The pandemic has impacted all businesses—from small to large, restaurants to fitness studios, nail salons to dentist offices—and each business has reacted differently. This week, we talked with the minds behind Cali Comfort BBQ in Spring Valley, California, just outside of San Diego. Owner Shawn Walchef and Digital Hospitality Specialist Stover Harger went back to the drawing board and rewrote everything they thought they knew about running a sports barbecue spot. They pushed their digital strategy to the limits and found success at a time when hope was running low.
Our Yelp reviewer, Maridel A., mom of two and San Diego local, talks to us about her experience with Cali Comfort BBQ—both before and during the pandemic—from extraordinary customer service to top-notch efficiency in uncertain times.
Built specifically to cater to large crowds during sporting events, Cali Comfort was hit hard when restaurants had to shut down. But instead of feeling defeated, Shawn and Stover went to work and made some pretty drastic changes. Here’s a preview of some of the steps they took, from Shawn: “When the Coronavirus hit, we thought about what we do best: barbecue. That’s what we do. So how can we focus on that? We eliminated 90% of our menu that didn’t travel well, which significantly helped us reduce our food costs. So during the peak days of the pandemic, which were the holidays—Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, 4th of July, Easter—we were doing more sales per hour than we did in 14 hours the year before when we were open.”
Their unrelenting focus on hospitality is another reason they’ve been able to find so much success. “The only way to ensure that hospitality happens is by hiring,” said Shawn. “If you don’t hire for heart, and if you don’t hire for hospitality in their DNA, it becomes very difficult to teach people to care for other people.”
When you prioritize that, people notice. In fact, Maridel says she feels many business owners have been hyper-focusing on hospitality and customer service during the pandemic, shown through her Yelp reviews. “Since COVID started, I’ve been receiving the best customer service from restaurants. I feel like they’re appreciating their customers more after being shut down and because they want their customers coming back. My reviews during COVID have all been five stars. It’s nothing but just positive feedback because everyone’s just been so friendly. They’re going above and beyond.”
That said, pivoting during COVID isn’t all we talk about in this episode. We also heavily discuss something that is near and dear to Stover’s heart: digital strategy. Cali Comfort BBQ has invested an enormous amount of resources into their digital marketing strategy—they lean heavily on social media and Yelp Connect to engage with customers. “ABP: always be posting, always be publishing, always be planning, always be promoting—whatever you want to insert there,” said Stover. “You should be putting stuff online.”
A mix of hospitality, the willingness to make tough decisions, and a strong emphasis on digital marketing has enabled Cali Comfort BBQ to triumph against the odds. In this episode, you’ll hear more from them on exactly how and why they made these decisions and how you can apply them to your business. Through our reviewer Maridel, we learn, once again, about the importance of customer service and how positive experiences encourage happy customers to spread the word.
Interviews by Emily Washcovick; photos from Cali Comfort BBQ on Yelp
These lessons come from an episode of Behind the Review, Yelp & Entrepreneur Media’s weekly podcast. Listen below to hear from Shawn, Stover, and Maridel, or visit the episode page to read more, subscribe to the show, and explore other episodes.
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