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Behind the Review | The roadmap to creating a memorable dining experience



When Rob van den Blink and his friends Jerry Bock and Erhan Kostepen opened DOYA, their inspiration came from their friend’s home cooking. The three used to dine at Erhan’s house frequently, enjoying a variety of meze-style small plates spread atop his kitchen counter. After countless dinners and a few memorable trips together to Greece and Turkey, they knew they wanted to bring this experience to the larger community of Wynwood, Miami.

For reviewer Joe D., who stumbled upon DOYA through a Yelp Elite event, the restaurant immediately felt like home. “It had the feel of almost eating in a friend’s house and trying their cuisine, whatever their specialties were,” Joe said. “[The staff] say, ‘Oh, I made this pie, but it’s got this special thing that only my grandmother did.’ … If they could bottle and sell that, they’d make a fortune.”

In fact, the restaurant’s environment is key to standing out in a busy, food-centric neighborhood like Wynwood. Rob and his friends bought an old warehouse and transformed it into a cozy garden oasis over the course of eight months. “We were very adamant that we wanted to take a space and make it our own,” Rob said. “And by default, that meant we had to be property developers before we became restaurant operators.” From crafting a terrace out of the parking lot to adding an open kitchen, each aspect of the interior design was intended to capture an eccentric but modern look.

The food, too, is crafted with just as much care. All plates coming out of the hot kitchen are cooked over a wood-fired kitchen. Ingredients—from the specialty cheeses to the tomatoes—are carefully selected by the team. This resulted in an ambitious 50- to 60-item menu of innovative cold and hot dishes. “My absolute favorite was the muhammara, red peppers ground with pomegranate and walnuts,” Joe wrote in his review.

Attentive service is another essential part of the DOYA experience. “Every day before lunch and dinner service, all the chefs, all the waiting staff, all of us, we get together and talk about the service that’s upcoming,” Rob said. “We like to create a work atmosphere that is respectful, that is appreciative of the staff. And the cliche is so true in hospitality which is: Treat your staff right, and they treat your guests right.”

As much as the owners consider DOYA a labor of love, they also rely on business acumen. With a 60-page business plan, the team had a concrete foundation laid out before actually building DOYA. 

“When it comes to the hospitality industry, you typically get people that either come from a chef background with that passion and knowledge,” Rob said. “Or you have people that maybe only come from the business side. But when you merge those two together, we think that’s where a lot of the magic happens.”

That blend of passion and strategy is what makes DOYA enticing to customers like Joe. “I’ve actually been back, I think, four times now,” he said. “I went back the next day and then went back a couple more times with clients. It was just terrific.”

Rob and his team live by these additional tips to help their restaurant thrive:

  • There’s tremendous value in writing a business plan. Even if you’re not taking it to a bank or investors, your success depends on you taking the time to think out the numbers and the words that describe your business and what you do.
  • It’s all about the little things with customer service. At DOYA, staff is constantly filling water for guests in other sections and paying time and attention to all guests no matter how busy they are. Joe felt this in his experience. 
  • Responding to and leveraging critical reviews is a mindset. Sometimes you just have to let things go, but be confident that what you’re doing matters. If you have intentions and purposeful execution, it’ll all work out.

Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Rob and Joe, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.

Available on: SpotifyApple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsStitcher, and Soundcloud


Behind the Review, episode 48 transcript
Making the details count

EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Every episode I pick one review on Yelp and talk to the entrepreneur and the reviewer about the story and business lessons behind their interaction. This week we’ll hear from Rob, owner of a meze-style restaurant in Miami, and Joe, a frequent patron of the restaurant.

Lets see what’s behind this week’s review.

JOE: I heard of Doya through Yelp elite actually. They had an event there—it was a sampler event, and I really loved the place. I’ve actually been back, I think, four times now. I went back the next day and then went back a couple more times with clients because I work there downtown, and it’s pretty close by in Wynwood and it was just terrific. I really loved the place, so it’s on my heavy rotation of places I like to go.

JOE: Relatively new Turkish place in Wynwood that knocks the cover off the ball with near perfect 5-star food, 5-star service and 5-star ambience. I first went for a Yelp Elite event to try it out, then went back a couple of days later with clients for more. Yea, it’s really THAT good.

It’s got 5-star food. Almost everything is a unique update on traditional eastern Mediterranean dishes.  Everyone comes out “meze” style, which is more or less Turkish tapas. My absolute favorite was the muhammara (red peppers ground with pomegranate and walnuts). Food prices are reasonable for this terrific quality of food and usually expensive neighborhood.  

For a new-ish place, the service runs like a Swiss clock. The staff is enormously friendly. They explained the finer points of the food and filled drinks, etc., without ever being asked.  

5-star ambience. Doya gets the outdoor ambience just right. There is no enclosure wall but an implied boundary with the street in the form of a railing and plants. The whole effect is intimate but also open to fun Wynwood people-watching.

In short: I loved this place so much for a special event that I went back a couple of days later for more!

EMILY: To customers like Joe, dining at Doya is an experience. Nestled in a neighborhood of galleries, venues, and old warehouses, Joe associates Doya with good food but also good ambience. To owner Rob and his co-founders, an inviting physical space was key when they first built the restaurant. Let’s hear what Rob has to say.

ROB: So we’re in Wynwood, a very eclectic neighborhood in Miami. And we’ve taken an old warehouse that was literally four walls and a leaking ceiling and turned it into what we think is a beautiful space with some Mediterranean influences, but very warm. We have a very large outdoor space that we call a garden oasis. It can seat about a hundred guests and inside we have this beautiful theater, open kitchen. And then we have this beautiful, big bar that can see between 30 and 40 people. It’s an eclectic mix of materials that we’ve used.

We didn’t want it to be so uniform. We didn’t want it to be a cookie cutter. So we went with a space that we think did some justice to what Wynwood is all about, and at the same time, does justice to our products and the experience that we’re looking for as well. 

EMILY: Building such a unique restaurant space was a labor of love for Rob and his team. It also required a lot of time, effort, and money, and the team actually ended up 30% over budget during development. While Rob admits they underestimated the task of property development, the final result was undeniably amazing. Customers like Joe are now able to enjoy a Mediterranean-inspired meal surrounded by the perfect ambiance.

But before we get into the customer experience, let’s get to know Doya a bit more.

ROB: We started Doya many, many years ago with two of my business partners, Jerry and Erhan. We had spent so many evenings of Erhan’s home, enjoying his cooking and add on—you must know, what the original founder of a restaurant in Miami called Mandolin, which many people know also Aegean. And he had this big kitchen counter, and all of us would on a Sunday afternoon sit behind the kitchen counter at home on the other side of the kitchen counter with his kitchen and putting all these lovely plates in front of us all would enjoy them.

Subsequently, we did several trips to Greece and to Turkey to the Aegean region. All three of us have a history in hospitality. I used to work in hospitality back in London for a long time—a long time ago, 20 years ago. So we then said, look, you know, we have to do something together. And we have to sort of try to capture this experience that we have at Erhan’s home and the experience that we’ve had traveling through the Aegean region together.

EMILY: The collective decision to start Doya was clearly driven by the friends’ passion for travel and home-style Aegean food. But as always, starting a restaurant is a combination of business and passion.

ROB: The first decision that we had was a very natural one, which is that we said to each other: We, to an extent, want to follow our heart and soul, and we want to pour our heart and soul into this thing. And that might not always be the most rational or the most wise business decision one can make. But when we talk about hospitality business, if you can translate all that into a viable business model, of course it is. Because in the end people notice authenticity in it. And we think, appreciate authenticity. 

So a lot of the sort of business decisions when it comes to product development, some of the things regarding service, because we have such a history in the industry, they were fairly easy to make decisions on. The long and short of it is that we simply spent a lot of time writing a business plan. Not just the numbers, but also just to try to put it into words.

And in the end, I think we have 60 pages of a business plan that we could have taken maybe to a bank or to an investor, but in the end we decided to do everything ourselves. But it was there. And I don’t think we left any eventuality undiscovered or unnoticed before we started. And of course you run into so many issues and you have to go left where you want to go right. You want to go right, you have to go left. This happens so many times once you actually start. 

But to have that foundation, not just on the passion side, but also on the business side, I think that’s—especially when it comes to the hospitality industry, you typically get people that either come from a chef background and people who come with that passion and knowledge and everything that comes with professionalism. And you have people who maybe only come from the business side. But when you merge those two together, we think that that’s where—truth be told, it’s where a lot of the magic happens. 

EMILY: Inspired by their trips to Greece and Turkey, Rob and the team crafted a meze-style menu format. This modern take on traditional Mediterranean food has really resonated with customers like Joe, and the shared plates-style dishes helped the restaurant stand out. One thing the team paid careful attention to was the quality of their ingredients. If you’re a restaurant owner, getting the ingredients right can sometimes be the key to elevating a good dining experience into a great one.

ROB: So one of the things we liked so much about our many trips to the region is that you come to these people’s restaurants, and many times you’re greeted by the owner, and the owner takes you to an area where he has the cold meze on display. So the cold dishes are often prepared and they’re ready to be served. And quite often that owner then tells you about some of the things you have that evening. And then of course, the hot plates. It’s a different section, and you sit down, and the idea was not to have your typical three-course experience—not to have your big Caesar salad, a steak, and a cheesecake—but something where people at an affordable price point can try many different things at the same time. So that’s what we’ve tried to set out to do. 

And then all the plates that are coming out of the hot kitchen are cooked over a wood-fired oven. One of the things that Joe picked up on that I was so pleased about is that we do really care about the ingredients. And there’s a nice example of that, which is that Erhan the chef, my business partner and friend, he’s obsessive—obsessive about tomatoes. So, you know, just to get that one tomato right. Even in his previous restaurant it was a big deal and now it’s a big deal. And so we try for everything to be fresh and to be from a reputable source. And in the end, we noticed that people notice the difference in quality of the ingredients—and often at times a subconscious thing, but people notice.

EMILY: The food itself is obviously a crucial component of the restaurant experience. But what about the service? Especially during certain times of day, restaurants can get pretty hectic, and it’s easy for servers to feel overwhelmed. In these cases, how do you streamline the ordering and serving process so that customers feel taken care of?

We’re going to take a quick break, but when we come back we’ll hear about Joe’s experiences at DOYA and what makes great customer service so impactful.

EMILY 7: And we’re back! Something that stuck out to Joe on his first visit was how the friendly service made him feel at ease. Sometimes, it’s the little interactions and subtleties that count.

JOE 3:  Part of it is just, someone would walk by that wasn’t actually the server, but they would notice like the water glass is empty and say, ‘Oh, let me get that for you.’ You know, that kind of thing buys an incredible amount of goodwill. That’s a big deal. 

It also, they kind of put the feel of, almost like eating in a friend’s house and trying their cuisine, like whatever their specialties were, because they’ll usually say, ‘Oh, I made this pie, but it’s got this special thing that only my grandmother did.’ And they kind of go through all the details. Nobody was really rushing to deliver the food, and they were actually pretty busy. Especially when I went the second time, like basically the next day, they were pretty busy and, you know, they weren’t rushing with, you know, just dropping a plate and kind of darting off. They sort of, ‘Hey did you like that one? This one’s made of the same thing,’ you know that kind of stuff. If they could bottle and sell that, they’d make a fortune, cause a lot of places don’t do that.

EMILY: To Rob, this was a sign that the team’s hard work and training had paid off.

ROB: I was so humbled, you know, and honored that he picked up on that we had been open for a little bit and made a note of it, right.

It starts with the fact that when we sat down with three of us and we wanted to sort of think about what the experience should be, we thought long and hard about what we can do to make the job for the server, for the host, as easy as possible. And when I say as easy as possible, don’t take that the wrong way. We just want to make sure that the person that looks after our guests has the time to give it the attention that the guests need. 

And also has the time, because we are a concept where we do small plates in family style, where they have sufficient time to change out plates, to put new plates down, so when guests sit down, the menu is already on the table. And you have to know that we have a fairly ambitious menu that has 50 to 60 menu items on them, which is quite remarkable by any standard for any restaurant. We can do that because half of those items are coming out of the cold kitchen and there’s a lot of prep involved.

But having the menu on the table, having the cold dishes already prepared and an ability to serve those plates fairly quickly, once people have placed the order, just allows for the host, for the waiter, for the server a little bit more time to spend on other things. So it starts with that. 

Then I think that we’ve taken a lot of time in training the staff and new people that come in. They go through a rigorous training process as well. And a lot of the training that we do focuses on product and menu knowledge. Because in the end, we don’t want to be a pretentious restaurant where a lot of the rules and regulations people might think of when they say that—they don’t apply. We want to have natural hospitality, natural service. And we like it very much if the personality of the server, of the waiter, shines through a little bit in that experience. So it starts with giving them the tools to be themselves. And then from that, everything flows naturally. 

And then you’ve asked: How do we communicate with the staff? Every day before service, all the chefs, all the waiting staff, all of us, we get together. And we talk about the service that’s upcoming. That’s not uncommon. A lot of restaurants do that. We like to think we put some extra attention on that. And I think that maybe one of the most important things in all of this—is that we like to create a work atmosphere that is respectful, that is appreciative of the staff. And the cliche is so true in hospitality which is: Treat your staff right, and they treat your guests right. And we take that very seriously. 

EMILY: It’s clear that every aspect of Doya was well thought out by Rob and his business partners, Erhan and Jerry. From the cold and hot dishes to the interior and exterior and now to service, these decisions were all made with the customer in mind. These details are all things that business owners themselves are able to control.

On the flipside, how customers feel about your products and services can be out of your control. And that can be scary. To put something out there and not know how it will be received—Rob anticipated this going into Doya.

ROB: When you start your business, you’re aware that, you know, you’re opening up yourself to the world and you’re opening yourself to criticism—and sometimes deservedly so. It’s a terrifying prospect when you just open, because you’ve put all your blood, sweat, and tears, your passion, your life savings into the whole thing, and then you’re sort of waiting: Well, what are people going to say about us?

And thankfully, thankfully, it’s been rewarding. It’s been very positive. It’s been great.

I can tell you this—it’s extremely important. We hear it from everybody. I went so many times to people, to their tables and say, ‘You know, how did you find us?’ Everything is online now. It’s OpenTable, it’s Yelp, it’s Google, it’s Facebook.

EMILY: But even with anticipating it and ultimately getting tons of incredibly positive feedback, that’s not to say the Doya team hasn’t experienced a few bumps here and there.

ROB: Oh, I have such a good example of that. There was one person—it was not on Yelp by the way—but there was one person (I won’t mention his name, but he’s a fairly well-known reviewer from a very well-known platform.) And it gave us a very positive review, but the individual was not impressed with one of our dishes, which is a pita dish. And we invested $25,000 in an oven that came from Italy. We have a Turkish baker that has been baking for 30 years, who probably took the recipe from a previous generation. And then we go through this elaborate process of having our dough, you know, like an Italian bakery, right? And then we import some of the most beautiful cheese from Greece and we put this very generous serving of real truffle on the thing. And it’s just, it’s a work of art. 

And then this particular individual didn’t like it. And it’s fair to them, right? Everybody’s taste is different. And this is clearly somebody who didn’t like it. And it’s fair enough that they didn’t like the dish, but it’s one of those things where I think, wow, we went through all this trouble and only two items on our menu come out of this beautiful, big, wood-fired oven. So that was an instance where we thought, ‘Hmm, might not be entirely fair.’ But again, it doesn’t necessarily have to be fair if he was expressing what his personal taste was on this particular dish. And he didn’t like it; it’s only fair. 

Of course, as a business owner, you’re always thinking, ‘Wow, how did that impact somebody who reads this?’ But in all fairness, the overall review of this person was fantastic. And we have nothing to complain about.

EMILY: I’m sure many of you business owners have had a similar experience. A consumer who didn’t like your main dish or offering, even though it was executed flawlessly by your standards. Hearing this criticism of their pita dish that they had invested so much time and history into gave the team pause to ask themselves, ‘Do we need to adjust?’ But ultimately they reminded themselves that some consumer opinions are purely subjective, and you can’t help that. Everyone doesn’t love everything. 

And to give more insight into what customers consider in a review, let’s see what Joe has to say. As a Yelp Elite member, he writes tons of helpful, well thought-out reviews and even evaluates different parts of the experience separately.

JOE: It sort of seems like the three major things for most venues (sometimes if they don’t have food at all, there’s obviously no star thing for food) but food and beverage, ambiance, and service—you might kind of be the three main things for most places where you’re going to go out and do almost anything.

And it also helps me kind of think through: ‘Okay. Maybe this part was great. That part wasn’t so great.’ I sorted out in my own head, like: ‘What was the plus? What was the minus?’ In this case, it was pretty much almost all pluses. So, you know, I didn’t have any ‘yes, but’ kind of sentences in this one. So I think that’s why I do it. It kind of helps me keep organized and think through different aspects of which parts worked. 

For me rating things, it’s always gotta be… I’m pretty fault-tolerant. I mean, unless someone is wildly rude, there’s not going to be a one- or a two-star thing for a service. Even if somebody is having a really bad day, that’s only going to be a three, you know? I’m always kind of baffled when people are really, really hard on service industry things. 

EMILY: Joe is the type of understanding, lenient reviewer who will cut a restaurant some slack for mix ups or honest mistakes. But, as we all know, not everyone is. Rob knows that mixed or critical reviews are inevitable, and it’s important to acknowledge it. While you might not be able to change a customer’s mind, what you can do is change your mentality about reviews.
ROB: It’s really a mindset. From the get-go, we knew that we were going to get reviews that were negative when we thought they were undeservedly so. But you know, we’ve also had a few reviews where people have commented on things that end up particular moments they weren’t happy about. We thought, you know, they might be—they’re probably right on this. So it’s very much a mindset and it’s something that when you get into it before you start, and especially when you start a restaurant, you have to be a bit thick-skinned and you have to sometimes just be able to let it go. All I can say is, you know, be confident about what you’re doing, and if all your intentions and executions are right, then it’ll all work out.

The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.

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