Day 31 – The Puzzle – My Dream For America’s Best Restaurants

Where we are today with my three companies: America’s Best Restaurants, the merger of Restaurant Marketing That Works & Repeat Returns and ABR University is the product of many hours of conversations with restaurant owners and marketers since 2008, but the van in the picture above has more significance than anything else.   

The van was a turning point in, investing in our future.  I started our company in 2008 as Driven Media Solutions, LLC.  The goal of DMS was to help local business owners manage and implement their marketing while embracing the digital marketing coming down the pipeline.  I still recall the conversations in 2008-2010 with restaurant owners about the importance of being on the website “Facebook” and them looking at me like I had three heads. 

Then something magical happened, I convinced 34 owners to give me absolute control of their marketing, including 9 restaurants.  I had 6 Independent restaurants and 3 franchise locations from around 2010-2017.  On June 22nd, 2011 I hired my first employee, Ashley.  This was something I said I’d not do three years earlier when I launched DMS.  I wanted to be a “one man show” and no responsible for anyone else.  

Now flash forward to 2015 and I realized Ashley and I had stumbled upon some marketing magic with Facebook marketing. We were able to use targeted ads and engagement on organic posts to get consumers to give us their email, cell phone number and birthday in exchange for a one use promotion at the restaurant.  This allowed us to use that information to FINALLY drive trackable sales to the restaurant and funnel specific customers into the loyalty program we’d set up.   Over the next 4 years we would change our name to Restaurant Marketing That Works, write 2 books and scale to 5 employees.

But I was still had a massive problem.  I was quite scared and lost.  I knew I was right on the marketing side of things.  I knew that I had what restaurants needed and I could help them like no other marketing company in the US, but how do I get them to know, like and trust me?  Also, how do I do this with 5 employees, this is going to be EXPENSIVE.

In 2017 I had an idea that was the product of a brain storming session with another restaurant marketer, it was the first time I’d thought of creating America’s Best Restaurants.  I had the idea of a brand like Yelp that consumers would visit to find restaurants, but a brand that was not hated by the restaurant owners themselves.  What if I could kill two birds with one stone.  

WHAT IF I could create a media company dedicated to helping independent restaurant owners gain attention from consumers and on the other side of the equation help restaurant with marketing.  

WHAT IF America’s Best Restaurants became a place that consumers would find the local restaurant in their backyard, but the restaurant owner controlled what they saw online.  We would take the power away from the consumer, you know with their crazy reviews and terrible pictures.  BUT we had to be that third party that made sure to only let the right restaurants into ABR. 

It was a great idea, but I had no money, no team and no idea what the heck it was going to become.  But I did it anyways…on a shoestring budget.  

I bought, because I could not afford the DOT COM version. I did all of the videos by Zoom, which sucked and I had 1 of my team members spending 10 hours per week helping me reach out to the restaurant owners to set up the Zoom Interviews.  

I did this for about 3 months and realized they all SUCKED!  I stopped doing the Zoom interviews because it was not doing the restaurant any justice and honestly most people at that point were not familiar with digital interviews like that in 2018.  So in 2019 I tested doing a few in person, like the one you’ll find at the bottom of this page.  I had no clue what I was doing, except helping the restaurants tell their story.  I also had NO AUDIENCE, I mean maybe my parents :). These were AWESOME, but I did not have the time to run our company, especially as it doubled every 6 months and drive around the country to film interviews.  I also realized I would never achieve any sort of volume with this model and so I STOPPED!

In the Summer of 2019 I STOPPED and told my team we’d come back to it down the road when we had time and money. 

Well that time was in 2021.  During 2020 when the restaurant industry was stopped due to the pandemic I couldn’t help but think “WHAT IF” I’d not stopped.  What if I’d kept going with ABR, would I have been able to help these restaurant owners more?  That was on my mind for a while and finally in April of 2021 I said LET’S GO and we bought the 1st ABR Roadshow Mercedes Sprinter.  This was a HUGE purchase for me. It was scary.  You see at this point, the company had never really made any purchases, outside the building I’d just bought…that’s another story, who buys a 9,000 square foot building with only 1 other employee who works in office 🙂

So, we bought that van and hired two people, Ryan and Austin, to be on the ABR Roadshow.  Now today we are sit at 34 people on that team and we’ve spend…..err invested $4.5 million in the building of America’s Best Restaurants and the ABR Roadshow.  

That van made me get uncomfortable.  It forced me to invest in something that was an idea, that was NOT going to have an ROI for many years to come.  And here we are today with millions invested and massive momentum company wide in every division.

In episode 591 of Restaurant Marketing Secrets I spend 12 minutes and 33 seconds telling the crazy story that started the ABR Roadshow, HAVE A LISTEN…THAT MEANS TO CLICK HERE 🙂

BY THE WAY, CLICK HERE to watch the FIRST ever in person America’s Best Restaurants in person interview, this was filmed on my iPhone on the way back from the NRA Show.  

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