I had a customer ask why I had pictures of family on the wall instead of celebrities that have eaten at our family restaurant lol!
Though I value every customer, celebrity or not, when you walk through the door my family is who deserves to be up on that wall. I want them to be one of the first things you see. We’ve struggled, tried, learned, and grew together. Mom, dad, aunt, uncle, cousin, friend – everyone that knows me has contributed to bring Ninong’s where it is today – a viable business.
Last week Charlie and I put up more family photos so people will know and remember where we started, who started it, and what’s most important to us. Feels like home.
So let me lay the land for you a little bit, set the landscape of what it was like in Los Angeles 10 years ago. 2008 was quite the transitional time where the Information Age was really just beginning to be for everyone. The first iPhone was released a year before, cell phones started becoming more than just devices to call people with, and cell phone data plans were starting to become part of the norm. Friendster and Myspace were the talk of the town and Facebook was coming onto the scene as the next big thing.
When Ninong’s first opened its doors in 2008 we didn’t know how much social media would effect our culture. Short version of the story – it did, big time. Back then when we talked about our marketing plan (which was very little) we always talked about “traditional” forms of advertising like print ads and word of mouth. Print advertising costed a fortune and word of mouth was working but not fast enough. We opened in a very scary time in our economy, we didn’t realize it at the time. We were panicking, running out of operating funds, and didn’t know what to do.
Out of sheer panic I decided to put Ninong’s online. We had a website, but we needed more. I put us on Yahoo Maps, Google Maps, Foursquare, Yelp, pretty much anywhere I could list our business for free. Almost immediately, we saw a slight spike in traffic. We were all amazed! People were using the internet to find our business and people outside of our friends circle were coming to our place. It was obvious that internet marketing was where we needed to be. It’s where all businesses needed to be. After all, internet marketing was free and “free” was more our language lol!
When I think about examples of how social media has effected the Los Angeles food scene I immediately think of Kogi truck. They were the first food truck of its kind, setting themselves apart from the trucks we were used to that sold breakfast burritos (not knocking on those trucks, they were good too!). They would utilize the power of Twitter and tell their audience where the truck would park next. People were eating it up, literally and figuratively! People were signing up for Twitter accounts just to find out where they would be next. When you got to their truck the line would be wrapping around blocks. The rest is LA Food Scene History!
Kogi’s success, our business’s success, and so many others is living proof of how social media has effected and changed the Los Angeles food culture. Without social media our business would not be where it is today. You don’t need a ballin’ budget to pay for advertising like you did back then (though it obviously doesn’t hurt). Being true to yourself, creating a brand, and cultivating your tribe is what holds true. Small businesses, us small time entrepreneurs, and passionate people have a chance to be seen now. The places we endearingly call “mom and pop shops” are the new thing. We have an opportunity to grow like never before.
I don’t know if you remember, but I had lunch with a few fellow Filipino entrepreneurs that I met from the CSUN Restauranteur Panel. It was awesome to be able to sit and talk shop with people that got me. You feel me? This is exactly why community over competition is something I live by. Doing this on your own is impossible. But that’s for another day. Anyway our first lunch was a Tatang’s in North Hollywood and there were 4 of us.
Kristine of Creme Caramel LA was gracious enough to organize another lunch and this time there were 9 of us! Some of us had met previously, but some of us hadn’t met yet. But we all “knew of” each other. It’s really great to finally put that Instagram handle to a real name and a face! 😆
We had lunch at the newly opened Paramount Coffee Project at the Row in Downtown LA. It’s owned by a fellow Filipino-American entrepreneur and executive chef Ria Barbosa. It was so great to meet more fellow entrepreneurs, just talk about anything, and not feel in competition with anyone. I’m excited for this community of people that is coming together. Plus, check out that view!