#10. Shawn Walchef is not only a restaurateur but an expert in digital media and storytelling. During the episode, he emphasizes the importance of taking time, making mistakes, and consistently learning. According to Shawn, storytelling is crucial in creating an emotional connection with customers, and he believes that technology can make barbecue more accessible to people.
The podcast touches on the importance of connection in digital marketing and the long-term approach to building relationships. Shawn advises entrepreneurs to focus on being authentic and raw in their online presence, rather than trying to be commercial, believing that personal stories can add value to one's online presence and that privacy and storytelling can coexist.
Where to find Shawn Walchef:
Where to find host Josh Sharkey:
In this episode, we cover:
(2:47) Shawn’s background
(6:31) Why Shawn is so interested in storytelling
(9:35) Shawn’s framework for telling stories
(10:06) The difference between digital marketing and social media
(14:45) The importance of learning new things
(18:37) Balancing personal and business storytelling
(22:15) The importance of understanding your audience
(25:34) Digital marketing is like the tortoise and the hare
(29:18) Simplifying your message
(32:34) Partnering with Entrepreneur
(38:37) Restaurants using PR
(41:34) What’s next for Shawn?
Josh Sharkey [00:00:00]:
Welcome to The meez Podcast. I'm your host, Josh Sharkey, the founder and CEO of meez, the culinary operating system for food professionals. On the show, I'll be interviewing world-class entrepreneurs in the food space that are shifting the paradigm of how we innovate and operate in our industry. Thanks for listening, and I hope you enjoy the show.
Josh Sharkey [00:00:25]:
My guest today is Shawn Walchef. Shawn is the founder of Cali BBQ Media. And Cali BBQ Restaurants, a multi-unit restaurant group out of San Diego. On top of being a restaurateur. Shawn's also quite the guru of digital media and storytelling, which means of course, he's also a public speaker and a celebrated podcast host with several shows including Digital Hospitality and in collaboration with Entrepreneur Magazine, a show called Restaurant Influencers.
We learned a lot today about leveraging digital media to grow your brand. Though I think of all the great nuggets of wisdom I heard, my favorite was probably when Shawn quoted lovable Winnie the Pooh. Enjoy the show.
All right, Shawn, welcome to the pod.
Shawn Walchef [00:01:25]:
What's up, Josh?
Josh Sharkey [00:01:27]:
We started chatting like two weeks ago for the first time, and although I'd seen you online, I didn't know much about you and I left that call just so amped man. Just hearing how you approach what you do with Cali BBQ, Cali BBQ Media, and obviously you're way more than just, you know, a restaurateur or someone who does media.
I was just really fascinated with your approach. You said that we build our barbecue, like we build our media - low and slow. That really struck a chord with me. Also, just as a chef, barbecue is like this great equalizer where it doesn't matter how good of a chef you are, or how much experience you have. If you want to be good at barbecue, you've got to just start and screw up and test and ask questions and be patient and learn and understand fat content and temp and time and spice ratios and the type of wood, and that doesn't happen overnight.
That's something you've got to like to learn over a long period of time. And what I heard from you as you were talking was obviously I learned a lot about digital media, which we're going to talk about today and your approach. But what I heard more was that you clearly have this craftsmanship approach to what you do and you love your craft.
And I walked away thinking like, man, this guy's creative. So that's why I've been so stoked to talk to you because I obviously think that the audience can learn a lot about digital marketing and your approach, but also I want to dig into how you operate. So maybe we can just start by talking a little about, like, all the businesses that you have and initiatives, and then we'll go into some of your philosophy around digital media and things like that.
Shawn Walchef [00:02:47]:
Yeah, so we own a barbecue media business in San Diego, and I know that doesn't make any sense until I start to explain why we own a barbecue media business. We have five barbecue locations. We're going to be celebrating 15 years coming up in April. We have a master smokehouse. We have two ghost kitchen locations and two stadium locations.
Our whole goal moving forward is to do slow food fast, so to leverage the craft of barbecue using technology to get it to more people. The problem with great barbecue is that it takes time and it takes expertise. What we've figured out after spending 13 years pre-pandemic, learning how to market our business, brand, our business, make incredible barbecue, host incredible events, is that ultimately we need to create a solution to get more barbecue to more people so they don't have to wait in line.
You know, the problem with all the greatest barbecue brands is that people find out about them and then they line up. And then when they line up, once you're out, you're out. What we want to do is leverage technology to make a more profitable and more sustainable business so that we can lean more into creativity, into storytelling, into media, into consumer packaged goods, into so many different things.
Adding new profit streams to a restaurant P&L, because running a restaurant's really hard. I never opened up Cali BBQ in 2008 with my business partner. The goal wasn't to just open up one restaurant in Spring Valley, California. The goal was always much bigger. And you know, sitting here 15 years later, having brands that I work with on the media side, the best technology, hospitality, technology companies in the world, companies like Toast that I create content for.
I know that we're just at the beginning of the internet. And that's a crazy thing to say. I interview tech founders. You and I met online. We had an incredible conversation. I'm so excited about the work that I do because we're just at the beginning of the race, and the problem is, back to what you say, building media, like building barbecue, is that everyone wants to be the rabbit in the race.
Everyone wants to be the hare. We want to be the quickest unicorn that just sprints off the line. We want to be Usain Bolt, but just like barbecue, just like media, just like technology, the people that win are the tortoise. They're the ones that are willing to take the lumps and show up day after day after day, and consistently work on something uncomfortably failing miserably, miserably, making a lot of bad brisket, miserably, making a lot of bad podcasts, miserably, making a lot of bad videos, stuttering in my videos, making bad blog posts.
But by doing that, we get to a point where we realize nobody has it figured out. The biggest companies in the world do not have it figured out. They allocate millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars on marketing and media. Yet they don't know what we've been able to learn in our little barbecue restaurant on Troy Street.
I mean, if you Google “8910 Troy Street” and you'd look at Google Earth where we're located, you will realize why this guy believes in the internet as much as he does. Because we would be out of business if it wasn't for that.
Josh Sharkey [00:06:00]:
Something else that you and I chatted about was a learning lesson I had with my first business. We opened and it was a little different, you know, a little bit better of a location and we got a lot of press and I thought that that plus a really good product was enough. And the learning lesson that I learned over many years of that business was you’ve got to be able to tell a story. The ability to tell a story and to create some sort of emotion for people is imperative for any business.
And it seems like that's a big part of what you do, right? You tell stories, you tell your stories, you tell other people's stories. Can you talk a little about how that works? Obviously you've learned a lot. What are some of the ways in which you go about that now that have changed?
Shawn Walchef [00:06:31]:
Everything goes back to my grandfather. I'd never met my father. I was very fortunate to be raised in an affluent neighborhood in a place called La Jolla, California. For those that don't know, La Jolla means the jewel. It's a very privileged part of the world. And my grandfather was an immigrant from Bulgaria, and he was born to be a farm boy.
But he ended up raising me and the things that he taught me were to stay curious, to get involved, and to ask for help. Those are things that I talk about in all my videos. They're things I say on every podcast, every clubhouse call that I do, because it's a simple formula and it's a difficult formula.
It's one that I constantly have to go back to because some of the most difficult parts of that formula are asking for help. No one's listening to this podcast unless you're a curious person. Curious people want to level up. They understand that they do not have all the answers, and that's why they seek more information through podcasts, through videos, through books, through seminars, through continuing education.
But then you actually have to do something. You have to get involved. You can't just be a curious person. You have to be willing to look stupid, sound stupid, raise your hand, ask the question that everyone else in the conference is wondering. And that's a very hard thing to do because of the podcasting that I do. I now have four shows, four weekly shows that I do, and it forces me to ask stupid questions, but those stupid questions unlock the best answers that I ever get from my guests.
I am so fortunate that I've interviewed millionaires, billionaires, celebrities, tech founders, people that I admire, people that have built incredible brands that are doing incredible things. I have to have the courage to raise my hand and ask them a question that I know that the audience is thinking. And if I don't have the courage, because I think, oh, somebody's going to think I'm an idiot for asking somebody a question that I should know the answer to, that's a weakness for me. And then finally, how do you ask for help?
Asking for help is probably one of my biggest weaknesses. It's because I am a curious person. I am willing to get involved and to get dirty and to look stupid and to make mistakes and to be uncomfortable. But then asking somebody, Hey, do you know someone that can help me? Or can you help me? Leading with vulnerability, leading with the truth.
We all like to go over the truth. We all meet with our friends. Hey, how's it going? How often do you get immediately to the truth? You know? I guarantee you, Josh, the people that are closest in your life, you don't bullshit with them. When you see them, you know how valuable their time is. They know how valuable your time is, and you guys get right to the heart of the stuff that's actually happening in your business, the stuff that's actually happening in your family. That's what life is all about, is surrounding yourself with people that are going to tell you the truth.
Josh Sharkey [00:09:28]:
Yeah, absolutely. You're never going to get what you don't ask for either.
Shawn Walchef [00:09:33]:
That's true. The answer's no if you don't ask.
Josh Sharkey [00:09:35]:
So you have this framework, how to help tell stories. Go something like plan, produce, publish, promote, right?So plan what you're going to talk about or how you're going to tell your stories. Produce. So like, you know, get them online or get them sort of in some sort of form of media. Get them to the public, whether it's social media or whatever. And then, how to promote them. I want to talk mostly with the promote part. That's the hardest part in my opinion. You also talked a little bit about the difference between digital marketing and social media in general. So can you talk about what the difference is between those two and why it matters?
Shawn Walchef [00:10:06]:
Sure. It's crazy to live in a world in 2023 and to have so many experts on the internet that will tell you everything that you need to know about algorithms and digital marketing and funnels and things you need to do and things you shouldn't do.
And ultimately for me, I just try to simplify the process. Entrepreneurs and business owners are creators, literally the ones that create business. We sell ideas in real life. That is how we launch our businesses. That's how we get significant others to buy into our vision. That's how we get somebody to invest in our vision.
That's how we get somebody to work for us. That's how we get a vendor partner. We're phenomenal in real life. We're just not really good when it comes to telling the story online. And when it comes to telling the story online, you have digital marketing specialists, social media specialists, that will tell you, you need to be doing this and this and this.
And what I'm saying is that you're already doing what you need to do online. You're just overthinking it. We say be the show, not the commercial. When you're talking about telling a story online, automatically business owners want a commercial that's going to air during the Super Bowl about their business. So as a barbecue restaurant owner, I'm going to have this beautiful drone shot footage of 150 racks going into the smoker and brisket coming off.
And this is an incredible barbecue experience, and this commercial's going to cost me 7 million. Was the going rate for a Super Bowl commercial in 2023. What the internet wants, what most business owners are unwilling to do, is to be raw and authentic and to be the show, not the commercial. So document versus create.
When we talk about planning, producing, publishing, and promoting, everyone knows how to plan. Everyone has an idea about what they want their business to be online. They very rarely produce, and even rarer is publishing because publishing is where the rubber hits the road. Publishing is sending your work.
As Seth Godden says, shipping your work. If you ship your work now, you actually are in a vulnerable place where someone can say, I don't like that video. Or “Josh, who do you think you are making some selfie video on LinkedIn, talking about your business, talking about what you guys are going through?”
That's fear. And anyone that's listening to this, I had the same fear. I was terrified the first time that I went on camera, going on local news, talking about barbecue on the west coast. Barbecue is a sacred sport. It is a sacred religion in parts of America, Texas, the Carolinas, Kansas City, Memphis, you name it, they all have barbecue traditions.
If I say that I'm doing barbecue on the West Coast, people laugh. They still laugh until they come and they see our operation until they see the commitment to the craft. That every single day we're doing what we say we're doing, and we're trying to improve every single day, how to make a better piece of brisket the next day.
And it's the same thing with audio. It's the same thing with video. It's the same thing with words and images. That's all the internet is audio, video, words and images. It's telling stories in that manner. The problem that we have as business owners is that I'll say TikTok, and all of a sudden your mind goes somewhere about your values on TikTok, subjectively, how you feel about TikTok. If I say Twitter subjectively, you start to think a certain way about that platform. Oh, Elon Musk, or, I don't have time for Twitter, Facebook. Oh, I don't want to be on Facebook, it’s a terrible platform. Instagram, whatever you're feeling towards Instagram.
What I'm saying is just remove the logo and just start telling stories on these platforms. And the more that you tell stories, the more opportunities you have, because 5 billion people on this earth have access to the internet. It's way bigger than our village.
Josh Sharkey [00:14:05]:
I think there's also a necessity to be able to tell your story. Even forgetting the internet for a minute. As a business owner, if you can't tell your story succinctly, then there's probably a bigger problem. Once you obviously can, you need to be telling it every day from the rooftops and being as genuine as possible.
Shawn Walchef [00:14:15]:
Literally from the rooftops.
Josh Sharkey [00:14:17]:
I mean that, well, we can talk about that as well. I think the hard part for a lot of people, me included, by the way, is that I almost never post myself, but I have help now which is helpful. It’s just being consistent about it and what happens when I don't have something to say today. You know, I might have a post about, I'm going to talk about my business, but what about tomorrow?
What's the next day? How do you approach that? I'm assuming consistency is important, right? It's not just sort of getting on the platform, getting in front of a camera, but being consistent about it, and how do you approach that when you might not have something to say?
Shawn Walchef [00:14:54]:
So, as humans, we learned how to do all different types of things that we didn't know how to do. When I was in school, there was no email yet. I learned how to do email, and any single day I'm going through hundreds of emails, responding to emails, filtering emails, figuring out which ones are important, writing ones that'll hopefully land the next deal. I'm good at email now because I've gotten the skill of responding to email.
I'm really good at text messages. I can respond to text messages, I can tell my team. I can take a screenshot of information and tell my media team. I can tell my barbecue team I can coordinate an upcoming event. I've gotten good at those things just as any of your listeners have gotten good at those things.
But I've also gotten good at video, which I was not good at before. Now when I go to an event, I can take out my smartphone and capture micro moments that will show the event without not being present at the event, because I also want to be present at the event. It's hard to do. It's a very hard thing to do.
I also want to be present with my kids. My son started playing Little League. His first game, I wanted to be there as a dad, immersed in him, but I also wanted to capture a little bit of video, which I was able to do. And now because of the skillset that I have, what I call smartphone storytelling, I'm able to not only be there for my son, but I'm also able to document that not just for myself, but for my wife, for her family who lives in Bulgaria that wasn't able to be here, for all of our friends that care about my son, for any other dad that remembers when they first took their kid to their first little league game, like that's the storytelling part of it that gets most people hung up.
We're thinking about, well, I have my business and then I have my personal, and for me, I don't have a business life and a personal life. I have one life. So I'm always publishing, I'm always recording. I'm always figuring out ways to better tell the story. And if that happens to be at a Chargers game, because I'm a Chargers season ticket holder and I bring my daughter and my son and my wife, and we go there, well, how is that going to help me sell barbecue?
That's not the point. The point isn't to advertise. The problem is everyone is worried about what's the advertisement, what's the commercial? And I'm saying be the show, not the commercial. And by being the show, you're learning the craft of storytelling about all the things that you do, all the things that you care about, all the people that you inspire. Some of the most moving posts on LinkedIn, a literally content business, content platform, are family posts. When a CEO of a huge company talks about being a dad, taking time off to be with his son.
Josh Sharkey [00:17:43]
It's funny you bring this up because I struggle with this a lot in that I rarely post about my family. I do sometimes if it's their birthday and things I just want to sort of celebrate and my wife loves it so I can tag her.
But for the most part I think of it like, well, I'm taking those videos and those pictures, but I often think like, It's for me, it's for us, it's not really for the world. It's for us to have a keepsake. And the more I'm thinking about putting something online, I understand the premise there, but I struggle with it and it's me specifically.
Because I'm sure there are a lot of people that obviously do this well, or at least they do this. I don't have that sort of, that switch that's like, oh, also I will post this online. I just don't even think about it. I guess it could add value in terms of telling a story about, you know, more of who I am as independent of, you know, a business owner and a chef as a person. But how do you think about that, that sort of struggle between privacy and telling a story?
Shawn Walchef [00:18:37]:
So for me, understanding that lessons and stories are everywhere and lessons and stories happen every single day. And most people, the way that we learn as humans is through storytelling. When there's a lesson in a story back to you being a dad and not knowing what to post, or if you feel like posting something that's personal to you.
For me, I've just figured that there's things that happen being a dad on a daily basis that have less to do with me sharing that it's my son and more that I brought my son to Fox Five on Super Bowl Sunday. So I had a media appearance with our barbecue brand and my son, the night before I had been on a different local media station, KUSI and my son goes, where did you go, dad?
I said, I went to go do a media appearance for Cali BBQ. And he goes, I want to go. Did you leave when it was dark out? I said, yeah, I left when it was dark out. He's like, I really want to go dad. So I woke him up at four in the morning on Super Bowl Sunday. And I took him and met my media team. We did a whole back lot segment.
We had big green eggs. We were cooking tri-tip, we had wings. He was able to go there. They had a full puppy bowl activation. They did like a segment with a field goal kicking contest. My son kicked a field goal live on tv, but for me as a dad, I could say, no, I don't want you to come with me. This is work time.
I need to, you know, be focused. But instead I was uncomfortable and I brought him along not knowing if he's going to like it, not knowing if he's going to get in the way when I need to be live on tv. But now I have something that I struggled through. But I also shared on LinkedIn and Instagram, and now it's something that is very special, not just to me, but to other dads.
There aren't many dads that get the opportunity to go and do media, local media, wherever they are, but now maybe they'll think differently. When we reserve these places, we sit in these places, and for me, I've had the opportunity to go and speak at a lot of different conferences across the United States and in Canada, and I bring my family, my Walchef Wolf pack with me.
And I've built that into my life site. Is it hard to do? It's not easy to travel with kids. I have a five-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter, yet I got to go speak in Toronto to 150 restaurant owners, hotel operators at a hospitality leadership summit. And because I was able to go and because I wanted my family to go with me, we had got to go to Niagara Falls as a family.
And I remember that not just personally, but I took a video while we were at Niagara Falls of my daughter seeing the waterfall for the first time. My wife enjoying the waterfalls, my son enjoying the waterfalls. Us, you know, acting silly, acting stupid. I don't care if nobody sees that video. I made that video for myself.
Josh Sharkey [00:21:35]:
Yeah, no, I love that. And I also just love how you're tying this, your personal life with your business life. We are trying more to get our family to come on some of our work trips. You know, we were talking about your framework, right? Our producing, publishing, promoting, and the planning part you said is easy.
I think it is probably important to understand, you know, to be clear of what the vision is of the story, what you're trying to tell and, you know, getting it out there. But once the content is out there, what are some of the ways you think about promoting it and so not as it relates to some of the family stuff that you're posting when you're posting things for toast or for your business and, and you get it out there.How do you think about promoting, measuring and boosting things like that to, to get the most out of the content?
Shawn Walchef [00:22:15]:
I think the most important thing from the promotion standpoint is understanding who the content's for. If I'm making a piece of content for Toast that is promoting Spark LA, which is coming up a local event that they're hosting here on the West Coast, that is specifically for people in Southern California that own restaurants or in the technology space that want to come and participate in an in-person event.
So once I publish a video announcing the event, The question is, who am I tagging in that video? Because organic reach versus strategic reach versus promoted reach are all three different things. What I care about is building an ecosystem of people that care and trust me when I show up in their feed. So if people do follow me on LinkedIn or they follow me on Instagram, the chances that they see me on Instagram are still, they're declining every day, the way that Instagram works, the way that Facebook works.
But ultimately, what matters is do not underestimate how many people will see your content. I cannot tell you how many people now that I do events in real life where I go to National Restaurant Association, how many people I've never had a conversation with, had no idea they're following me. Stop me on the trade show floor and say, Hey, Shawn, dude, I love your videos.
Great. What's your name? This is who I am. This is what I'm doing. Like, which platform are you following me on? Oh, I saw you on LinkedIn, or I saw you on TikTok, or I saw you on Instagram, and I'm like, say something, comment. Ask a question, you know, is there a way I can help you? I literally have an open link on my digital business card for 15 minutes on my Calendly, anytime that anyone wants to talk about digital hospitality, smartphone storytelling, restaurant technology, content creation, podcasting, barbecue, business, ghost kitchens, like you name it.
I'm an open book because for me, it's cultivating those relationships because I'm willing to cultivate those relationships, that engagement piece, the promotion part. So much of it is who am I tagging, but also who am I interacting with? Do not post and ghost. You spend all this time planning, you spend all this time producing, you spend all this time publishing.
You put out a piece of content, and all of a sudden your LinkedIn post, you have a hundred people that are like Josh. I can't believe you had the courage to talk about your family trip and as a business owner, why you went on the family trip, why you brought your family, how it was difficult, like, thank you for doing that.
Well, it's going to be a lot of work to respond to those a hundred people, but I'll tell you that the work that you do, responding to those a hundred people is the work that no one else will do. 95% of the rest of the people will not do that work. That's true digital hospitality. That's how you cultivate community. That's how you become top of mind to other people that will help move your business forward in ways that you can't even comprehend right now.
Josh Sharkey [00:25:10]:
Yeah, it's funny, so much of what you talk about and the way you think about this, what it appears to me is more about connection than these tactical ways about going about, you know, digital marketing and we should probably talk about some of the tactical things, you know, as well.
It seems to me now hearing you talk far more about connecting with people and showing them that you're listening and reaching out and responding, then it is. How do I boost this post and how much should I spend and what audience should I target and where should I retarget?
Shawn Walchef [00:25:34]:
Yeah, I'm happy you brought that up because that is the problem that I have with digital marketing.That digital marketing piece is a transactional piece. It's how I do something to get a specific goal, and my goal is not that. My goal is from the famous philosopher Winnie the Pooh. We will be friends forever. Just you wait and see. There it is. We will be friends forever. Just you wait and see.
Josh Sharkey [00:25:54]:
I love that, man. I'm going to tell my son that tonight. That's great, man. I love that. Even just in this conversation, hearing more of what you're talking about, I had some questions for you about how you retarget and how you boost. I think, to be honest with you, it sounds like we don't even talk about that, because those are mechanical ways about going about this and it is a shorter term play to do that. And what you're doing is a much longer term play because it's not going to be an overnight result.
Shawn Walchef [00:26:31]:
I heard a quote the other day that I just posted on social media: “Stop praying as fast as possible and start praying for as long as it takes.” It goes back to the hare and the tortoise. I have the same problem.
If I decide I want to focus on YouTube this year in 2023, and we want to build our YouTube channel because it's one of the more difficult platforms. Like I want it to happen right away. It doesn't happen right away. Well, I wanted to have a podcast that reached millions of people. Like I produced a podcast for five years before I found a brand partner, before I found a distribution partner, Entrepreneur Magazine.
Like it took me five years of publishing podcasts. Asking questions consistently. The answer to the internet, which I tell everybody when I give a restaurant creator or business creator speech, it's quantity plus speed, plus consistency equals quality. Quantity plus speed plus consistency equals quality. And the problem that we all have, myself included, said we want quality first. It doesn't happen. Quality doesn't happen first all the time.
Josh Sharkey [00:27:34]:
All the time I tell my team, Everybody overestimates what they can do in a year and underestimates what they can do in 10. And it's human nature that the thought of spending 10 years on something is overwhelming. But you can do anything in 10 years if you work at it. But there's very little that you can accomplish in a short amount of time, especially if that's what you're expecting. So a lot that's obviously resonating with what you're saying.
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To get a little bit tactical here, maybe the answer here is that there just isn't any answer. But do you think differently about your approach to restaurant marketing versus restaurant tech marketing? Because you're kind of intersecting between the two with your work?
Shawn Walchef [00:29:18]:
No, to be honest with you, I mean, I think the underlying principles are that humans are at the heart of technology and humans are at the heart of hospitality. The problem that we all have is that we overcomplicate what we do. We do not simplify the message, and if you confuse, you lose. So the amount of people that I talk to, whether you own a restaurant, whether you own a law office, whether you're in insurance, whether you're in technology, when I ask them, who are you and what do you do?
Most of them can't give me an answer that's memorable for me to go and tell someone else. The one outta 10 people that can tell me who you are, what you do, what problem you solve. Will give me that oh shit moment where I'm like, I have to go and tell Josh the next time I'm on a podcast. I'm bringing up this story because I can't believe this woman that I met is building this company, doing this.
It's that simple. It's that simple. Yet we don't do it as humans. We don't practice the art of our elevator pitch. We don't refine the craft of who we are and what we do. What problem do we solve? We get so in the weeds that we forget why we originally opened up the restaurant. We get so in the weeds with our technology. We have so many different product offerings on our product roadmap that we forget what's the original problem that we solve.
Josh Sharkey [00:30:38]:
For me, I don't think you can truly start a successful business if you don't clearly know why, and that why is something that can be evergreen. There's a lot of synthetic businesses and maybe in the short term they can make money, but in the long term, I don't see how it's possible if you don't have a deeper reason why you're doing what you do.
You know, with meez, I wanted to create the universal recipe medium because I grew up in an industry as a chef, where we just didn't have any tool built for us other than like these like financial tools that don't do anything close to what we need in the kitchens. And I wanted to change that. I want there to be a universal tool.
And I think, you know, meez can be that everything that we do, every decision that we make right or wrong is based on that vision. And if I didn't have that, it'd be very difficult. One, to make decisions quickly, and two to get a team behind something and stick it out when things get hard. And I see often what you're talking about, like not having a really clear vision, why it seems like a good idea.
Let's say. And I'll tell you another thing, if you want to raise capital, at least venture capital, forget it, right? Because you have 30 seconds to explain to somebody. One, why you're doing this, why you should be doing it, and why it can make a lot of money in a way that is defensible. And you have about 30 seconds to do that.
If you don't clearly understand that, then you're just not going to make it. And it's becoming more and more clear. Even honestly with this podcast, we've done, we're recording this now before it launches, and it'll be launching next week. And we have about 10 already recorded. And I think the common theme that I've heard from every single one of the guests you included is without knowing why you're doing it, don't do it.
It's the same reason why you don't want to get into restaurants. If you don't love it, it's going to be too hard. So I love that man. Well, weaving here a little bit. You do a piece for entrepreneur.com and I'd love to sort of chat a bit about like how did that come about? You have this show with Entrepreneur and what are some of the biggest takeaways and some of the memorable guests that you've talked with.
Shawn Walchef [00:32:34]:
So I've been doing podcasting since 2017. That was when we launched our first show. That's when technically the marker that I say when Cali BBQ became Cali BBQ Media, because we focused on consistently week over week, producing long form content for the internet, that long form content and because of podcasting, it forces you to evolve. Podcasting changes so quickly of distribution on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, on YouTube. So you have to constantly think. And act like a publisher. And the more that you lean into that, the better you start to understand this new media landscape. Getting five years of producing Behind the Smoke, which eventually became Digital Hospitality.
Our show that we do every single week in our ongoing thesis put me in a position to have a lot of very interesting conversations with a lot of tech founders, a lot of tech executives, a lot of restaurant owners, a lot of celebrities, a lot of very significant media personalities and that helped me understand the stage theory and the Stage Theory is something that I work a lot with.
One of my mentors, David Meltzer, on which the whole world is your stage. You know, it's a Shakespeare theory and it's understanding that distribution can help you achieve a lot of the things that you want to achieve. It goes back to the Cal Newport book, “Be So Good They Can't Ignore You.” Cal Newport wrote this book based off of a Steve Martin quote, Steve Martin's the comedian.
And Steve Martin was getting interviewed one time and they talked about, Steve, how did you become such a good comedian? And Steve Martin said, you know, I'll tell you an answer that you're not going to like to hear. Your audience won't like to hear. And the interviewer said, what are you talking about? And he said, well, you have to be so good they can't ignore you.
Because if you are so good that they can't ignore you, then they have to go and tell someone else about you. It's kind of the same idea with Walt Disney. Walt Disney has a similar quote, and for me it's understanding that's a craft, understanding, the craft of storytelling, the craft of podcasting. I have to get better at podcasting to get the opportunity to get in front of the right people and getting in front of the right people put me in front of Yelp and Yelp for restaurants and Yelp for business.
Yelp for business. Emily actually, who's a friend of mine, launched a show with Entrepreneur called Behind the Review, so I was a guest on her show. Her and I have done a lot of content together for Yelp and she actually offered, if I wanted to pitch our Restaurant Influencers, a show to Entrepreneur. I recorded about 50 interviews that never got published because they were actually going to live in the Yelp world.
They were actually going to be published on Yelp. That opportunity didn't come to fruition, which opened up the other door for us to pitch the show to Entrepreneur. Entrepreneur said they'd love to get involved, and they became our 50-50 distribution partners. We're responsible for producing the shows and we're responsible for bringing in the deals, and we're responsible for basically everything outside of the distribution. So they distribute it to their video feed, their entrepreneur.com, their podcast. And now in one year, we’ve reached over 12 million people on our show. We were able to interview Chef Robert Irvine, Emeril Lagosi, Rob Dereck, Sam, the cooking guy.
Just so many incredible interviews where a lot of these people, their PR firms are reaching out to us. I can't believe that I'm in a place where our show, our stage is so big and the distribution's so big that I have people literally every single day PR firms pitching me, founders, celebrities, influencers, restaurant owners to be on the show.
And I have to, with my team, curate who's going to be the best guest to have on because it's important to our audience. For me, I couldn't do it without Toast. Toast is a title sponsor of our show. They believed in the project basically when no one else did, and now because of their belief, we've built, this is year two.
I'm doing shows now. I'm at Spark. I'm one of their big events here in Los Angeles. I'm going to be doing more events. National Restaurant Association, more shows in Boston, and it's just given me the opportunity to find not just restaurant owners here in the United States, but restaurant owners all over the globe that have a story to tell.
The basic premise of the show is that restaurants need to think differently. We think differently because we're a barbecue media company, but we're not the only ones out there. There are so many people that are doing really cool stuff on Instagram, on TikTok, on Reddit and CPG products, selling cookbooks.
Creating TV shows, all kinds of different streaming shows, so many different restaurant owners out there that I think the entire industry can learn from and so much about the podcast. I think my frustration was when I was in school at the University of Colorado. I was taking these business classes and I wasn't inspired.
No one was talking to me about real business, and I'm like, I want to have conversations with real business owners that are going through the shit that are literally struggling to keep their businesses open, the successes and the failures. How do I have those conversations? And if I continue to have those conversations, who would be the best guest that I would bring in front of a classroom of 500 people?
That are really fired up about hospitality if fired up about restaurants, fired up about technology, fired up about the creator economy. That's the guest I want to have on center stage.
Josh Sharkey [00:37:59]:
Love that man. The guest list is pretty incredible. How often are you doing those interviews?
Shawn Walchef [00:38:03]:
So we publish every Tuesday on Apple Podcast, Spotify and entrepreneur.com.52 shows a year. I batch the shows, so we're probably shows that I'll record next week won't come out for another eight weeks, but that allows my team, I've got Stover, TJ, Toby, Aaron, I've got an incredible media team that will take the content that we do and get it ready for, you know, entrepreneur.com.
Josh Sharkey [00:38:37]:
You mentioned a little bit about PR publicly reaching out to you to get on the show. What's your opinion of restaurants using PR or any restaurant tech using pr?
Shawn Walchef [00:38:44]:
I have a very interesting relationship with PR. You're talking to somebody that literally was ignored by all the press that he created his own media company to tell our own story. I know that PR firms, the good ones, charge way too much money for an independent restaurant owner to afford. That's why we talk about the things we talk about, smartphone storytelling. It's crazy that we want our story, our brand story, to be someone else's job. And that's essentially what a PR team does, is they tell your story, they package your story, they sell your story to bigger stages.
And what I tell restaurant owners is, even if you do have a PR firm, everyone is responsible for their own PR every single day. And if you're not putting out content. If you're not getting out in front of people using the free tools that we all have and that we all take for granted, then you're really missing the mark.
Josh Sharkey [00:39:37]
I'm going to go ahead and not share too many more thoughts on PR.
Shawn Walchef [00:39:40]
Tell me your thoughts. Come on. This is your show. Let's hear about the PR side. How much money did Josh spend back in the day? How much are we talking? 10,000, 50,000, 100,000?
Josh Sharkey [00:39:58]:
Look, here's what I'll say is there are some great publicists, some that are my friends. At the end of the day, I think the biggest takeaway is what you said, right? It’s like the onus is on us to tell our story, not someone else, and what PR does is it gets you in front of journalists and people that maybe you couldn't get in front of otherwise, and I think that could fast track some of that.
In my mind, a lot of what you're doing is you're paying a lot of money to fast track getting to the New York Times, to the front page if you have something that is worth getting there. But I think that ultimately your approach of just be present all the time is actually the same approach they take as well where you get in all the little things and over time people hear, and then you get more opportunities to be in the big things. And I think that the approach that you're taking does the same thing. And well, it's a lot cheaper.
It's a lot cheaper. I mean, it's almost more than that. It's the skillset that you learn by telling your own story that will allow you to amplify the story whenever you get the big story.
Josh Sharkey [00:41:03]:
Another thing that I'm starting to realize more because I haven't used any in a very long time, in the past we've used them for restaurants. And I think the other thing that, that you miss when you're using PR is it's almost the same thing as like the third party, you know, ordering platforms like where you, you don't have the data, you don't have connection to the customer, you also don't have connection to the people writing these stories.
Right. It's indirect. And that's an important relationship to have. If there are people that are going to write stories for you in Restaurant Business or in Inc., or Fast Company, you kind of want to know that person, right? And, and speak to them. And you, and you lose a little bit of that other than like the first time you chat with them before the story goes live three days later.
I think that's another opportunity that's lost. Well, anyways, you know, we've been talking about the long game and you have Cali BBQ. Cali BBQ Media. What's the 10 year horizon for you? You've been in this for a long time. What, what do you want to accomplish in the next 10 years and what's the impact you're trying to have?
Shawn Walchef [00:41:46]:
The work that we're doing on a micro scale, I believe in holistically on a macro level. I'm here in San Diego. My podcast studio right now, if you're watching on video, behind me as a city is New York City. I know that the words that I talk about in San Diego, they get published on the internet and they matter in New York City.
I also know that my wife, she's from Bulgaria and every single year for a month in the summer, I go with my family, my five-year-old son, my three-year-old daughter, and we go to Bulgaria. And when we go to Bulgaria, she has friends who own restaurants, who own small businesses. I know that the work that I'm doing here in San Diego impacts them as well.
The stuff that we're talking about, Digital Hospitality and smartphone storytelling, this is on a global scale. Everything that we're talking about matters. When we're talking about the intersection of what does this smartphone do? Content commerce and communication. That's my obsession, is how, as a business owner, do we do a better job with content.
How do we do a better job with commerce? How do we do a better job with communication where all those three things intersect right now is in our hands every single day? And I talk to some of the biggest companies in the world, and I talk to some of the smallest business owners that take this thing for granted.
And my goal in the next 10 years is to continue to inspire other business owners to understand they are creators, but they need to tell their story to the internet. It's crazy to me that people tell me that they believe in the internet, yet their actions prove something totally different. They say, Shawn, yes, I believe in the internet.
Yes, I know I need to be doing social media. When was the last time you posted on Instagram? Do you have a TikTok account? Do you have a mobile first website? Are you posting content on your website? If I go to your website, can I buy something quickly? If I buy something quickly, is it a memorable experience?
If it's a memorable experience, do you give me an email? An email that I want to read, not an email. That's an advertisement. So many of the basic fundamentals of the things that we talk about in restaurants and technology apply to everything. Digital Hospitality applies to my kid’s daycare. Digital hospitality applies to my son's little league.
When I tried to sign up on their website, their website was absolutely terrible. I was a new dad that didn't play baseball growing up, and had no idea what I was doing. They have a supply and demand problem. They have so much demand that they don't care about their website. Website was built 20 years ago.
It's not mobile first. Terrible information. Do you think when this little league organization wants to raise money, if they fixed their website and made easier calls to action and made it easier for new families and existing families to do content commerce and communication, that they could raise more money and build bigger fields or do whatever their goals are?
Absolutely. So if it matters to the little league, if it matters to Southwest Airlines, when I walk in and I do a kiosk order, instead of having a bunch of payrolls, they're checking us in. I check myself in. I put my own tags on the bags, flew 'em off. Less people working there. Does that mean it's less hospitable?
No, doesn't mean it's less hospitable at all. It means they're just being smarter. All of this stuff matters yet very few leaders, especially if you're making money in business and you've been in business a long time. You just don't think the internet matters. But wait until somebody, a new startup comes in your space and they start to care about all the stuff that we talk about.
They make those oh shit memorable moments on the internet. Like when you have those oh shit memorable moments, you're like, why would I do it any other way? Why did I do banking the old way? I'm going to go to the bank and wait 45 minutes in line to make change. Come on.
Josh Sharkey [00:45:17]:
It's so funny the more you're talking about this, it reminds me of Will Guidera and you're talking a lot about the difference between service and hospitality. You know, service is being able to go to a website and buy something. Hospitality is the way that I make you feel after you've bought that thing to see if you'll do it again. And I think in the digital environment it's no different because it's so much more transactional that you have to be more hospitable. So I love that man. Why is Dave Meltzer such a mentor to you?
Shawn Walchef [00:46:00]:
He’s playing the game within the game. You know, for me it's understanding that there's people out there that are doing great work, but then there's people out there that understand the underlying principles to that great work and understand that there's much bigger work to be done making an impact.
You know, we say on our show, a rising tide lifts all ships. And do you know what the difference between a ship and a boat is, Josh? Because there's also a rising tide lifts all boats. My best friend actually told me that I'm not a maritime guy or anything. Just a boat can fit on a ship, a ship cannot fit on a boat.
[00:46:33] So by saying a rising tide lifts all ships. We truly believe that we need to recruit other ships. This has nothing to do with me. This has nothing to do with Cali BBQ media. This has us going and inspiring other restaurant groups, other single unit restaurant owners, other small business owners, other big companies to bring media in-house to understand the basic principles. If a barbecue business in Spring Valley, California can turn themselves into a media business and work with the greatest brands, hospitality, technology brands on earth, then you have no excuse. No one has an excuse. The Department of Motor Vehicles, I went to renew my driver's license.
I booked online an appointment. I went to the DMV at eight o'clock and I'm a guy that always arrives early. I had anxiety when I got there because I'm like, well, I have an appointment so I don't need to get there early. I got there, there were 70 people waiting in line at the DMV. I was like, oh my God, I totally messed up.
I went to the woman, she goes, oh, you have an appointment. This is the door. No one was in line. All those people didn't use the internet to book an appointment. I walked in 13 minutes out of the DMV with my driver's license. If the Department of Motor Vehicles can do digital hospitality, no one has an excuse.
Josh Sharkey [00:47:45]:
You inspired me, man.
Shawn Walchef [00:47:48]:
You're doing incredible work, Josh. Like I told you on the last call, man, like seriously, I do this all day every day. This is the most important work that I do. But very few founders in your position have the courage to have these conversations, to prioritize these conversations, and I'm really excited for you, you guys in the show and for what you guys are building.
Josh Sharkey [00:48:06]:
Appreciate that and appreciate you. Anything else you want to tell the audience, a take away here before we head out?
Shawn Walchef [00:48:06]:
Just back to the main lesson. Let's stay curious, get involved and ask for help. I am weirdly available, so you can find me @ShawnPWalchef. I only caution you that if you contact me, the chances are I will make you do homework and I will make you do something uncomfortable for your business.
With online storytelling, we're all trying to figure this thing out together. I mean, honestly, that's the thing that I love the most, is people that have the courage and the willingness to know. I definitely don't have all the answers. I'm just willing to go and make a lot of mistakes and publish a lot of bad stuff, but it puts me in a position to have conversations like this, and this is the stuff that matters.
So if any of this stuff resonates with you, if you feel nervous, And if you feel shy about posting a selfie video on LinkedIn or Instagram or TikTok, god forbid, then that means you probably should be doing it because no one else is going to tell your story of your brand. Like we all want social media to be someone else's job.
We all want the PR firm, that social media agency to post the content to make. You're the person, you, the one that's listening to this show. You're the one that matters. The people that you care about your network, they need to hear from you. They need to hear what your thoughts are, not what the corporation's thoughts are.
You need to be a part of the marketing team. Marketing and sales very rarely talk to each other. Drives me nuts when I talk to salespeople that make their own marketing collateral. I'm like, what is happening here? How's that possible? We all need to be having a conversation about social media and storytelling and sales and marketing and the products that we're developing and the work that we're doing, and the pain points that we have.
That's how people know who we are and what we do, and they get attracted to it and they buy in. And if they don't, then maybe we're working on the wrong thing.
Josh Sharkey [00:49:57]:
Yeah. Well, you heard it. Get out there. Go tell your story. Even if you're an owner. Or you're a chef or whoever you are, you still have a job to tell your story. And Shawn, thanks for helping us make that a little bit easier. Appreciate it, man.
Shawn Walchef [00:50:05]:
Appreciate you, Josh. Thank you.
Josh Sharkey [00:50:19]:
Thanks for tuning into The meez Podcast. The music from the show is a remix of the Song Art Mirror by an old friend, hip hop artist, Fresh Daily. For show notes and more, visit www.getmeez.com/podcast. That's G E T M E E Z dot com forward slash podcast. If you enjoyed the show, I'd love it if you can share it with your fellow entrepreneurs and culinary pros and give us a five star rating wherever you listen to your podcasts.
Keep innovating. Don't settle. Make today a little better than yesterday. And remember, it's impossible for us to learn what we think we already know. See you next time.