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It Takes a Village to Keep a Restaurant Open

Interview with Leticia "Skai" Young (LoLo's Seafood Shack) about creating a community with her restaurant and using social media.

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Takeaways from this episode:

Be Embedded in Your Community – It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a village to keep a restaurant open. Despite dire situations tied to the pandemic, LoLo’s Seafood Shack was able to stay open by having strong support from a community they’ve strongly supported. Don’t just live in your neighborhood, live for your neighborhood.

Optimize for Native Sales – Leticia Young was smart to open her business to third-party delivery apps, but she was even smarter to focus on building her own website to better optimize for direct sales. Backed by Toast POS, Leticia is working on getting more orders directly and having better margins because of it.

Promote Your Posts on Social – As alluded by many guests, we no longer live in a world where social posts get automatic eyeballs just by being uploaded. In this time as a restaurant, be willing to pay for promotion on your social posts to get your best return. 

***

Restaurant Owner Leticia “Skai” Young has been to many places but she’s Harlem’s own.

Born and raised in the borough that’s been home to storytellers ranging from Langston Hughes to Bob Dylan, Leticia Young and her husband Chef Raymond Mohan tell tales through food at their restaurant, LoLo’s Seafood Shack.

LoLo’s Seafood Shack stands for Locally Owned, Locally Operated. The seafood restaurant is rooted in the community of Harlem while also offering a getaway within it.  

Pulling from Leticia and Raymond’s well-traveled background, LoLo’s mergers flavors from all over the world.

“We've put a lot of time and energy into making it feel transportive,” Leticia shares on the Restaurant Influencers podcast.

“We've been truly inspired by travel. Raymond and I have traveled to over 50 countries together. We spent time living in the British West Indies and we also have roots in the Caribbean. We wanted our own little island here in Harlem. LoLo’s Seafood is like a Cape Cod and Caribbean mash up.”

For many of the Harlemites who visit LoLo’s, it’s not just a local culinary experience, it’s an escape without catching a flight.

“80 percent of people were dining in because we had created this whole experience,” shares Leticia Skai Young. “You’re right here in Harlem, but you don't even feel like you're in the middle of New York City.”

Sadly because of COVID, Leticia has seen her business fluctuate to less dining in and more third-party delivery. On top of that, getting the word out online is even more difficult as many social media platforms rely on a pay-to-play approach to posting to get real reach and engagement.

Over the course of the pandemic, fees for delivery platforms and soaring costs for seafood have made staying afloat in the last year more challenging than ever. Still, Leticia gave back.

“At the height of the pandemic, we were working with the World Central Kitchen by feeding hundreds of people per day and delivering the meals ourselves,” Leticia recalls. 

Switching to Toast

However, thanks to the vaccine more Harlem locals are returning to LoLo’s to dine-in. Additionally, Leticia credits switching to the Toast POS system as a way to capture more native business. She is also making an effort to get more direct orders through her own website for better margins on online orders. 

Despite the ups and downs that come with surviving in the restaurant space, Leticia is continuing to grow her business and give back.

“We serve thousands of meals to seniors and to people who are food insecure in the neighborhood," Leticia shares. "We're still continuing that work and on 9/11 we actually delivered and made 500 meals for our local precinct here in Harlem.” 

Home in Harlem

In good times and bad, Harlem remains at the heart of the getaway restaurant. Aside from serving her community through food donations, Leticia looks out for locals by giving them an introduction to the industry that’s become her lifeblood. 

“We give a lot of young people their first job,” beams Leticia Young when talking about hiring at LoLo’s Seafood Shack. “It's great. I've been lucky to see people graduate and go through the whole cycle of college, changing their majors and getting jobs in hospitality just because of their experience working here. Or they go on and become chefs in other restaurants. I'm super proud of that.” 

With New York City back open, Leticia is continuing to build community in her home of Harlem while introducing locals to flavors far from the Big Apple. 

So, what’s next for Leticia Young and the LoLo’s brand?

“We're opening up LoLo's Tacos,” Leticia says with a smile in the interview with Restaurant Influencers host Shawn Walchef from her Harlem restaurant’s patio. “It’s going to be where the Yucatan meets the Caribbean. My family is from Belize, so we're going to get great Belizean food there. That should be open around Halloween.”

Rooted in Harlem while offering a look into the world at large, Leticia Young and her husband Raymond are changing the world through food. You don't have to leave Harlem to get it, but you might get the travel bug from your first bite.

***

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