Alex Brounstein is the owner of one of Atlanta’s newest burger joints – Grindhouse Killer Burgers. However, instead of opening a “burger boutique,” which seem to be all the rage, he went old school, but with high quality ingredients. The result is one of the hottest new spots in Atlanta.
His recipe for success is simple:
- Work hard to get stimulus money for a city icon (more than $700,000 for the Sweet Auburn Curb Market) and in the process discover a hidden gem of a location with lots of foot traffic.
- Get a great lease on an unused space that is already mostly built out – including a kitchen.
- Brand the location and the restaurant simply, but with some flava.
- Hand out flyers to everyone you see and email all your friends.
- Randomly meet a popular food blogger that ignites a viral campaign that scorches its way across social media and creates long lines of people within 2 weeks of opening.
(see Community Cultivator’s other blog post on Grindhouse to get my initial impressions right after the grand opening)
This is Alex’s first restaurant and he shared some insights on how to reach your target audience, connect with patrons, and get butts in seats.
Sweet Auburn Curb Market is located in downtown Atlanta on Edgewood Avenue. It’s just steps away from Grady Hospital and Georgia State and just a few blocks away from big buildings that house big companies. It’s also close to a historically seedy part of town. Based on location, Alex’s patrons are:
- Corporate big wigs in power ties
- Patients and the families of patients at Grady
- Medical personnel
- College students
- Low income residence of the area
But Grindhouse doesn’t just attract the locals. Word of mouth and social media has reached the ears of foodies and they come in droves to judge the offering against their burger aficionado palates.
Rich and not so rich, people come from near and far because, as Alex puts it, “Everybody loves burgers.”
To entice this diverse group is a multi-pronged strategy:
Location, Location, Location
Sweet Auburn Curb Market has foot traffic and, as much as it pains me, that’s something not too common in Atlanta. Alex claims the first enticement is convenience to downtown businesses, Georgia State, Grady, and local residents. Combine that with increasing growth in the area around 85/75 and Edgewood and the burgeoning reputation of the Edgewood corridor as a destination for trendy restaurants and you’ve got a high potential market.
Look and Feel
The Sweet Auburn Curb Market is a maze of butchers, seafood and vegetable stands, small shops and food vendors. In most cases, the advertisement of these businesses is limited to the display of their wares with very little signage or branding. As you head towards the back of the market, though, you start catching glimpses of the bright neon Grindhouse sign and discover a dining counter that stretches across 1/3 of the back of the building with a white tile wall serving as a backdrop to the work area. On this wall, a variety of campy movies are projected – such as Attack of the Killer Tomatoes – and a hodge podge of Atlanta residents watch on as they sit bent over their juicy burgers. The restaurant stands out in the market not only because it’s the only business that has stylized branding, but it’s actually having fun with it. With the amount of daily foot traffic, Grindhouse sticks out like a big, neon thumb.
Marketing material follows this lead. The Grindhouse logo seems inspired by 60′s-70′s Grindhouse movies, with towering stone letters crumbling with decay on top of a splatter of gore … or chipotle ranch dressing. Even the menu has the feel of a 60′s diner. All of this sets expectations of a place that pays attention to details and has fun doing it.
Alex has exerted a lot of effort to not only get the restaurant side of things right, but to use his experience in branding to make it pop.
All of the other enticements don’t matter if the food isn’t good and Alex uses high quality ingredients to help insure a delicious selection. To serve a wider audience, he also includes turkey and veggie burgers on the menu and adds some flair by including toppings like sauteed mushrooms, grilled onions, green chilis, chipotle ranch, blue cheese spread and a Grindhouse burger sauce. Oh yeah, throw in some hand spun milkshakes for good measure.
Because of the economic diversity of his audience, Alex has orchestrated a menu that can meet any budget. The starting price for a burger is $3.99, but he’s seen people construct a $12 burger with all the bells and whistles. It works – anyone looking at the lunch counter around noon can see one of the most diverse patron bases imaginable.
Foot traffic is great, but Alex has also done a good job with promotions, although he admits a lot of this was luck.
Alex was at Top Flr one night before Grindhouse opened and happened to get into a conversation with the blogger for foodiebuddha.com. Soon after, there was a post on the blog about the anticipated opening followed up by a review of Grindhouse once it went live. This was picked up in the blogosphere by others (including me) and led to a chain reaction of posts. The viral spread led to a review in Creative Loafing and eventually the AJC – all within a few weeks. Without a dime being spent, Alex was getting tremendous old and new press.
Alex is a big believer in flyers and this was where he placed the majority of his initial efforts. His handouts were simple, glossy, included a map to the restaurant, a sample of the menu and and offered free fries with the purchase of a burger. Coupons get butts in seats.
As part of his initial push, Alex sent out an email to everyone he knew (about 600 people) announcing the grand opening. Since then, he hasn’t done any additional mass emails and believes that these run the risk of being annoying to recipients. He is open to implementing a more formalized email campaign strategy, but hasn’t had time to focus on this.
PR is great. There was a spike in customers after a write up by Cliff Bostock in Creative Loafing and a huge spike after a write up by John Kessler in the AJC, but those either came from word of mouth reaching the journalists or from press releases that Alex sent out.
Other articles have included:
He did look into using a PR agency, including Caren West with Caren West PR and Green Olive Media, which he thinks are effective at getting national coverage, but he couldn’t justify the $1,000+ cost per month without any guaranteed results. He did, however, receive some great support from from Lynn Lilly with Blackout Productions.
Right now, his philosophy is do it yourself PR.
Grindhouse does have a Facebook page which provides a way to promote to patrons already familiar with the restaurant. Alex also made an effort to add all of the local bloggers as Facebook friends prior to the launch to make sure they were aware of the new entrant to the burger market.
Grindhouse also has a twitter page that Alex uses in a similar way. He tries to keep people updated on what’s going on, without overwhelming them with tweets.
Sites like Urbanspoon, Yelp and Citysearch have definitely driven traffic to Grindhouse and they’ve contacted Alex about paying for advertisements. His opinion is that he’s happy with his exposure on these sites and doesn’t see any benefit to paying for any additional promotions.
No. That’s it… no. Alex thinks this might have been useful 20 years ago, but he doesn’t pay any attention to print ads so he just doesn’t see the value.
Word of mouth is the gold standard of reaching your target audience and Alex has benefited from the viral spread ignited by bloggers and fosters this through use of Facebook and Twitter. In one case, after winning the Chomp and Stomp Chili cook off, he posted the news on Facebook and received 30 responses almost immediately. In another case, he tweeted an announcement of a butchering demo and someone immediately blogged about it. To a large extent, WoM is out of the hands of organizations, but these efforts help fan the flames.
To stay connected to patrons, Alex currently relies on Facebook and Twitter. It does take effort to manage these, though, and every couple of days he tries to spend an hour or so catching up.
Keeping things simple is a mantra of Alex’s. His menu is simple, his hours of operation (11AM-4PM) are simple and avoid the long days most chefs endure, and his promotions are simple – lots of social media promotions and flyers. His early success with going viral through bloggers has allowed him to focus on filling orders.
One of the biggest challenges remains finding time to manage promotions through Facebook, Twitter, etc while still running the restaurant. Adding to this is that different people find information in different ways and you have to make sure you maximize your exposure to reach your target audience. Grindhouse is still a small operations and Alex has to do it all.
Alex has a loose measurement of success – he is busy from open to close. With his new business, he hasn’t had time to gauge the effectiveness of his efforts, but here are some of his feedback channels:
- People are turning in coupons and he tracks this in his POS, but he hasn’t had time to look at the count. It seems pretty good, though.
- He hears people saying the saw him on local search sites (Yelp, Citysearch, Urbanspoon, etc.). Seems pretty good, but he has no plans to pay for more exposure.
- Traffic spiked after write ups in Creative Loafing and the AJC – PR works.
Although he has a background using metrics to gauge success, “you’ve got to have really good data to do that and I don’t feel like my data is that good” and right now he has as many customers as he can handle so it’s not as important. The one concrete exception is using POS information to help with ordering inventory.
Words of Advice
Keep things simple, never skimp on ingredients.
Connect with Grindhouse and Alex Brounstein
In high school, Alex considered going to culinary school, but the long hours chefs endure on their feet wasn’t very appealing. But he’s always enjoyed cooking and, during the summers of his college years, he worked as a short order cook in various Atlanta restaurants.
After college, Alex went into consulting and branded marketing, but quickly became a down-sized victim of the Internet bust. Next, he decided to go back to school for law, received his MBA and went into real estate – just in time to be part of the real estate bubble bust. With free time on his hands, Alex began focusing more on his side project – raising funds to revitalize the Sweet Auburn Curb Market. The experience and relationships he built with the market during this successful push for a renovation grant helped him see untapped potential. Alex got a great deal on some unused space and opened Grindhouse Killer Burgers, hoping to show Atlanta that the Curb Market can support businesses with a broader appeal.
Alex had only one shout out: