Sometimes chefs need to get out of their own kitchens to grow their audience — and business. The team behind Foreign & Domestic in Austin, Texas created Indie Chefs Week to start a dialogue between chefs across the country. Their events bring young, aspiring chefs to their restaurant in Austin and beyond, sharing venue spaces and audiences to reach new customers. The flagship event is a face-to-face meeting of 30 chefs, who come together in a single venue to prepare multi-course meals for guests.
“Chefs come from all over the country with very different vantage points,” says Erin Archuleta, co-owner of San Francisco’s ICHI Sushi. Along with her husband and business partner, Chef Tim Archuleta, Erin participated in the most recent Indie Chefs Week event held this month.
“As a participating restaurant, you get to be in front of a national audience, cooking in a new place creatively with chefs who have different lenses of service and style,” she adds. “You reach a new audience and get your name out there. You’re reaching people in other cities who will come visit you in San Francisco — in SoCal, we made a bunch of new friends and customers who would come up north to visit.”
We talked to Crystal Esquivel, organizer of Indie Chefs Week, for tips on getting out of your own kitchen and popping up in new ones. Here are some things to keep in mind.
Explore new cities and venues. Indie Chefs Week started in Austin, but the team has since held events in other metros, such as Southern California. “Our goal is to change the conversation about food and restaurants in the U.S.,” says Crystal. “We want to expose as many diners as possible to these under-the-radar chefs.” Operating in new venues helps Crystal and Ned Elliott, Chef/Owner of Foreign & Domestic and host of Indie Chefs Week, experience different city cultures and get ideas for improving Foreign & Domestic. Think of it this way: you can learn a lot from experiencing how other restaurants in different cities operate first-hand.
Make sure the venue meets your needs. Holding or participating in an event in a new venue (and in a new city) can have its complexities. “Aside from finding a willing an enthusiastic host, we need to ensure the venue works well for the layout of the event,” says Crystal. Look for an open kitchen and enough space and storage for 15-30 chefs. As a participant or host, you want the venue to have a knowledgeable waitstaff and a strong kitchen staff.
Identify a target audience. For the event to work, you need access to an audience that will buy tickets. Crystal and Ned look for cities with a growing restaurant scene and a large enough population to keep most restaurants full. “Ned keeps a list of possible chef participants, and we make note of the cities they’re coming from,” says Crystal. “This year we’re planning events in San Francisco and Toronto, and cities like Miami, Los Angeles, and New York are on the short list. Many of our participating chefs offer to host the event at their restaurants, so we also look at those locations a bit more closely.”
Get the word out. “Along with our own PR agency, the partnership also gives us access to the venue’s PR firm and reach, which helps us reach local diners,” says Crystal. Make sure whoever you’re partnering with can provide marketing support for the event.
Find local sponsors. For Indie Chefs events, each venue helps with finding local sponsors, from ingredients to wine to funding, while Crystal and Ned do the same on a national level from Austin. Featuring products and engaging sponsors from the local community is a great way to make an event feel representative of a city’s unique culture.
Photo Credit: Anne Watson Photography
Now that 2015 is here, resolve to make this the best year yet for your restaurant business. Every day this month we’ll be featuring a new tip from restaurateurs, chefs, and other industry leaders to shape up your marketing, operations, hospitality, and more. Check back daily for expert advice and successful strategies to start your year off right, and see them all here.