How 3 Houston-Area Restaurant Owners Thrived in 2020, Despite the Pandemic

two men talking at a table


It is a challenge to maintain a strong and positive business image any year, but the COVID-19 pandemic made it especially difficult for many small restaurant owners. Thankfully, this year, Mikhail Goryachev of Nyam Nyam Café, Mike Discon of 4 Brothers NY Bagels and Nelia Shehaj of Luliet Creamery & Bake Shop found some help in combating the challenges and leveraging social media to help make up for drops in dine-in revenue. (In March, the governor of Texas ordered dine-in services closed, forcing restaurants to offer only takeout and delivery.) 

These restaurant owners retained Chris Romani of Romani Branding & Management to help them develop new strategies to ensure their businesses not just survived, but thrived. He customized plans for each based on their respective goals, needs and skill sets.

platter of meat chops and vegetables
Kebab dinner at Nyam Nyam Café. Courtesy photo.

Early Safety Measures

Nyam Nyam Café, 15201 Mason Road, Cypress: Romani and Goryachev of Nyam Nyam Café have worked together since 2017, though Romani and his family were already regular customers. When the COVID-19 quarantine started, Romani and Mikhail developed a “first to market” strategy that gave Nyam Nyam Café a head start with visibility and accessibility to customers. “I remember late February seeing the Southwest Airlines email come out about COVID-19 so I called Mikhail and told him that we needed to send out messaging about safety precautions,” explained Romani. “We were able to get this message to customers and potential customers way ahead of most restaurants, and that had a massive social impact: several posts organically hit 25 to 50-times his usual footprint.” 

In addition, Nyam Nyam Café was one of the first local businesses to offer online ordering and family packs. Together these efforts kept the cafe’s financial numbers within the normal month-to-month 10% variance. “The customers responded pretty quickly for online ordering and many became repeat customers,” said Goryachev. “We still use all of those early suggestions like the family packages for to-go orders, online and Facebook ordering.” 

A particularly effective — and creative — strategy was to create a magnet that has a QR code customers can scan to access the menu and online ordering. This creative alternative to paper menus gives customers a convenient and efficient way to order again from Nyam Nyam Café.

close up of bagels
4 Brothers NY Bagels. Courtesy photo.

Establishing a Stronger Social Media Presence

4 Brothers NY Bagels, Cypress: Although Discon had good early results through farmers market sales after opening his business in October 2019, things got tricky once the markets were forced to shut down during quarantine. Under Romani’s guidance, Discon implemented targeted digital marketing techniques to increase visibility and encourage new customer connections. The pair used a combined approach of elevating the quality of posts, providing consistency and encouraging “calls to action” that his “super-fans” were willing to engage in. 

In addition, Romani and Discon used paid advertising to heavily target specific demographics. “We were able to double 4 Brothers NY Bagels’ visibility, which resulted in a 200-300 percent increase in orders within a month,” says Romani. When farmers markets reopened, we continued to use targeted, paid advertising to increase revenue and also developed online ordering.” Discon says this mix of methods helped him see new opportunities. 

“What I like about Chris is that he has a plethora of ideas that will have you thinking outside the box, and that is definitely helpful,” said Discon. “The social media presence that he put out there for us was a great, great help. It all went in line with the farmers market opening up again. Even on the off-weekends when there weren’t markets open, we still saw a pretty nice trend of people coming in and ordering, which was not common originally. It was definitely a good turnout through social media. It gives me a lot of security knowing that I have somebody with that type of knowledge.” Discon plans to use similar strategies and guidance from Romani when he opens his forthcoming brick-and-mortar location.

glass case of bakery goods
Shelf of treats at Luliet Creamery & Bake Shop. Courtesy photo.

Implementing Neighborhood Delivery

Luliet Creamery & Bake Shop, 3625 FM 2920, Spring: The COVID-19 pandemic offered a unique incentive for Shehaj to expand her accessibility to customers through delivery. As a new business still in its first year, the bakery was reliant on sales in the storefront. The quarantine restrictions dictated a change, and Romani suggested neighborhood deliveries. 

They tested the process with Romani’s own neighborhood, and then Nelia developed similar programs for other communities, drawing on the experiences and lessons of those first deliveries. Since Shehaj already had a strong marketing presence, the deliveries were a way to capitalize on and stretch those efforts. “It never crossed my mind that we could do neighborhood delivery, but because of the COVID situation it was a brilliant idea,” Shehaj said.

“During quarantine, everything was very uncertain and the situation was hard. We didn’t even know if we were going to stay open, but because of his suggestion we were able to stay open and keep all the employees [12 total including full- and part-time staff]. We were able to reach new clients. It was wonderful. That was really, really nice.” 

After helping initiate the delivery program, Romani provided continued support. “Every time a new neighborhood was added, it was a challenge for managing orders, ensuring proper delivery, etc.,” said Shehaj. “Chris was really a good sounding board for all that and helping us do things faster and in a more organized way. Working with Chris is more of a friendship than an advisor. He really cares and is involved in a lot of parts of the business in a personal way.”

All three clients emphasized that working with Romani feels more like a friendship than a business transaction. “Throughout the quarantine he has always been accessible,” says Mikhail. “He’s not just a partner in crime but he is also a good friend.” Not only is he available, but he is really there. 

“What’s nice about Chris is that he’s always willing to go the extra mile,” shared Discon. “He’s more than willing to step in; he’s even helped me cut bagels and cut dough, and not too many people doing advertising are going to step up doing that. It speaks volumes about his character.” Shehaj added, “He’s always been a friend of the bakery since it opened. It’s wonderful to have people who are looking out for you.”

Restaurant owners who could also use an outside perspective and new strategies to face the challenges that 2021 will bring can reach Chris at (281) 638-3534, send him an email or visit the Romani Branding & Management website and fill out the contact form.

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