Joe's Homemade Café, Catering and Bakery is the best of 750 restaurants in Savannah, at least according to TripAdvisor, a travel site that offers "trusted advice from real travelers." The 510-square foot gem of a restaurant is known for its sandwiches, salads, desserts and exceptionally warm and friendly service.
And while the food is delicious, it begs a customer to ask a question: "How did this tiny space with eight employees in a city of landmarked, exotic restaurants win the hearts of more travelers than any other?"
Don Holland, shown left, who co-owns the business with Ted Paskevich, shown right, doesn't have to think long when asked. "We believe that a strong commitment and delivery of quality food and exceptional service makes us appreciated by our customers," he said.
Oh, and one other thing. "We're big believers in social media."
So how did a former university administrator and a one-time furniture refinisher find customer success in the kitchen? Joe's Homemade was the result of a happy accident. "Friends of ours needed a caterer to pitch in for an event they were having the following day for 100 people. Knowing Ted was great in the kitchen, I volunteered him. The event was a success and we were asked to cater again on a regular basis," Holland explained.
To comply with city health codes, they leased a commercial kitchen in the heart of Savannah's medical district. Rather than just cater, they decided to add a few tables and chairs — and in January 2012, Joe's was born.
Holland is the director of marketing and community relations. Paskevich is the head chef.
"Both Ted and I enjoy people and we thought this would be fun. We both had just retired and decided this would be a great 'hobby' of about three or four hours a day. We were pleasantly surprised when we quickly became popular and had to hire additional staff to keep up with demand," Holland explained.
So what's the not-so-surprising secret of success? "Superior food and superior service," Holland said — with a big dash of social media.
"I started a heavy social media campaign from the start. In a day when everyone is connected to a screen, I realized that it would be the most efficient way to disseminate information. Also, our marketing budget was low to non-existent. Social media provided the most cost effective method for us to advertise," he said.
'I Want to Talk to Joe'
Take one man named Don and another named Ted … and name the place Joe's? Yes, Holland said — emphatically.
"The concept of calling the business Joe's was based on the fact that you have two individuals in an equal partnership and did not want to grandstand for first place in our names. Hence we came up with the neutral 'Joe,'" he explained.
But here's the kicker. "I believe that everyone should be accountable for creating a positive experience for the customer. Therefore, the entire staff is trained to automatically respond if someone asks for Joe. Everyone is committed to determining the customer's need and how to best address it."
In an industry that has a high morbidity rate, Holland said he decided from the beginning that failure was not an option. Here are five strategies that have helped them thrive in a competitive industry.
- Learn from Experience: "Every time we eat out, I note the service and ask myself 'What is the take-away I can use in our operation?' Sometimes I learn what not to do, and share the lesson with my staff."
- Understand Your Mission: "Our goal is to achieve and maintain such distinction in food, service, atmosphere and setting that the organization garners a first class reputation for superior food, gracious and informed hospitality, comfort and beauty which draws new and repeat customer year after year."
- Be Social: "When customers come in they will often say 'Did you know you were No. 1 on TripAdvisor?' Although I know the answer, I always let them have the excitement of telling me that is how they came to us. The reality is we stay on top of our social media, including Facebook and Twitter, throughout the day."
- Believe in Your Product: "We're proud when people tell us they enjoy our food and service."
- Keep it Personal: "We love talking to people." Greet them warmly and sincerely, make them feel welcome and make them happy enough that they come back.