Full access to Entrepreneur for $5

Getting Back in Touch With Customers

Keene Addington shares his journey from selling his established restaurant chain to returning to his restaurateur roots by founding Tortoise Supper Club, a family-owned restaurant located in downtown Chicago.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Behind the Review host and Yelp’s Small Business Expert, Emily Washcovick, shares a look at this week’s episode of the podcast.

Tortoise Supper Club

Grammy-award winning singer and songwriter Billy Joel famously said, “If you’re not doing what you love, you’re wasting your time.” 

Keene Addington, owner of Tortoise Supper Club in Chicago, knows this is true. After years in the food industry as owner of 15 restaurants, Keene took a year off to figure out what it was he really loved and what he wanted to do next. The answer was right in front of him the whole time. 

“What I learned about myself in that year was that I'm a restaurateur,” he said. “I love being in restaurants. I decided what I wanted to do was to start a restaurant, a family-owned restaurant, and Tortoise Club became that.” 

They found success by following what they personally enjoy, knowing what they want in a restaurant, and making it happen in Tortoise Supper Club. Keene said, “At the end of the day, Tortoise Supper Club embodies all the things that my wife and I love when we go to a restaurant.”

Customers can see their love for running the restaurant, and it elevates the entire dining experience. Everything from the food to the service to the ambiance is measured and tailored for a specific audience, an audience much like Keene and his wife—people who appreciate upscale dining but aren’t completely devoid of fun. 

“It's a white tablecloth restaurant, even though it is high-end. It's still lively. It's energetic. It's fun. It's not stiff,” said Keene. 

Basing your business on what you know and what you love are key factors in successful businesses everywhere. It’s also important to know exactly who your audience is and how to reach them. And as for the rest of the world? Don’t worry about them. 

“We understood and we understand that we're an experience. Once I was able to really hone in—this is who we are, this is who loves us, and this is who appreciates us—I was able to relax more because I wasn't trying to be all things to all people. And all this other stuff is just noise, and it's clutter. Don't worry about it.” 

That care and focus on the customer shows each visitor to Tortoise Supper Club they are in for a special evening every time they dine. Reviewer Christina M. is a repeat customer, and she appreciates all the little details created by Keene and his wife—from the menu to the decor. They know a true fine dining experience isn’t just about the food, it’s about the service and the atmosphere. 

“It's like you go to this little secret place, and when you walk in, it's dark, it's mysterious. It's got some drama, and you can see a little bit of the rest of the restaurant, but your first impression is that you're going into a little special cave or something, it's just unlike other restaurants in that respect,” said Christina in her Yelp review. 

“The food is the star of the show here, but as an added bonus, our waiter was fantastic. Chimé took the time to describe the dishes in such detail that it was like being read a great story and led to a better understanding of the skill in the kitchen. He also had an extensive knowledge of the wine list and cared enough to let me try a couple before making my final choice.” 

Keene also knows that a family-owned operation doesn’t have to be exclusively run by family members, but each and every employee should feel like family. That’s why he takes such care in hiring his staff, not just for their skills in front-of-house or in the kitchen, but for their personality. 

“When we interview somebody, we interview them not so much for their skillset and their experience as a server or a bartender or cook or whatever, but how are they going to fit into this family of people that we have working together with Meghan and I? If those personalities mesh within the family and they get what we're all striving to do, it becomes a very fun place to work.” 

Here are a few other key elements from Keene’s successful dinner club: 

  • Use your own preferences to your advantage. Ask yourself—what you would need or expect from a small business like yours, and then put those things into your business. Chances are if you want those products or services, other people do too. 

  • Looks matter. The design of your store or restaurant can help you stand out from the crowd, so think carefully about the kind of image you’d like to project. 

  • Know who you are and the audience you want. It’s important to focus on what you do best and cater to your skill set. But it’s equally important to know your potential audience and what they want from you. Who loves you, your product, or your service? Cater to that powerful demographic.

  • Once you establish a customer base, stay in touch. No matter the size of your business, it’s imperative to communicate often with your patron base and follow up on any new or changing expectations they may have. 

  • The quality of your staff is just as important as the quality of your product. Your employees often spend more time with your customers than you can, so it’s important for them to represent you and your brand well. 

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

Emily Washcovick

Written By

As Yelp’s Senior Field Marketing Manager and Small Business Expert, Emily is responsible for building a thriving network of local business owners, operators and marketers through education and networking events (now, exclusively virtual). She hosts events and webinars to provide business owners with resources that help them succeed and grow in the world of online reviews. Emily’s expertise lies in customer engagement, reputation management and all things digital marketing. Her knowledge encompasses countless industries and through thought leadership and speaking engagements, she’s able to share insights that business owners of all kinds can leverage for the future of their business.

Emily is also host of Behind the Review, a podcast from Yelp and Entrepreneur Media that features conversations with business owners and reviewers about their experiences—whether positive or negative —giving listeners behind-the-scenes insights and real life learnings.