May is National Barbeque Month, and what better way to celebrate than hearing from Cali BBQ founder and Otter partner, Shawn Walchef?!
Shawn is a San Diego-based restaurateur, entrepreneur, podcast host, and media coach. His ability to combine old-school values with new tech has earned him a reputation as the ultimate restaurant influencer. The best part? He doesn’t gate-keep his hacks.
Shawn has turned Cali BBQ into a media company and hosts a podcast called “Digital Hospitality,” where he coaches business owners on how to develop a brand strategy online. Shawn’s entrepreneurial spirit is built on championing his peers. He sees other BBQ restaurants not as competition but as teammates. And the same goes for his future-forward and digital approach to running a restaurant.
Keep reading to hear from Shawn on what makes good barbeque, why restaurants should prioritize digital hospitality, how to succeed in delivery, and scaling Cali BBQ with the help of Otter.
Shawn Walchef: Great barbecue takes time. And it takes expertise. Our job is to use technology, what we call “digital hospitality”, to get more people more barbecue on their terms. And we do that by thinking differently. We've never said we have the best barbecue because that's subjective. What we care about is the story. And the story is that we make incredible barbecue but so does West Texas barbecue, who cooks less than a mile from our shop. So does Valley Farm Market who cooks less than a mile away. No one will make the same barbecue.
We host and organize professional barbecue contests and organized amateur contests to build up the sport of barbecue. And that's the same way that the craft beer industry in San Diego didn't cannibalize each other. They shared secrets, they talked about the things that were working, and the things that weren't. And because of that, you have Ballast Point selling for a billion dollars.
That doesn't happen unless people are willing to share, unless we live in a world of abundance instead of scarcity. And the more that we share, the more that we collaborate with the best of the best in barbecue, the best of the best in podcasting, the best of the best in media, the best of the best in tech— the more that we have great conversations and realize—this shit isn't just relevant to San Diego.
Shawn Walchef: My grandfather taught me to have relentless curiosity, to always ask questions, and to find people that are sitting in the seat that you want to sit in. If they've been there and done that, ask them for answers. Ask them for help. Always be learning, always be reading, and always be willing to do what other people aren't. This will set you apart no matter what business you're in.
Shawn Walchef: If you're a restaurant that's not doing delivery, you have to start. If you want to remain in business, you can't discriminate against people over how they eat your food. There’s a book called Delivering The Digital Restaurant by Carl Osborn and Meredith Sandland. That is the most important book that any restaurant owner can read—not because it talks about technology— but because it talks about the American family from a societal level.
In 2022, the American family is in a completely different place than where it was ten years ago, and so on. The book addresses the way restaurants were built and the way the drive-thru was built, but most importantly, it goes back to what we talked about in the beginning.
If you have a product and you serve food (in your village, in your city, in your county, wherever you are), you need to make it as easy as possible for people to get that food. And the easier you make it, the more food you'll sell.
Shawn Walchef: Making yourself an E-commerce company forces you to do what you haven't done— which is to review your product mix.
Simplify your product mix, and simplify your offering so that you can serve more of it. Wouldn't you rather sell more quality food and do less work? Say you make 30 burgers, 20 hot dogs, and 10 corn dogs - What if you just did 60 burgers, or it turned into 70 burgers, and you didn’t have to do the corndogs or the hotdogs? If you're making more profitable burgers, you can make better burgers, and you can make more people happy.
We reduced our menu by 90% at Cali BBQ. We got rid of breakfast (which we were built on). We got rid of steaks. We got rid of our venue. Now we literally are the In & Out of barbecue.
Shawn Walchef: We're trying to build the Amazon of barbecue in San Diego. So we're working our full-service restaurant into a barbecue distribution point to do slow-food, fast.
Before the pandemic, we were on DoorDash, exclusively. And then, once the pandemic hit, we realized we needed to add GrubHub. And we needed to add UberEATS and Postmates. And as we added those, we realized we needed an integration partner. Otter came in and really simplified our life. They figured out the easiest way for us, operationally and also in terms of our guests —to get people to order barbecue. And our job is to figure out how to get more barbecue to more people.
Shawn Walchef: Digital hospitality is not about automation. It's about making memorable moments online. How do you buy something and have an incredible experience even though you didn't talk to someone?
When I purchase a Peloton on my smartphone, it takes me 10 minutes to do, and it's a pleasurable experience. That makes me go tell my friends how great my Peloton is. And if the Peloton gives me a great experience, then I share the story of Peloton by posting on Instagram. That's what restaurants need to do.
We're all influencers, right? We all have a smartphone in our pocket. We're all on these apps every single day. But if you’re not using the apps to build brand awareness, to build loyalty through hospitality, then you're going to lose. The winners are the ones that understand that people want to buy into the story.
Customers want to know about the humans behind the restaurant. When the owners are willing to share their stories on Instagram, Tiktok, LinkedIn, and Twitter, people are compelled to go and support them. We’re intently focused on teaching— not just restaurant owners— but also business owners about smartphone storytelling. And the better that we get at sharing the story of who we are as a barbecue media company, the better opportunities we've been given. Those are the ones that have survived through the pandemic and not only survived but thrived.
Shawn Walchef: If you don't have the right technology in place, it’s more difficult to do what you love. Otter allows us to not discriminate against platforms, whether it's DoorDash, UberEATS, GrubHub, or Postmates. We can be platform agnostic, the same way that we're location agnostic.
And Otter solves the efficiency problem. Otter integrates directly to your POS system, so you don’t have to deal with tablet hell. That’s time Otter gives time back to our customers and our staff. Otter also provides digital hospitality, which is our number one priority. Digital hospitality allows us to do what we do in real life—online. Otter is the integration of those two things. That’s why we believe in Otter.