Christine Ferris of True Food Kitchen had to find new footing when the floor dropped out from under her. | Rise Grind Repeat 091


While the pandemic changed the way many of us work, imagine handling the marketing for a business that suddenly had no market. Christine Ferris of True Food Kitchen says the restaurant business shut down overnight, and their capacity for 100% online orders and delivery wasn’t ready. True Food Kitchen had to pivot.

“We went from having a marketing plan for the whole year to having no money,” she says. Today, as things seem poised to open back up. Christine Ferris says the crisis changed the way she looks at her role. “Pivoting was really the key, in terms of what are really effective marketing and communications strategies we could use with a minimal budget.”


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True Food Kitchen Christine Ferris

| Rise Grind Repeat 091 |


So we went from an entire marketing plan that was put together for the year, we had no money. And so pivoting was obviously the key there in terms of you know, what are really effective marketing and communication strategies that we could use with a minimal budget?


On today’s episode of Rise, Grind, Repeat, we talked to Christine Ferris from True Food Kitchen, talking about how they’re reaching new audiences and driving more foot traffic by creating educational content. Let’s dive right in. Thanks so much for joining on another episode of Rise, Grind, Repeat, I’m I’m excited about this, because, you know, your history, lifelong marketer, specifically in the food and beverage industry. And I mean, it’s that is one industry that has been hit hard. I mean, with COVID, between having to revamp business process or offerings and all that two things are about to reopen. So I’m sure you have been extremely busy.


It’s been a it’s been a crazy year to say the least. A lot of learnings going into it. It’s, you know, when you take you know, I’ve been in the marketing industry now for almost 10 years. All in the hospitality industry. I did a little bit internships in college and stuff at places that weren’t hospitality, necessarily, but I immediately kind of jumped into the restaurant business. But even you know, looking over the past year, it’s definitely it’s been, it’s been tough, not only for marketers, but also operationally and I know, we’re lucky. Yeah, true fit, right. We have a big following, and a loyal following as well. And I think we’re a big enough brand that we’ve been able to come out of it. But there’s so many people that have really struggled, but it’s we’ve taken a lot of learnings, I think we’re gonna we’re kind of looking at this year as a really awesome opportunity to come back and welcome people back into the restaurants hopefully, over the next couple months. So yeah, it’s been a lot, but it’s been exciting too.


And before we get into kind of some strategy updates that you guys have done, and how you guys have navigated with love to management and marketing for quite some time, what what got you into marketing, because it’s, it’s a beast in and of itself. It’s not like most industries. And so it takes, I think, a special person mentality and all that. So what drove you to marketing?


Yeah, so I actually grew up playing soccer all my life, I think I quickly realized, you know, seeing how many other people play soccer and are really great. I was like, I, you know, I can’t go to college to play soccer, I’m not going to be a pro soccer player. So I really wanted my career to be establish based on where I went to school. So I immediately got into the business school at University of Colorado at Boulder, joined the business fraternity there and took a bunch of marketing classes. Personally, you know, my personality is very outgoing, like, I get a lot of energy from working with people. So I love the sales aspect of it. And I kind of did a little trial and error. You know, without playing sports in college, like a lot of people did, you know, I had the opportunity to do a bunch of different internships. So I did everything from sales to events, I worked with some of those bigger brands like Nestle, I did a lot of their on campus events, which was awesome. Also a lot of work. But again, a lot with people, which I really enjoyed. You know, and then social media really took off when I was, you know, a junior and senior in college Instagram went live and the whole you know, landscape of social media really changed and I loved it. So I got an internship with Frontier Airlines doing their all their social media. Wow, really, like all of it, like leaving the strategy and everything,


it was a lot more of the customer service side. So I would honestly say it was more of a customer service role. But you know, as an intern, you come in, you’re learning a lot about the brand, just from what people are saying issues or compliments that they have and then you know, immediately responding so a little bit on the events side, sales and then also a social media and just fell in love with it. And I was offered a job the day I graduated from as a as a senior at CU Boulder to go work for Smashburger Smashburger is a fast casual burger restaurant that started in Denver. And you know that I think they have over 500 locations across the globe. Now they’re actually a global global company. But yeah, I was lucky to go work for them. I immediately took a job as their social media coordinator and then expanded my role there into email marketing and content marketing. And throughout my four years there, you know, went from like I said, the social media side to more of that public relations side and I love I just fell in love with the hospitality industry. And I realized that being around food, I’m a huge foodie, and also people was really my passion and that’s kind of where I decided I want to want to go. But what I also learned working at Smashburger was it’s you have to be able to have a passion for what you are marketing I love the brand. They’re, they’re an incredible brand. But the food for me wasn’t what I was passionate about. Growing up playing soccer, I’d always had a huge passion for being healthy, and living a healthy lifestyle. And I remember it was actually right before I started Smashburger, I just walked into True Food Kitchen, they have a location and Cherry Creek, and, you know, you walk in and just get this energy immediately from the, the vibe of the staff and how bright it is. And then, you know, the food is just amazing as well. And I said to my boss at the time, I said, You know, I think I’m gonna have to work here one day, not right now, but one day. And so when I realized that I really needed to have a passion for what I was marketing it, you know, it came to me that I needed to go work for True Food. So I kind of on a whim reached out to the VP of Marketing and truefitt at the time was a part of Fox restaurant concepts, which I’m sure a lot of people here are familiar with. Amazing, amazing companies. So I came and I came in at the right time as it was kind of a weird, you know, timing opportunity for me to be the brand manager for North Italia, which is one of their restaurants as well. And then True Food Kitchen. And at the time, they were still an umbrella of those 16 brands all within the fox restaurant concept company. So for me, it was really cool to have a bunch of brands to work on. I never done that before. But yeah, I mean, honestly, as a marketer, I I did, I did a little a lot of trial and error throughout college through internships. Like, like I said, love being around people, but then also really wanted to follow my passion. And that’s where I am today.


Yeah, no, and I love that. Because at the end of the day, it’s if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, it’s just not fun to get up and do what it is that you’re doing. I mean, see so many people, whether it be working or running a business, that it’s just like, I’m just, I’m just here, right? And it sounds like I mean, you you brought up, you know, you learned a lot through your internship. I mean, I see a lot of time. I mean, we’re gonna add different agencies here, it’s, you know, in terms of interns come in, some are eager, some are just like an intern, I’m just going to get what I get out of it and move on, how big did that play, and I guess your role of growth and identifying what it is that you love, because, you know, you could have brushed it off, but you’re eager and wanting to learn and try new things


totally. And I you know, I feel like I’m an internally competitive person. And I, whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know. But I loved the effort, the restaurant industry, because it is so competitive. And especially as a marketer, marketing restaurants right now, especially right now. You know, you’re constantly trying to get people’s attention to get you to come into the restaurant, you’re you’re constantly selling and with the evolving landscape that has now transitioned into digital marketing, it just poses a lot of a lot of competition out there for people to get you to come in. So for me, it was realizing that for having a passion in that health and wellness industry, I needed to go do that. And if I were to ever move on from True Food, I think that’s that’s where I want to remain just because me waking up every day doesn’t feel like work, it truly feels like I’m waking up and doing what I love to do every day. I think it’s also extremely important to surround yourself with people that are just as passionate as you are. And that’s what I’ve realized. And working at True is every single person from a dishwasher to a cook to you know, hostess is just as passionate about the company as our CEO is and as I am and our entire team. And so, and I thrive off those, that passion and that energy. And so and not to say that my previous roles and companies didn’t have that it’s just when you when you find that perfect fit, have the passion, but also are surrounded by great people that make you better. It’s just it’s awesome to see exactly,


no, I love the competitive side. I think as you said that I think everyone, everyone in here is actually played sports at some point. And I think competitiveness is is the I love it because I don’t know, it just makes you drive to to just try and do better, which then you’re doing better for the client and all that. And so, you know, here in the soccer background definitely definitely saw that competitiveness comes from, but outside of me, and everyone can probably agree. I mean, the mental health side of things, I mean, doing something you love. So obviously the benefit there. But in terms of the actual like output and the effort that you put in trying to get the brand out there. I mean, how much better of I guess a marketer were you because you’re actually aligned with, you know, a brand that fits more of your passion that people around you. So I mean, did your work start to excel even more than I’m sure it already has?


Totally. And that’s Yeah, that’s a nice little segue. So what I love about True Food is that I know that we’re probably gonna go into this later. But what I love about the brand is that we really are trying to solve a big problem. I think that people are they’re so overwhelmed and stressed out by eating out in general and what’s right to eat. there’s a there’s a million diets out there. Are you keto? Are you gluten free? Are you paleo? Are you just trying to eat healthy Are you you know, following the anti inflammatory diet, whatever it is, people are so stressed about what to eat and especially going out when you want to indulge with friends and family. There’s a stress that you’re going to go out You’re going to feel really bad. So, you know, True Food was founded on the belief that really like eating out and eating good food should not make you feel bad, like it should make you feel really good. And that’s what we’re trying to change in people’s minds. And over the past, I would say even two years, even more, so we’re really pushing that mission of ours. And it’s come into fruition more with COVID. Because eating healthy, and they’ve even proved it over the past couple of months, eating healthy Whole Foods, anti inflammatory diet, can actually help you increase chances of not getting COVID having a higher and better immune system, or if you have COVID, fighting it off quicker. So for me over the past couple years, you know, seeing how eating and dieting has evolved. I think people are moving away from the idea of dieting, quote, unquote dieting, and really just putting wholesome good food into your into your stomach. I think for us, we have a couple of challenges, you know, True Food, one is not in every market, right? So we’re only we’re currently in 35, markets and to be 36. But you know, a lot of different places probably need a True Food that we’re not able to bring them. The other thing is, you know, with higher quality ingredients comes a higher price point. And so my job as a marketer is to help people understand why they’re paying, you know, $22 for a whole grass fed burger with a salad versus $5. In and out. And that is tough. I mean, and not everyone can afford that on a daily basis. But it’s just re educating people that put what you put into your body essentially affects how you feel that also affects your mood. We’re excited we were about to launch, you know, we’re a seasonal restaurant brands. So we are about to launch a new menu in April. And with that, we’re going to be trying to shift the way that again, that people are thinking about eating food. So it’s more about how do you want to feel after you eat like, do you want to feel energized? Do you want to feel happy? Do you need to calm down and relax? What are the ingredients that you can put into your body in order to do that? So we’re working through a lot of that. But yes, the passion for me has come out and seeing that there is such, there is a huge problem out there that people that really don’t know what how to eat and to when they do go out to eat. They are either overindulging or they’re not putting the right things in their body. And so it does become a stressful experience when you go out to eat and you’re automatically think you’re going to feel bad afterwards.


Yeah, put good food in your body, you’ll feel good, then you can go get the job and allows you to pay for eating out of True Food every single day. Yeah. But I think you bring up a good point. And I think that’s something a lot of businesses struggle with as well is I do great work. It’s it’s more expensive than the others, I can easily come down on price, or I can promote the value of the service that I do. So how how do you guys bake that into your marketing and your communications when you know, on social, any advertising that you do?


It’s a great question. So our our marketing strategy has shifted over the past couple years. Obviously, everyone’s on their phones or their computers, right or a digital device. So we really in terms of a strategy, we build out a calendar that primarily consists of about 80% Digital. So it’s email marketing, it’s how are we messaging to our loyalty program through our app on our phones? our digital media strategy consists of paid social search display. And then how are we reaching people in the restaurant? So our struggle and our challenge as a marketing team is how do we communicate, like you said, all of the benefits of eating healthy, and why you’re paying more across channels that are difficult to do that. So for example, you can’t really explain and educate people on on a digital ad that you have three seconds to get their attention. Where we really utilize that is places like our website where people are spending a little bit more time writing about our brand, we utilize our email communication strategy as really our primary source of communication. And that’s because a people are reading that longer and be we’re able to directly target messages based on people spending. So right now we have a loyalty program. And we just launched a new one. And the reason we did that was we want to know our guests better. And what we found is when we’re able to target messaging based on what they want to see and hear and why they’re coming to true food, maybe why they’re not coming into food, we’re able to see those direct results quickly. The other place we do it a lot is the in store piece. So for example, when we launched new seasonal menus, a lot of the new items that we put on the menu are going to be ingredients that wouldn’t typically be that familiar ingredient to someone so for example, we had like last year we had jackfruit we have you know see the seabuckthorn Berry. We have a couple of new ones coming this year. And we really pride ourselves in having those ingredients that are kind of the superfood ingredients that not aren’t really well known. But that also poses a challenge as marketers like you need to tell people what your what it is right like because I don’t know what it is I’m probably not going to order it. And with that comes then messaging of the of the ingredients and so from a marketing standpoint, our strategy always consists of an in store piece so whether that lives at the table To table card that they can read while they’re sitting there enjoying time. Or it’s an A frame to get them to come into the restaurant, or you know, as takeout has increased with COVID. You know, our off premises business has gone up significantly since last January as as compared to what it was prior. But it’s what is a piece that people are taking home maybe putting on their fridge, is it a magnet? Is it a bag stuffer that just has a little bit about what they’re eating. So it’s all those different messaging points. And the other big piece, you know, I think a lot of people forget that a marketing strategy, especially for a restaurant really relies on the staff to bring it home. So we can have a huge marketing campaign that we are essentially sitting at the office and saying, hey, here you go, here’s our marketing campaign bring it to life, if the staff can’t get behind it, then there’s really it’s not going to work. Because we have you know, a couple of minutes without with staff coming into tables. And if they’re not selling our food, our story on our mission, then it’s that it’s not going to be brought to the guest correctly. So it’s everything from Digital with the, you know, effective strategy based on the platform, your messaging on to in store, whether it’s a table card, but then also the staff as well.


I love it. I mean, education is the name of the game. I mean, if you educated they’re going to see the value, they’re then going to come in pay, pay those higher price, but I think you hit on. Well, two things I’d like to dive into before the loyalty program. Really, I think the struggle that you mentioned, where the sales team or the staff, I think there’s always a huge disconnect between you got marketers that are like, Oh, we got these genius messages. We’re doing this, we’re going to bring him in and all sudden that that that enthusiasm, what’s being said, the actual words that are being said, don’t translate into what the customer experiences once they go in there. How do you guys bridging that gap?


That’s a good question. So we’ve we’ve done a lot, we hired a new chief people officer, who came from Shake Shack, and she really was known there for being an amazing team lead to and bringing the marketing and just all of the arms of the business together with the team. So a couple of different things we do. So as a marketer, and really putting together the calendar for the year when I’m presenting a campaign, it always has to have a staff component. So when we are getting back into the spring, so I’ll continue to kind of refer back to the spring menu items that we have coming in April, what we are envisioning is and hoping for is that people are going to be excited to hopefully come back into dining in restaurants if they are comfortable. How do we get our staff excited about that? We’re bringing in things like staff t shirts that are going to have a conversation starter on the back of their shirt. So for example, if it’s how do you want to feel today? What you know, what do you want to feel today? So it’s doing the stuff t shirts, we do a bunch of incentive contests. So if it’s, you know, selling a new menu item, is it having people sign up for the loyalty program, having those talking points, front and center for them? So that’s, that’s what a lot I think people forget is that while you have a campaign ready to go everything from a digital standpoint, and in store standpoint, on from a marketing, you know, side, then there’s a whole staff piece. And so a lot of like what we have is a checkpoint for us now is what what are those staff talking points, and they need to be quick and easy. You know, what’s the 10 second elevator speech that we want our staff to get across to our guests. So it’s Yeah, so it’s instead of contests. It’s, you know, just educating people with trainings. We have an amazing chef team. And so they do four different seasonal rollouts a year. With those seasonal rollouts, comes the chef training in the in the talking points piece, so they do regional chef trainings, and then those disseminate down to all their sous chefs. So it’s really kind of starts from the top, you got to have your, your staff talking points and strategy, and then work with everyone on your team to really bring it home.


Amazing. You just fold them in, in the conversation. And somehow, I think that’s the biggest disconnect is just marrying sales and marketing. It’s like so many great ideas from the marketing. And it’s like, well, we just need to be aggressive and sell. But I think that’s where a lot of missed opportunity is. And that creates a better experience, which is what consumers are wanting, especially more than now is an awesome experience. And I think that’s what you’re creating for them bringing them in through the education and continuing that experience with the sales reps. And it’s or the the staff and everything. And it’s one, one cohesive message and it feels like a brand that’s actually interacting with being a humanized brand, essentially,


totally. And that that’s a great point, too. I think what we are trying to work through as a team is what is that experience that people have in store? I think, obviously, as a restaurant brand, it’s easy to say, you know, you want people to eat and drink really good food and drinks, right? But what’s like, what is the experience that people have? Is it that they Yeah, is it that they’re reading an educational piece? And then a staff person comes over and kind of you know, walks them through like what is what are the steps of service that are that’s going on at the restaurant to really make people have a great experience. And now with COVID you know, are we can’t just stop at that dining experience. There’s me plenty of people that I think continue to choose to dine out there at their house. I think while off promise will shift a little bit back more towards Danny in the restaurant, there’s still going to be a huge opportunity to drive sales with off premise. And a lot of that could be you know, for True Food. We’ll continue to have our full menu online, available, but we’ve kind of shifted our strategy with COVID to being more of that value driven family pack so there’s a lot of families dining at home or still working at home. They need that easy access. So it needs to be convenient and value driven. And then additionally cover we kind of shift a strategy to to be a little bit more into what is like a meal prep. So people are very busy. What’s the experience that we can bring that you could potentially get in the restaurant off premise. And that’s something like, you know, providing easy, healthy meals for them to then have for meal prep during the week is a value bundle. So not only in our, in our minds in our strategy does we do we need to continue focusing on what is that in store experience going to be? But what is that off premise experience as well? And how do you make it the one in the same, right? Like, it needs to be consistent and streamlined across both?


I love it. I mean, there’s, I definitely see why you guys are blown up. I love it. And like I said, wanted to kind of touch on the loyalty program. I’m huge on this, because it’s what everyone tries to new customer acquisition gets thrown in the doors for the first time. But that’s that’s the most expensive customer to get. And I think a lot of people lose focus in the lifetime of a customer, how can we get them to come back more frequently? order more. And that’s essentially where the loyalty program comes in. We’re big on identifying how people are engaging with the brand, not just sales, but what content are they engaging with? What social posts are they liking and taking some of those and continuing messaging in a personalized way across different channels. So it sounds like you guys saw success? You guys are kind of pivoting and building on that with this new loyalty program. We’d love to kind of hear what successes Did you see in that first loyalty program? What pitfalls Did you see? And how is that translating into this new program that you guys are launching?


Perfect, love it. So our first loyalty program was a first ever loyalty program we’ve ever had, we’ve always had an email program. But with email, you don’t get the guest data. And you don’t get to send them personalized preferences unless you’re segmenting, you know, a database of 500,000 email members. And a lot of times at least our company doesn’t have that bandwidth to do that. So our first loyalty loyalty program launched, I believe, November of 2018. It was great for what it started out to be the the issue that we saw was there is a barrier to entry because you had to sign up, but you also had to link your credit card. And the entire point of link linking a credit card is for you to be able to track spending and for us to be able to track your spending. But also then to generate more points towards offers. I think the other thing that we struggled with, other than the barrier to entry was that the tier programs were not message in a way that felt attainable for people. And the benefit. There wasn’t enough, you know, discounts. I think a lot of people join loyalty programs to be provided with rewards, right and reasons to come back. And you know, or if it’s not a discount, in terms of like, $1 off, like, are you giving the recipes, at least from our standpoint, what education are you giving me? Like, what what am I getting from being a part of this? And I think what we had to do is evaluate that we weren’t giving people enough to be a part of the program to want them to, to continue to remain. So a lot of the messaging and the offers that we will be sending out we’re even getting redeemed. And it’s because the loyalty members that had signed up weren’t engaged enough with the brand. And I think it’s it’s does, like I said, a matter of, you know, not feeling like if I’m going to go spend money, am I actually getting rewards like does this matter. So we re evaluated, we sign on a new partner, and we have the the barrier to entry pieces a lot better. It’s just first name, last name, email, or just email, we’re able to track their spending based on phone numbers. So it’s not adding a credit card in there. It’s based on phone number, which I think people feel a lot more comfortable with, you can go through the ranks of adding everything in there, if you’d like. And what we also did was we put a spending out based on points, you spend $1, you get a point. And it’s that quick entry offer that you get, you know, you spend $150, you get $15 in rewards. So really easy to understand and and think through about what you are spending and what you’re getting back. The other thing is that we have a lot more educational pieces in terms of our brand. And I think what we found is that if you are if you’re interested in signing up to be a loyalty member with True Food Kitchen, you are someone that really cares about the brand. Because you know, our average guest comes in two times a year, it’s not as often as fast casual guests, yeah, two to three times a year. And that’s again, like I said, it’s a little bit more expensive. We’re also not in every market, we’re not easily accessible. So obviously our job was to increase that frequency. But our loyal our loyalty members are our most loyal guests. And so what we figured out was what you know, what are they want to want to be messaged from us. And we’re able to do that and look at that based on their spending habits. So we can say, hey, this group of people loves our seasonal menu. Let’s send them a seasonal app, you know, appetizer offering, you know, this group of people comes in once every year, we need to get them back in what’s an offer that we can do that with? We’ve been doing a lot more surprise and delight offers with our loyalty members. For example, we just had a Super Bowl promo that went out so if you were a loyalty member, you got a $10 bounce back in your account and had a couple weeks to use it and our retention rates have been going up. So it’s again it’s finding you know, what is that sweet spot in terms of What are people wanting to spend? What are they wanting to buy? And what are they wanting to be messaged to you? And it’s just making our marketing more successful that way too.


That’s awesome. I love it. I’m excited to kind of launch goes anything like that? Have you guys have anything folded in the plan on maybe rewarding based off engaging with content knowing that the education piece is so big? Maybe you get five points. If you watch this 32nd video, that’s maybe something that you’ve never even engaged with help the cross awareness into?


Yes, that’s a great question that you bring up because we, a couple weeks ago, actually, we had asked our loyalty members, what like what type of content you want to hear from us, we’re going to be doing a new wellness Wednesday series launching this month for national Nutrition Month. And we asked them a series of questions. And we It was the most engaging, it actually linked them to the post online, first on social media, but it was the most engaged post we’ve ever had before. And it was so which is so cool, because people do really care. And at the same time, we get amazing content ideas that we can bring back to them. And for us, what we’ve realized is it’s very easy as a big brand to talk about yourself, right? Like, what do we offer what you know, and it’s, it’s, we find that, especially on social media, we’ve had to really reverse our strategy, what is like, what is the benefit that we’re providing to our guests versus what, like talking about ourselves, it’s very easy for brands to do that. So for us, that was a great learning experience to like, these are the topics that people want to hear about. And then we had hundreds of responses. And that is now being, you know, that’s going to be our entire marketing strategy for this month on social media. We’re kicking off a new wellness Wednesday series with our chef and every single topic covered are all those that were recommended by our guests. And we’re hoping to continue that moving forward. But to your point, how can you reward people for actually, you know, interacting with the brand, I think that’s we have, we’re going to be doing double points days. And that’s, that’s something that I’m sure will try as well. Awesome. I think


every not just big brands that every brand struggles with that I mean that when they’re going through the creative process, it’s we do this we do this is how we can help. But it’s like going back to the hero’s journey, this is something I’m always trying to wrap my head around is like how can make the consumer feel like the hero in the story, let them come with the idea, speak to their pain points, and then bring the values that overcome those pain points. And that’s kind of how you can speak to yourself, while kind of relating to the end. It’s hard. It’s hard,


it is hard. And we’ve actually, you know, I look back on how we used to lay out our marketing calendar for the year. And obviously, it’s, you know, with COVID and everything. And with restaurants in general, it’s hard to have a year annual market Canada, it’s more like quarterly, maybe six months out. But we actually start by talking about what is what’s the mood of the season, you know, what it like in January, your mood of the seasons a lot different than it is in June, when it’s summer? And how like, what are the benefits that trip you can provide you so for example, in the winter time, what like, what’s the comfort food that we can give people but still healthy? We’re a summer like, you know, what are those refreshing beverages that people want to have? So it’s, we kind of we outline it based on the mood of the season. You know, and obviously, the mood of the season in Arizona is a little different season in New York City. What’s like, what, what is the generic mood that people are feeling? And how can we provide a benefit to them based on that mood, and then we layer it in the rest of the calendar on top of that. So we’ve that’s where we’ve taken a step back as we I think we realized that we were talking a lot to ourselves about ourselves. And it’s a lot about what people want to hear and exactly the benefit that you can provide.


I’m sure you’re pumped to kind of see the change and engagement and just sales and everything from shifting that strategy. I mean, it’ll be a huge eye opener, I’m sure. And it’ll be great to see that. Yeah. You know, and speaking a COVID. I think a lot of businesses specifically, you know, the food and beverage had to make huge changes. I mean, what were some of the big changes that I guess you guys had to overcome? I mean, obviously things closing down, you guys having to do takeout, all that type of stuff. I mean, not only are you trying to change your business model, how are you communicating to consumers to the craziness? how did how did you? How did you deal with it?


It was funny, like looking back on the past year, I mean, there was times when I mean, you’re sending out emails that your stores closed One day, the next day, you’re telling them they’re back open. So So I mean, first and foremost, obviously, we’re being a restaurant brand we are we were known for our hospitality, and that in store experience. So that was it was it was really harmful, I think at first to have to completely close down all of our restaurants and take the communication experience that people have in store online. And a lot of that was primarily done via email and social media. Additionally, the biggest thing was really that, you know, our budgets as a marketing team are completely cut immediately. And so we went from an entire marketing plan that was put together for the year, we had no money. And so pivoting was obviously the key there in terms of you know, what are really effective marketing and communication strategies that we could use with a minimal budget. And again, that really goes back to social media email, and just working with our store teams on being effective there. So I mean, it was a shift in strategy, like you’ve talked about, not only from a communication and budget standpoint, but our entire culinary strategy really shifted. So, you know, like I said, we were really we pride ourselves on the experience in the hospitality that we provide in store, how does that shift our entire menu strategy for off promise. So what we did, we had a dial, and obviously, labor was cut. So that means less people working in the restaurant, less people to make all the food. So we actually had to reduce our menu quite a bit. We took a look at all of our core, you know, top selling items were the favorites, also things that travel well. And then what are some of those value driven bundle impacts that people can enjoy at home with families in a convenient and value driven way. So as a marketer, you know, our entire strategy really shifted to communicating just on email, website social, and it was really pushing those off premise offerings. You know, when things started to kind of come back in the summertime, what we had to do was actually do kind of a shift in terms of how we connected with people in store again, so when restaurants were opening back up, whether it was dine in, you had 25-50% capacity, or just strictly using the patio, we launched a contactless mobile ordering system for the first time. And it essentially allowed people to come in, you’d have the entire menu on your phone, obviously, from a QR code perspective, like a lot of restaurants did, and just order and be in and out without even talking to a server. And I think for us, that was a struggle for us. Because like I said, I think people if people want to dine out, so they because they want to be served and waited on right. And so that kind of took away that hospitality piece to it. And we brought back in, you know, the normal hospitality piece, and still have that as an option if people want that. But it was it was shifting everything from you know, our marketing communication budget, the way people dine with us technology, all the way down to the restaurant design. I mean, we had to cut down, you know, you know, a ton of different, you know, chairs and getting people in was just a completely different experience. So it was a lot


that 20 different conversations that are happening at once that typically take six to 12 months to finally think through get rolled out how to do it and weeks. Yeah, that’s tough.


It was I mean, and then, you know, you have smaller teams doing the exact same amount of work. So it was just a lot of Yeah, a lot of over overtime for everyone. But I think that we’re happy, I think we’ve taken the experience that we had last year, and we want to make sure that we’re utilizing all those learnings from last year into this year. But also, you know, what does that look like to get people back into restaurants? Again, I think, you know, that I’m sure everyone has heard it’s gonna be like the resurgence of whatever that was, you know, the 80s and 90s, whatever it was 20 years? Yes. And, you know, hopefully that’s the case. But I don’t I don’t think things will be back to normal until, you know, late summer, early fall, but but you know, what is the experience that people now want to have, I think the biggest thing that’s going to come out of this, at least for restaurants, in my opinion, is that people are going to want to go out, and they’re going to want to have a memorable experience. So instead of just like coming and sitting down and dining out again, they which might be fine for some people, but I do think a lot of people are going to want that memorable experience. And the restaurant brands that are just any brand that really owns that and creates that memorable memorable experience for them are going to be the ones that win,


and you guys are probably gonna see, I’m sure you guys have already experienced this maybe new audience segments you guys have never seen before, because they’re willing to pay a little bit more for that experience, the experience you guys give, and not only the experience in store, but how they feel after I mean, not just lethargic and full and all that.


Yeah. And that’s where like, that’s why I think our strategy is going to shift even more so this year than ever has in terms of, like I said, we’re really going to start shifting focus to more of the benefit that you can feel after eating our food versus just talking about what’s in the food. Like, obviously, the ingredients and the educational piece is important, but we’re going to take it a little bit differently and, and do more of that educational piece in terms of Did you know tumeric and this ingredient can make you feel happy because of X, Y and Z. You know, our drinks are built with all these awesome ingredients too. And, and and it’s it’s maintaining health really, I mean, I think people are gonna be even more focused on staying healthy now. And what are the things that I can be doing for that, I think the other thing that is definitely gonna shift in my opinion, and it already has is that people are really going to be doing what’s best for themselves, right. And I think that self care has become so much more important. So, you know, from a messaging standpoint with loyalty with a e-club or trying to incorporate more into our content strategy on that lifestyle piece. So it’s providing recipes that are that people can make at home. It’s the self care piece, like I said, we’re gonna do this wellness Wednesday series to provide people with an educational, you know, place on our platforms where they can go on a continuous basis to learn more about that lifestyle piece, too.


I you guys are onto something huge, because I’m willing to bet there’s a lot more people that are searching for foods that make me feel a certain way or to overcome anxiety or to sleep better and stuff like that. And so if you start leaning more into rather than Oh, we have wholesome ingredients in this like it’s everyone’s messaging like that now But no one’s messaging with Do you want to feel this way, these are the foods to eat. And whether it’s in home or or dining out, you guys are onto something to where not only is it gonna make you guys finable from an SEO perspective, but you know, you go back to the Kindle reward people based off consuming stuff and people start watching that more, they’re gonna be like, I want to feel happier, I want to feel less this and more that have true foods in the mind.


It is. And it’s a shift in mentality to writing for guests. There’s a couple of brands that aren’t restaurant brands, I think do it really well to care of their vitamin company, and it’s all about Okay, what are you trying to fix for yourself? Like, what do you what do you want to feel? What do you want help with? And how can we help you? Like, I think that’s where the shift needs to be, instead of just like, getting people back into the restaurant and trying to make money again, it’s no, like, let’s think about what people are wanting to shift in their mentality and how they feel and how we can help them with that.


Because that lets them give the consumer what we offer, and what do you want to feel? Let us help you feel that way? And that’s what’s gonna win.


Exactly, exactly. And it’s, you know, it’s not only in a store, it’s like, then we partner with some health and wellness brands, we do a lot with yoga, and fitness brands in terms of offerings, and whether it’s a discount or partnership, you know, between the two come eat with us and go, you know, go grab it. Yeah, that would be cool. Almost like a


whole day where you can do it. So nature walk the income in have lunch, good to yoga, that would be that’d be sweet. Exactly. That’d be sweet. So I mean, you kind of touched on a few things. You know, we talked a lot about, you know, how you guys have pivoted, sounds like you guys are on to a few, you know, big things that you guys are trying to work on. And then in the near term, the next three to six months, I guess, what are you guys working on from either strategy or new thing perspective? As a company, but also you professionally?


Yeah, um, great question. So I would say we have like three to four goals that are really top of mind for us. So one, like I said, we’re trying to reimagine what it means for people to dine at restaurants, and actually be the leader for for, for having that experience for our guests. So we’re currently thinking through, you know, from the time a guest walks into the restaurant, they time they sit down at the table to time the order a drink, what is it, what’s the entire experience for them look like, in addition to ordering online, so it’s really reimagining that, and it’s going to be done through things that live at the table, through things that go on here to go back, it’s gonna be never before seen that creates that exciting experience for them. So that’s kind of first and foremost. Second, it’s really diving into having a having an effective spend on digital. So we have, I think we’ve talked a little bit about, you know, we’ve had this giant marketing strategy where we have 80 to 85% of our budget relates spent on digital, we need to get really, really specific about where we’re spending to make sure that we’re reaching the right people. So we have hired a new lead of our digital team who has been amazing at really diving into the numbers and really being effective on where we’re spending. So, you know, are we spending on the right channels? Are we targeting the right people? Do we need to hone in on certain markets based on that span? And what’s working for us and what’s not? So it’s getting really effective with our marketing spends spend in strategy. It’s really being strategic in our seasonal menu changes, too. So we did a survey actually, exactly a year ago. And the whole point of the survey was to find out, if people weren’t coming back to the restaurant, why were they not coming back? And where were they going and why. And I think that one of the biggest things that we found was people love the fact that we’re a seasonal restaurant, we need to continue to educate them on what eating seasonal means, and why it’s beneficial. So that’s obviously our job as marketers to do that. But it’s also almost increasing that seasonal change. And so what we’re going to be doing is, you know, we have our four core seasonal menu changes, winter, spring, fall, summer, but how can we add in some micro seasonal changes that then create that another experience and, and a micro seasonal change could be some something as simple as just a, you know, limited time offering that’s there for a week or two, it could be having a prefixed dinner menu that’s special for only Monday through Friday to drive that dinner business. It could be a plethora of things. So really honing in on that strategy there. And then lastly, you know, the loyalty program is huge for us. And that was another piece of that research we got back was people would actually come back to us more if we had a better loyalty program. And so it’s focusing on like, what are again, what are those messages that people want to hear? And what are the food items that they want to be coming in for? And how can we utilize all the data that we get from them in a better way? Because I think that people are definitely willing to share more information about themselves if it’s going to be beneficial to them, right? If marketers are actually going to use it in a way that that matters. And it’s, you know, it’s funny, you hear some people that hate targeted advertising, because of all the information that they already have on you, but some people love it, too. So I think it’s just fine and kind of a happy medium on how we are marketing to them, and how we’re getting them to come back more and like you said, How are we rewarding them whether it’s in you know, offers or whether it’s in You know, experiences that we can provide for communicating with our brand for coming back and for spreading the spreading the news and awareness on our brand as well. So it’s really all of those. I think, obviously, that’s a lot. And I think when it comes down to it, we, we want to be a place that people are really excited to come back to again. And, you know, creating that experience in store and online is huge.


No, those are big goals. But I mean, hearing what you guys have done so far, I mean, I’ve been seeing the name pop up more and more and more my feeds and stuff like that. So you guys are growing, and I have no doubt that you guys are gonna accomplish those goals. And I think all three of those goals are huge. I think they’re gonna lead to big business goals that you guys are gonna accomplish. And so excited to kind of see it take place. Yeah, man, you What are you what are you working on to just make yourself a better marketer? Yeah.


personal goals goals for me, I think. So my goal on my team currently is to grow my team. We have been such a nimble team up until this point. And I think we’ve taken a lot of learnings, you know, obviously, obviously, COVID was a really tough time for everyone. But it was especially hard on our team, just having to be nimble, like we talked about and things constantly changing, and, you know, long hours long days and not having that stability. So now that we are shifting back towards that my goal as a marketer is to grow my team under me. So I’m going to be hiring a marketing manager, and then hopefully, having them hire someone, which only is going to enable the rest of the team to grow. And just in general, being a better leader, I you know, I’ve had a couple of opportunities to manage people and I think, what I’ve learned is, the amount of work that you put into for managing someone else is only going to benefit you in the long run. So I want to spend more time and helping other people grow at the company and sharing a lot of the insights and learnings that I’ve had with them, and really spending that time so that then I can grow I think it’s easy as a marketer to kind of get in your own hole. So building the team and then also just expanding my knowledge of the industry to not only in restaurants but also in hospitality. I think that obviously hospitality is a huge industry. It’s you know, as a marketer, you need to be in the know with all the operations as well I think just being closer with with my team on that and you know, being more transparent about our marketing strategy and sharing that openly would be would be big to


know that’s awesome. You’re definitely good leader can hear that in some of those goals. And as we kind of wrap up this has been great it’s been great to kind of understand more of your background and where you guys are going as a company you know that person that might be searching for somewhere to eat they’re on their their phone they’re on Google know places near me they see true foods kitchen Why should they choose you guys?


Great question. Oh gosh, is hadn’t 10 second elevator speech. So true food in my mind is a place that you’re going to go you’re gonna walk in, you’re immediately going to get energy, there’s a lot of places out there that you can go there’s a lot of fast casual places you can go you can go through a line you can get that quick experience, you can do that at true food but you can also have that sit down dining experience you know more casual restaurant brand, but at the same time you can go have great food and great beverages too. So it’s everything from you know your favorite burgers pizzas tacos, to if you want to be held that we have you know, new things like the spring rolls coming out that are have the bar Oh, not like brand new things coming. So it’s an experience in itself coming into the restaurant, you get amazing, great tasting food, that doesn’t sacrifice anything from the quality ingredients standpoint. So you’re having a delicious meal, you’re having great ingredients that you’re going to walk away feeling amazing. And our staff is going to help you to learn more about things that will help you to live a better lifestyle. So I mean, I think it’s a win win for everyone. And yeah,


awesome. No, I love it. I definitely recommend it. I love it. My wife loves it. I know we had someone that Alyssa she went there I think two three days ago and says hey, they’re gonna come on the podcast you’re saying so have nothing but great stuff, the great feedback that I hear from from everyone, so definitely check it out. Awesome. Appreciate it. Can’t wait to watch you guys accomplish those. Those big goals. Watch you guys grow and continue to give people a better experience.


Thank you so much for having me. This has been a blast, Dustin. So really appreciate it. Thank you.



Where To Find Christine Ferris

LinkedIn: Christine Ferris

Instagram: @livetruefood


On the previous episode of RGR, Dustin talked to Tim Fitzpatrick of Rialto Marketing about his mobile marketing company.

Watch the episode here!

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