The restaurant business is known for having small profit margins. It’s competitive and sometimes it’s the small things that make the difference between a successful restaurant and one that’s not.
But, the owner and co-owner of two of St. Louis’ most notable restaurants –Vince Valenza of Blues City Deli and Mike Emerson of Pappy’s Smokehouse – understand the keys to successfully maintaining a business. The two are set to open new restaurants later this year. Valenza will open Melo’s Pizzeria in the garage behind Blues City Deli and Emerson will open Dalie’s Smokehouse in Valley Park.
“It is really hard,” said Ligaya Figueras, executive editor of Sauce Magazine. “A restaurant can open, and in six weeks, you look back and it’s closed. Making it one year is great, but making it to 10 [years] is something.”
Valenza opened Blues City Deli 10 years ago in the city’s Benton Park neighborhood. Most known for their sandwiches and live music, he decided to open the restaurant because of his “love for food and blues music.”
“I didn’t know the two would meld together until I went down to New Orleans for a business trip and I said ‘Bingo!’” Valenza said.
“Vinny was one of my mentors when I was getting ready to open up [Pappy’s],” Emerson said. “When I was physically building Pappy’s, I would go to Blues City Deli two or three times a week. I was impressed with the way he treated his customers and we had a similar philosophy.”
That philosophy involves an understanding that the restaurant business is more than just good food and drink— it’s hospitality as well.
“This is a hard business, but you don’t want to wear that on your sleeve,” Emerson continued. “People pass a lot of restaurants to come to our two places, so we need to be nice to them when they come in.”
“The restaurant business isn’t easy, you don’t get a day off, you’re not going to have customers who are always in the best mood.” Figueras added, “But, it’s a hospitality industry even before it’s just a restaurant.”
Aside from good food and hospitality, marketing is also important when maintaining a customer base. Both Emerson and Valenza market their restaurants by wearing and selling clothing items with their business logos.
“These guys are awesome even at branding,” Figueras expressed. “You’re going to know them just by what they’re wearing. They are the presence and faces of their operations everywhere they go.”