restaurants a rank of one to five stars. If you don’t do well on Yelp, it can be difficult to convince new eaters to give you a shot.
Because of the challenges of social media, Don Emiliano’s focuses on driving word-of-mouth support for the business and working closely with local non-profits. The restaurant also hosts fundraisers and seeks to be a hub for the local community.
Last year, the restaurant participated in the Project HOME Golf Tournament that has been helping preserve O’fallon as a great place to live and provides assistance with home repairs to homeowners. The restaurant also sponsors several fundraisers during the year with a portion of the sales going to the MS Walk and the Alzheimer’s association, to name a few.
Ramirez-Arellano advised other businesses to focus on targeted messaging to their customers as a quick tool to help create word-of-mouth. For restaurants, particularly those that want to become part of the local scene, that outreach is a necessary tool.
To accomplish that increased word of mouth, Don Emiliano’s focuses on the values that put it in a class above its competitors. At Don Emiliano’s food is made to order and nothing is prepared beforehand. Also, all the products are fresh, making the end product even better.
The restaurant also hires locally and likes to see their profits reinvested in the community.
Looking ahead to the first six months of 2019, Ramirez-Arellano said they want to increase the customer base during the lunch hour, opening up a new stream of revenue for the restaurant.
In addition, they continue to focus on training employees how to best run a small business. With that knowledge, employees can feel empowered to bring fresh ideas to the business and help increase customers.
Ramirez-Arellano also said she hopes to be more involved with the business moving ahead and leverage her husband’s personality to bring more soon-to-be-satisfied customers through the front doors.
More importantly, Ramirez-Arellano hopes the next six months will provide her with greater insight on how to make Don Emiliano’s more efficient, while providing great food and service to all of their customers.
To learn more about Don Emiliano’s and the great food and service the offer, check out their website: Don Emiliano’s Restaurant