First, let me start off by saying I am surrendering to the food gods. I keep trying to leave the food industry behind me. It's so not working. So much of my life is attached to it through friends and family I have to get in where I fit in. By that, I mean moving forward, I will focus on helping those in the food world brand so hard it leaves a mark. I want to change the mindset behind foodservice through stronger brand building. Specifically for those in the food world as Restaurateurs, Retailers, and/or wRiters.
The relationship I’ve developed over the years with the food world probably excites me more now since I don’t have to cook for a living. It is a consistent conversation in my life. So much so that I’m working to rebrand my husband, Bigmista, if he’ll listen to me. Now add to that the devastation the pandemic is having on small independent restaurants. While they are being driven to close their doors, companies like Door Dash are going public and making millions. Yeah, I’m pissed and I’m looking for a fight. I want to fight for those I know sacrifice so much to stay ahead.
When we started Bigmista’s, I knew nothing about branding. Hell, I knew nothing about the food industry at all except when looking at a menu. Since I never expected to do much other than add some extra change to our pocket AND extra work to my week, I didn’t seek help. When we took ownership and admitted we were running a business, I got serious about the business of barbecue. In fact, that was the first class I took, Business of Barbecue, through On Cue under the legendary Mike Mills, who became my first barbecue boyfriend. The things I learned through that course was the beginning of me gettin’ it together.
I had all these grand ideas of wanting to turn our bbq stand into a bbq empire. To cement that fact, in 2011, I attended my first NBBQA conference. That’s where I met some of the biggest names in BBQ. Dave Raymond of Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce called me a “smart broad” and invited me to visit Chicago. I also met my sprinkles Diva Q (half sprinkle) and Melissa Nichols Cookston (vanilla sprinkle), better known as Grand Champion and World Barbecue Champion, respectively, in the barbecue world. Hearing from and talking to bbq legends like Chris Lilly and Dr. BBQ inspired me and fed my spirit even more.
My problem was trying to take and use every morsel of what they were trying to teach me. With my all or nothing attitude, I was stressing myself out. What I finally had to accept was that I couldn’t be them. I couldn’t operate how they operated. One of the reasons ties in with how Diva and Melissa decided they wanted to be sprinkles too. Competition barbecue is a very white male-dominated industry and I felt out of place. At that first conference, I was maybe 1 of 5 black people in attendance, if there were that many at this huge event. Back then I felt out of place and out of sorts regardless of the love that I have for these folks I now call friends.
By my second conference, I was over my insecurities and embraced my surroundings. However, the knowledge I gained from the conference did not help me build our brand. That came accidentally through Twitter. Neil and I were very transparent and it was reflected in our tweets. Our following grew because we traded barbs between our two accounts that centered-around us being married and in business together. People started showing up at our bbq stands to see check out the couple that made good food and talked sh*t via Twitter.
We would have marital spats over why something went wrong at work or Neil fussing about something I shouldn’t have done with the smoker. In-person they experienced first hand, Neil, fussing at me to close the smoker and me telling him to shut the hell up. Once I talked for almost 45 minutes to a crowd of people about meeting my husband during his ho-ish days because folks wanted to wait for the wings to get done. Neil kept telling them I was high on coffee, energy drinks, and little sleep. We were that food stand that would get so busy we would pull one of our regulars out of the line and put them to work then feed them for free. That was how we built our brand.
At the time I didn’t know it was our brand I just knew it was working for us. When we moved into a brick and mortar it was an adjustment. We built our following in L.A. but we opened our first and second spot in Long Beach. Plus, we were always up close and personal with our crowd and that had to change with a brick and mortar. This scared me to death and I didn’t know who to ask for help.
Jump to our soft opening. I knew we would be alright when our bbq family showed up and showed out. Our friend and local bbq restaurant owner, Kenny Hamilton from Hambones represented. When he wasn’t in our kitchen eating up the smoked pastrami and banana pudding he was working the line and taking orders. One of my husband’s bbq-brethren got out of line with his wife and came to help us out in the kitchen. Our girl, Noelle Carter, former Director of L.A. Times food kitchen was holding court with my daughter and mom. Our friend Big Dane of West Coast Customs fame was our camera guy and sign hanger.
Others in the local bbq community came out to support and that ended up being great PR for us. The love actually started before when our tribe helped us raised over $14,000 via a gofundme account to get the last bit of capital we needed for our restaurant.
Our name and grew to the point we were on The Food Network and The Cooking Channel. That didn’t mean as much to me as when we got people from other countries seeking us out. My favorite were four young girls from China who came to visit us during their layover. After feeding them so much that they had to lean back, I drove them back to the airport as a thank you for coming. That is who we are at our core and how we branded our business.
Without fully realizing it, we had left a mark on all these people from the farmers market, to catering, to restaurants. We weren’t able to stay as up close and personal with our tribe like when we started, but I could get them to drop it like it’s hot for a brisket sample over the glass. We also didn’t compete with our fellow bbq family, we embraced and support their businesses whenever we could. Even now my husband can go almost anywhere in the country and borrow a smoker for an event if he needs to.
I still could give two shyts about barbecue but it was the business of barbecue that got me here. When we closed up shop in 2018 for me to further my career as a business coach and strategist, our last days were busier than our first. We were written up in various local papers. We still get emails and DM for our sauce and rubs and questions of when we’re coming back. So many customers had become friends and family.
It’s that kind of brand love I want for every one of my clients. It’s this kind of brand love I want for you. When you’re ready, give me a call to discuss your brand possibilities. Better yet, schedule a consultation right now so we can find the brand love your business is looking for.
Phyllis Williams-Strawder is a Certified Business Coach & Brand Strategist, author, speaker, homeschool mom and 20+ year veteran entrepreneur. In addition to CKO Creator, she is a hybrid publisher through her brand Espresso Mischief, and the creator of Spresso Mischief Designs.
Phyllis' published works outside her coaching include That Damn Girl Stuff: A Mother's Truth and Far From the Tree. She also published, SPICE: The Variety of Life, written by her husband and Morgan Mischief, written by her daughter.
Phyllis has coaching certifications is branding, market research, social media and SEO. She has a degree in business with an emphasis in personal finance. She is an alum of Goldman Sachs 10K Small Business Executive Program as well as the Leadership Long Beach Institute. She is a former member of the Long Beach City College Culinary Advisory Board and a former certified bbq judge.