We sat down with Kassie “KC” Guzzardi, co-owner of Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho, NM to learn about the history of her business and get an inside take on industry advice. The Guzzardi’s red sauce family-style Italian eatery was recognized during the inaugural Coast-to-Coast: Coming Together Because We Mean Business conference at Yelp HQ in 2015. Read on to hear their story.
Why did you decide to start your business? Tell us your backstory!
We’d both been in food and beverage for years. A friend of Joe’s had initially opened the restaurant and he came to Joe and asked him to take it over — the friend had other restaurants in southern New Mexico and Texas. Joe took it over. Joe had already run catering businesses, delis, a pizzeria. We met shortly after, and I had 25 years of food and beverage experience myself. We were a good match, so it was a no-brainer for us to build a business together.
Why do you love doing business here in Rio Rancho?
Community. We like how it’s a small city, it’s not so overwhelming and everybody’s more connected, and we’re able to connect with the community. Albuquerque and Rio Rancho are unique, a lot of businesses work together.
What’s the most helpful piece of customer feedback you’ve received?
In regards to reviews, we always look for things that come up more than once, because that’s how we utilize our reviews to make improvements. We’re always looking to make improvements in our restaurant, whether it’s our food, our service, our atmosphere. If things come up more than once, that directs our attention that hey, you need to focus on this, because that’s what our customers are saying. Food and service are most important; restaurant budget goes to certain things, if a walk-in freezer goes down, an air conditioner, those get addressed first, ambiance takes more time.
I think what’s most important to our regular customers is that they feel like they’re family. That was our goal, to make our customers feel like they’re being welcomed into our home for a traditional Sunday dinner. We think we’ve done that. We have people who’ve come from the east coast, they get tears in their eyes, they recognize that “welcome”.
What’s your advice for other business owners or someone who wants to start a small business?
Do your research. Particularly in my business. The restaurant business is a particularly high-risk business, banks will not give loans for startup restaurants. People come to us sometimes and say “I’m a great cook, I want to start a restaurant,” that’s like one one-hundredth of what it takes. You may cook well for ten people, but can you cook 15 tickets for one hundred people in time? It’s different, and that’s just scraping the surface. They don’t know anything about licensing and taxes, regulations, labor costs, food costs. They really need to do the research. You have to have your systems in line. We recently started a consulting business, Guzzardi Consulting, because we want to see more small businesses stay open, and thrive, and not lose their life savings, or home. Joe and I have 60 years combined experience in this industry, we can see things that other people cannot.
Also, market. More than 60% of small businesses are not marketed online. A lot of that is just investing my time — not necessarily paying for things — but ensuring that no matter what the search engines are saying about us, I make sure it’s the correct information. Branding us they way we want to be branded. Replying to reviews: imperative. We all put blood, sweat and tears into our small businesses, not everybody’s going to love you, that’s the way it is, but when you’re replying to a review it’s a wonderful marketing opportunity. The critical reviews actually provide me with a better marketing opportunity, because I can speak to our culture and what it is we really want to do. We get the chance to invite them back, to say “Hey, this is what we really do, day in and day out, please give us another chance to do it right, we would love to have the opportunity to make it right.” I’ve seen ratings go higher, and I’ve forged relationships with customers.
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