A Covid Success Story: Relentless Hospitality and Digital Marketing Dedication

The minds behind Cali Comfort BBQ in San Diego have rethought everything they knew about running a sports BBQ spot and pushed their digital strategy to the limits.
A Covid Success Story: Relentless Hospitality and Digital Marketing Dedication
Image credit: Courtesy of Cali Comfort BBQ

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Senior Field Marketing Manager and Small Business Expert
4 min read
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Behind the Review host and Yelp’s Small Business Expert, Emily Washcovick, shares a look at this week’s episode of the podcast.

The pandemic has had an impact on all businesses - small, large, restaurants, fitness studios, nail salons, etc. And each business has reacted differently in the wake of that impact. This week, we talked with the minds behind Cali Comfort BBQ in San Diego - two folks we’ve gotten the pleasure of knowing during the challenging times of the past nine months. Owner Shawn Walchef and Digital Hospitality Specialist Stover Harger have rethought everything they knew about running a sports barbecue spot. They pushed their digital strategy to the limits to eventually find great success at a time when they thought there might be no hope.

Our Yelp reviewer, Maridel A., mom of two and San Diego local, talks to us about her experience with Cali Comfort BBQ during the pandemic, and she also reflects on her memories of her first time trying out their barbecue and experiencing their restaurant in a pre-pandemic world.

Built specifically to cater to big crowds during sporting events, Cali Comfort was hit hard when restaurants had to shut down. But instead of feeling defeated, Shawn and Stover went to work and made some pretty drastic changes. Here’s a preview of some of the steps they took, from Shawn: “When the Coronavirus hit, we thought about what we do best: barbecue. That's what we do. So how can we focus on that? We eliminated 90% of our menu that didn't travel well, which significantly helped us reduce our food costs by six points. So during the peak days of the pandemic, which were the holidays—Mother's Day, Father's Day, 4th of July, Easter—we were doing more sales per hour than we did in 14 hours the year before when we were open.”

Their unrelenting focus on hospitality is another reason they’ve been able to find so much success, even when they had to make the tough choice to not to open back up for in-person dining. In Shawn’s words: “The only way to ensure that hospitality happens is by hiring. If you don't hire for heart, and if you don't hire for hospitality in their DNA, it becomes very difficult to teach people to care for other people.”

When you prioritize that, people notice. In fact, Maridel says she feels many business owners have really been focusing on hospitality and customer service in the midst of the pandemic, which can be seen through her Yelp reviews: “Since COVID started, I've been receiving the best customer service from restaurants. I feel like they're appreciating their customers more, after being shut down and because they want their customers coming back. My reviews during COVID have all been five stars. It's nothing but just positive feedback because everyone's just been so friendly. They're going above and beyond.”

That said, pivoting during COVID isn’t all we talk about in this episode. We also talk heavily about something that is near and dear to Stover’s heart: digital strategy. Cali Comfort BBQ has invested a lot into their digital marketing strategy - they lean heavily on social media and Yelp Connect to engage with customers. “ABP: always be posting, always be publishing, always be planning, always be promoting—whatever you want to insert there. You should be putting stuff online. It's actually a really important platform for a business owner or a brand or a personality to use.”

A mix of hospitality, the willingness to make tough decisions, and a strong emphasis on digital marketing has enabled Cali Comfort BBQ to triumph against the odds. In this episode, you’ll hear more from them on exactly how and why they made these decisions and how you can apply them to your business.

Through Maridel, our San Diego Yelp reviewer, we learn, once again, about the importance of customer service and how, when it’s good, people want to spread the word.

Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Shawn, Stover, and Maridel, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.

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