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.
Note: This was originally going to start off as a single post but realized that I had a lot more to say on the topic that I thought lol! So stay tuned for a part 2 of this multi-part series coming soon!
First off, I have to give it up to the AAPI over at CSUN that hosted the Restauranteur Panel called Home Cooked. I know it was a while ago, but it has ignited something in me that I didn’t know was there. Not only did I get to share some of my knowledge with the attendees but I actually learned a lot about myself too. Turns out, I have opinions lol!
One of the big topics at the panel was the LA food scene and how it has evolved in the recent years. TBH, I never thought of myself as someone that can comment on this topic. I guess because I’m a little suburban business owner I felt like I didn’t have credibility to really say anything. But when I was asked I, surprisingly, had a lot of say about it. But before I talk about the state of our current food scene I feel like I need to give you a little bit of back story to validate my approach and create relevance as to why we are where we are today with food.
Ninong’s started in a really “weird” time in LA’s socio-economic history. October of 2008 was the beginning of the “Great Recession” and people were losing their jobs, my family members included. It was a time of uncertainty for many of us, yet here we were putting all our money and time into a family business that wouldn’t be cheap to start up. Some might say we were a little crazy to even think about taking on this undertaking.
Approaching our grand opening on October 11th in 2008 many businesses were closing down. Business big and small were shutting their doors. Many other businesses that were embarking on the same journey as we were closed down before they could even officially open. Others were open for a matter of weeks or months before they had to stop operations. Others hung in there for a few years but were unable to fight through it. It was a really tough time to be a business owner. It was hard to see our fellow entrepreneurs not opening their doors the next day. We barely scraped by during that time. We clawed through and did what we could to survive. There were a lot of days where we didn’t have enough. We would wonder where we would get the money to pay for the expenses,. But the bright light to this part of the story is years went by and, slowly and steadily, things started to look up, and it began to change.
Over the last 10 years I’ve observed something about my fellow restaurant and small business owners – their resilience even in the face of defeat. To be a business owner, especially in the last 10 years, you have to be really savvy to get through that time. You’ve got to want it and be willing to work tirelessly for it. You have to adapt, make it work, and have a resilience about you. Especially when you had days like we had. You’ve got to have something special to survive. I feel like the evolution of the Los Angeles food scene has really transformed because of the basis of this idea and what Los Angeles went through during that time.