Episode 7: How to Better Tell Your Restaurant's Story Online with Shawn Walchef

Episode 7: How to Better Tell Your Restaurant's Story Online with Shawn Walchef

Jun 10, 2024


Shawn Walchef shares his journey as a restaurant owner and media creator, emphasizing the importance of storytelling and digital presence. He discusses the shift from 'if you build it, they will come' to the reality of needing to tell your own story. He highlights the significance of the 'orange tree story' and the power of repetition in storytelling. Sean encourages restaurant owners to start with video content and showcase the 'why' behind their decisions to build a sustainable brand.


  • The shift from 'if you build it, they will come' to the reality of needing to tell your own story

  • The significance of the 'orange tree story' and the power of repetition in storytelling

  • Encouragement for restaurant owners to start with video content and showcase the 'why' behind their decisions to build a sustainable brand


Shane Murphy (00:01.39)

Welcome back everybody. We are so excited to have Sean Walchef here with us. He owns Cali Barbecue. He's been the owner for over 16 years and he also runs Cali Barbecue Media, which provides content to help brands tell better stories online. I've personally been following Sean for years and his content is absolutely amazing. Sean, thanks for joining us and being willing to share your story and your insights with everyone.

Shawn Walchef (00:27.553)

Thanks for having me on the show, Shane. Really appreciate it. And hopefully we can make the audience learn a little bit through some of the storytelling that we're gonna do. We've made a lot of mistakes. So my goal is to reduce people's mistakes when it comes to telling their story on.

Shane Murphy (00:45.358)

I absolutely love that. Maybe before we just dive in, can you tell us a little bit more about your background and what led you to this vision that you're trying to accomplish?

Shawn Walchef (00:55.937)

So I like to start with a baseball movie and the baseball movie is Field of Dreams. Have you seen the movie? Okay, so Field of Dreams is a baseball movie with Kevin Costner. Not sure the exact year it came out, but the idea of the baseball movie was he built a baseball field in the middle of nowhere. And in this story, the lore is if you build it, they will come.

Shane Murphy (01:02.734)

no I haven't.

Shawn Walchef (01:25.281)

And this saying, if you build it, they will come has permeated itself into the world of entrepreneurism, the world of business, the world of restaurants. And I had this false belief that in 2008, when we opened up our restaurant, if you build it, they will come. If we made great food in a difficult location at a difficult time, other people would tell other people and eventually the newspapers would come and...

magazines would come and local TV and it would help us fill our restaurants and make money and open up more restaurants. And the sad reality is nobody's coming. And I think, you know, if there's anything that someone that's listening to this can take away is that no one's coming to tell your story. And not only is no one coming, but no one can tell your story better than you can. So no matter what position you're in,

If you have the opportunity, which we all now have the opportunity because of technology is that we don't need to pay for it. If you have access to the internet, if you have a smartphone, you have everything you need. And once you start telling your story, you get to start having lots of different opportunities that will open up not just for your restaurant business, but for whatever business you believe in. If you want to raise money for the local little league team, guess what? If you use the internet.

Probably chances are it's gonna be easier to raise money for the local Little League team.

Shane Murphy (02:56.558)

Yeah, and so for you, when did this really, really become apparent for you in your journey with your restaurant and how did you go about navigating that shift?

Shawn Walchef (03:09.217)

It was easy. We were failing. I mean, we were failing as a business in 2008, 2009, 2010. We were struggling to figure out how to run a profitable restaurant, how to get people in the doors, how to get traction. And because of that, we had to use what was available to us.

and what was available to it. We couldn't hire a PR firm for $5 ,000 a month or $10 ,000 a month to, you know, maybe get us in the newspaper or maybe get us on the news that maybe gets us new business. Like we had to use what was available and what was available was the internet. You know, the first iPhone came out in 2007, June 29th, 2007. And I say that date because it wasn't that long ago.

You know, we're talking about 11 years past the first release of the iPhone. And here we are talking about stories you and I are podcasting. And this is on Riverside. It's going to be put on Spotify. It's going to be put on Apple podcasts. It's going to go on YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn. All of these people have the potential to see this content. And you and I didn't need to create that technology.

You know, we are living through just a incredible time to be alive and to be in business because we don't need to build a radio station. You know, we don't need to build a TV channel. Like all of these tools are available to us. We just have to have the courage to look stupid and sound stupid. And I think that's the biggest fear that most people have. You know, the biggest, the number one fear that humans have is speaking in public. And I think that now that number one fear is speaking on the internet.

Because speaking on the internet is speaking in public. You know, that is a direct reflection of, I don't like the way that I look. I don't like the way that I sound. And I had to get over how I looked, how I sound, all of those things. And even still to this day, we're still working on how to better articulate our ideas, our stories, so that we can make a bigger impact on the community that we're trying to build.

Shane Murphy (04:53.294)


Shane Murphy (05:17.166)

And so as you set up, you saw that your restaurant was failing and that the field of dreams mantra wasn't coming true, that we built this restaurant, people aren't coming. What were pieces of the story that actually caused that to change and to shift? You don't get to being a restaurant that's been around for 16, 17 years without having that breakthrough moment.

where it changes and it shifts. What did that look like for you?

Shawn Walchef (05:50.337)

So I'll tell a story about one of my closest friends. His name's Adam Harris. He's the CEO and co -founder of CloudBeds, an incredible hospitality restaurant, hotel company here in San Diego. And back before he started CloudBeds, he ran websites and he ran websites for restaurants, specifically California restaurant association, San Diego restaurants. And I remember at the time early on, you know, back in 2009, 2010, we were struggling, but we were also

Trying to figure out how to be a sports entertainment destination and in order to be a sports entertainment destination You needed to host events the biggest events were UFC events and boxing events and in order to pay for those events We had to pay a licensing fee based off of occupancy so anywhere from $2 ,000 all the way up to I believe $7 ,600 was the most that I spent for a single boxing match or a UFC match so

Not a lot of bars, not a lot of restaurants. I'm talking about a handful, maybe less than 10 in the entire San Diego County. Three million people would be hosting these events. I needed people that were boxing fans that wanted to watch the fight when they Googled. Where do I watch the fight in San Diego? I needed Cali Comfort, which was the name of the barbecue brand before I needed Cali Comfort to show up.

If we didn't show up in the search results, then all of that investment that we had made to put the fight on all the TVs would have been gone. And I remember going to Adam and saying, Adam, I need help. You know, the current website that we have, I have to email a friend of a friend. It's going to take them four days to update the website. And then once it's updated, it's not the way that I like. And I have to change the image and I have to change the cover price. He's like, Sean, I'm going to teach you WordPress.

If the technology is not good enough for someone like you to be able to figure it out on your own, the technology won't last. Here's a couple of tricks and tips and tricks of how to publish yourself on WordPress. And it was kind of this aha moment of like, here are the keys to the car. Here are the keys to the internet. Like just dive in, you know, don't be scared of the water and.

Shawn Walchef (08:01.985)

Because of that experience, we dove into Yelp, we dove into Google, we dove into TripAdvisor, we dove into Instagram, we dove into Facebook, we dove into TikTok, we dove into like, we don't care what the platform is. If it's not easy enough for someone to use it and to understand what's going on, it won't last. And if it is easy, then you just have to keep up with it. But the only way to learn about it is to get your hands dirty.

And I think by getting our hands dirty, owning our own website and understanding search engine optimization, you know, early on, it made us aggressively go after a lot of different platforms, which frankly, it took a lot of businesses till the pandemic to realize like, my God, I need to have an online presence. And even still we're here 2024, the pandemic is long gone and there's still restaurants that have PDF menus that don't have dynamic menus.

that don't have online ordering, that don't have easy book a reservation easily. There's so much opportunity in not just the restaurant space, but the business space.

Shane Murphy (09:10.67)

And so I think that you described like one, a couple of things there. There's the infrastructure and part of the infrastructure is like the websites, the platforms and just going out there, removing the fear and just getting in the water and start swimming. And if, and some, sometimes I think there's this, this barrier that restaurateurs have where it's like, okay,

I know that these platforms exist. Maybe I do overcome my fear and I dive in, but I have no idea what to say. I don't know what story to put out to people. Maybe there's an event like a boxing match that kind of comes pre -packaged and I know I can talk about that. But what are the elements of the stories that really make a meaningful difference in taking somebody from the field of dreams where if you build it, they will come, but in reality they don't?

and it actually starts translating to people following you, people engaging with you, and people coming in to your restaurant.

Shawn Walchef (10:15.105)

So I have an orange tree theory and the orange tree theory comes from something that I just recently started talking a lot about on our shows, on the shows that I go on. And it's that I believe that every business has an orange tree story. And our orange tree story is actually from an orange tree that was planted in the front of my restaurant. So back when my grandfather started the restaurant back in the early, the, when we took over, which was in the nineties, him and my uncle planted an orange tree.

They're Bulgarians, they're farmers, they love trees. They wanted an orange tree next to the water fountain. And they made sure that they planted this orange tree. It was going to be a significant orange tree. It wasn't even at the front of the restaurant at the time. But eventually, me and my business partner from college took over in 2008, and the orange tree was still there. The water fountain was still there. That was the year my grandfather passed away, but we still have a photo of me and him next to the orange tree at the water fountain.

Fast forward a couple years after running the business and like I said, we were hosting these sporting events. Monday night football, the Chargers are playing the Raiders and we had fans that got into a disagreement. They took that disagreement from inside the restaurant, in the bar, outside the restaurant and started fighting in the fountain. They knocked over and crashed that fountain. So that fountain was broken. We rebuilt a different fountain.

Fast forward to the pandemic. The pandemic, we decided that we were going to build a master smokehouse and remove the back patio, add smokers. Well, as we were adding smokers, we had to remove that second fountain. And we sat with Eric, Gene, Howard, Steven, and we all sat and my wife and said, look, that orange tree is in the way of these smokers. If we're going to get the...

truck to come in and load the barbecue to take to the stadiums to take to the ghost kitchens. This smoker is going this orange tree is going to be in the way. And my wife who's also Bulgarian, my grandfather's Bulgarian, my wife said, there's no chance we're removing the orange tree. And she fought multiple meetings to make sure that that orange tree didn't go anywhere. So now if you come to the restaurant in front of the smokers is the orange tree.

Shane Murphy (12:29.582)

is that the answers. It's the answers.

Shawn Walchef (12:32.545)

And I believe that every single business has an orange tree story. And why is it an orange tree story? Because most business owners, myself included, don't think that it's significant enough to talk about our orange tree because no one is going to come and buy barbecue because of my orange tree. But what does the orange tree signify? It signifies my grandfather. It signifies Bulgaria, where he's from. It signifies my wife taking a stand, making sure that that orange tree is rooted there forever.

Those are the things that matter. Those are the things that connect us. Those aren't the things that go viral on the internet. But that's not the things that matter. The things that matter are the things, the why. Why is that painting that you picked in your restaurant that hangs on the side? Why is there, why did you pick that table? Why did you make that decision for that door in that part of the restaurant? Why is that music, that type of music playing? We make so many micro decisions to open up a restaurant.

Shane Murphy (13:18.19)

Thank you.

Shawn Walchef (13:28.673)

But we never explained to anyone else why we made those decisions. If we explain on video, on social media, the things about why did we pick the logo, why did we pick the design, why did we pick the location that we picked. Those are the things that make people love our restaurant. Those are the things that make people tell someone else about our restaurant.

Shane Murphy (13:29.038)

Thank you.

Shane Murphy (13:51.022)

I love that principle because you're right, there are so many things that we think the public won't care about. But it was meaningful for us. We put thought behind it, we made the decision for a reason, but we don't think anyone else would really care about it. But those reasons, the why is what builds connection.

And so I love that. So if I was a restaurant owner and I'm trying to start telling my story, that's a great place to start is why did I make the decisions that I made when I opened the place? And if there is a recent decision, if we added five new smokers, why did I add five new smokers? And why does that matter to me? And what do I hope that's going to do for my customer base at the same time?

Shawn Walchef (14:36.897)


Shane Murphy (14:45.422)

You talk to so many different restaurant owners about telling their story and giving them this type of coaching and advice. How can these operators improve their storytelling as time goes on?

Shawn Walchef (15:06.241)

practice. So the answer to the internet and the problem that prevents most people from creating content and from hitting publish is it's a quantity problem. You know, we say that it's quantity plus speed plus consistency will eventually equal quality eventually. But when we start telling our story, we want the quality story.

We see the things that we like online. We see the things we like on Instagram. We see the, you know, the, the, the personalities that we like. We see the TV shows. We see the chef, Robert Irvine's, we see the, you know, Emeril Legostics, whoever you care about, whoever you're Ryan and Reynolds, whoever the person is that you admire that creates content. We want that content. We don't want our content, but I guarantee you, if you go back to the beginning, when that person first started telling stories, it's terrible.

It's all terrible. It's all embarrassing. Ask Mr. Beast. Ask Jimmy Donaldson. He'll tell you how bad his videos were before he was Mr. Beast, the most popular YouTuber in the world. Like, that's just the truth, but we're not willing to do the work. You know, we have to be willing to look stupid and sound stupid. You know, I had a friend of mine, Darrell Stinson, he came on my digital hospitality show and he was explaining to me what we were doing.

And he said, Sean, do you know how to, what you're doing is you're creating a digital flash mob. And I said, what are you talking about? Do you know how to create a flash mob?

Shane Murphy (16:43.278)

like, organize a lot of people, come to the same place, and you have to like, get humans there.

Shawn Walchef (16:51.233)

So to start a digital flash mob, you have to be willing to be the crazy person that hears the music that nobody else hears. And that's your story. That's your truth. If you're willing to be the crazy person that speaks your truth, that hears your truth, all of a sudden you tell your truth one day and then you tell it again the next day. You tell the things that you believe in. All you need is one other person to start dancing in the town square. Now there's two people.

Shane Murphy (17:01.966)

I love that.

Shawn Walchef (17:21.441)

dancing in the town square. And two people become four people and compounding interest. And it's over time, eventually you start to build a community. That's how a movement gets started. But the problem is most people, myself included, it's like, we don't want to look stupid and sound stupid. If you post a video on LinkedIn about who you are and what you believe, you know how many of my friends made fun of me? I mean, I still have friends that still make fun of me. Like, why do you do what you do? And I'm like,

I was at the IPO for Toast with restaurants that are way more successful than our restaurant, way more influential than our restaurant. I'm on the customer advisory board for Toast. I host two shows. Restaurant Influencers is sponsored by Toast. Toast Family Style is an episode that we do a traveling show. Why? All because of this digital flash mob. Just so we were okay looking stupid and sounding stupid for a long enough period of time till eventually people are like, hey,

Sean, you're talking about digital hospitality, like you're talking about technology and restaurants. Like I believe in restaurants. I believe in technology. I also want to learn. And now we have this incredible community and we are continuing to grow, continuing to recruit. And we believe that we're just in the beginning. This is just 2024. I mean, I can't even imagine what 2026 is going to look like. You know what 2030 is going to look like. We have all of these different tools and we have people all over the globe.

literally all over the globe. How do we find each other? We find each other through this crazy device right now. I mean, like, what do you think? What do you think when when someone's using chat GPT, what do you think they're looking at? They're going to be scraping content. If you don't have content on the Internet, what's going to happen? You're not going to come up in any of the results.

Shane Murphy (19:13.71)

I loved your formula that, correct me if I got this wrong, quantity plus speed plus time will eventually equal quality.

Shawn Walchef (19:23.137)

quantity, speed, consistency. Yeah, it's the consistency over time, exactly.

Shane Murphy (19:25.934)


Shane Murphy (19:30.478)

Yeah. And that's such a true, true principle. So I think of, of my life growing up, I had an, I had a lisp up until the time I was like 22 years old, I had a lisp and a stutter and talking in public or on the phone scared me to death to the point where even today, whenever I'm talking in front of a group of people, I'm nervous. I feel it like,

butterflies in my stomach, they're just firing off. And the thing that got me through was writing down scripts and just repeating it over and over and over again, until I could do it sounding naturally. And that took years for me to be comfortable enough to be able to even speak without a stutter and without a lisp. And now my whole career is talking to people and

Shawn Walchef (20:13.249)


Shane Murphy (20:27.95)

It literally is that consistency over time and being willing to sound stupid along the way. I love that principle because you don't sound stupid forever. And you might feel stupid in the beginning, but if you can break through that mental barrier of, man, what are people gonna think? And you just keep going, your story will get out there. And restaurants, people always used to think,

Shawn Walchef (20:35.553)


Shawn Walchef (20:39.777)


Shane Murphy (20:56.398)

Restaurants are about the food. It's all about the food and you have to have good quality product. You have to have a good experience. You have to have the good infrastructure. But then it's about the connection. It's about the relationship that people have with the brand. That's how you build a profitable restaurant. Not one that's just focused on just a discount brand or undercutting the people next to you.

Shawn Walchef (21:18.145)


Shane Murphy (21:25.262)

people come to you over and over and over again and increase their purchase frequency because they have some sort of relationship with the brand or the identity or the food. And that only happens through telling our stories and building a brand instead of just building a product.

Shawn Walchef (21:44.513)

It's the difference between a transaction and the lifetime value, a generational customer. I mean, the bottom line is we're not in a transaction business. And how does a story become a legend? Do you know? If the story is so good and someone wants to tell someone else and they tell someone else, eventually it will become its own story and it will become a legend.

Shane Murphy (21:59.566)

no, tell me.

Shawn Walchef (22:11.809)

But the only way that that happens is through repetition. It's through getting better. You know, one of the things that we talk about all the time is we admire comedians. Jerry Seinfeld, Kevin Hart, Chris Rock. The list goes on and on. When they get their Netflix special, how many times do you think they've told that same exact joke? How many times?

Shane Murphy (22:35.374)

I mean, I'm gonna guess 30 to 50.

Shawn Walchef (22:40.193)

thousands. They've done thousands of reps. The same joke. Workshop that joke. Like study the best comedians. That's all they do. They change the adjective. They change the enunciation. They change the punctuation. They change the pause till they figure out where does it all flow best. So by the time they hit the Netflix stage, the stadium tour.

It's the best.

But we think like, okay, I'm preparing for a speech or I'm giving a keynote or I'm speaking on a panel or I'm presenting to a group of business owners. I can prepare 30 times. We need to do thousands of reps. The more reps that you do, the better that you get at it. And then people will start telling your story.

Shane Murphy (23:25.134)

Thank you.

Shawn Walchef (23:35.233)

It's not a crazy idea anymore. A barbecue media company. I mean, we just got back from the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago, 55 ,000 restaurant professionals, 2 ,200 vendors. And I had my whole media team there. We did five days of content, 14 different brand partners, countless podcasts, countless social posts. But the amount of people, humans, that I've never met in my life that I didn't even know I was connected to on some social platform came out and said,

Thank you for doing that. I watch your content or I watch your videos. I listened to your shows, but in the beginning, like nobody was listening. Like no one would back in 2017, no one was listening. It was a very small community, but slowly, you know, two by two by two.

Shane Murphy (24:24.174)

That's awesome. That really is amazing. There are so many great nuggets here. And you've tried a lot of different platforms. If I'm a restaurant owner today and I'm listening to this and saying, I want to get my story out there better, where would you recommend they start to put out that content?

Shawn Walchef (24:51.361)

The number one place is the digital playground that you're most comfortable with. So if you use Facebook, start on Facebook. If you like Instagram, start on Instagram. If you like LinkedIn, start on LinkedIn. But do video. You've got to use video. All of the platforms want video. YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, they all want video and they all want you. You are the answer.

So even if you hate how you look, you can use voiceover, take video of somebody in the kitchen preparing the food and voiceover how you make the recipe, why you make the recipe. But more importantly, show yourself. People love to see the owner. People love to know who owns the restaurant, who's the family that owns the restaurant, who's the husband, who's the wife, who's the grandparent, who are the kids.

Shane Murphy (25:39.438)


Shawn Walchef (25:49.249)

Show off the bartender, show off the server, show off the prep cook.

Show off the vendors. So many people don't make B2B content. Every restaurant owner has expenses. Guess what? Every single expense on your P &L, those are all people, humans that deliver to your business. And they also need social media. They also need proof. The bread person, the reason why you pick your local bread company. I picked that bread company because they have the best sourdough in all of San Diego. Well, tell us about the bread company.

How long have they been in business? Who's the bread delivery guy? Now all of a sudden I'm going to think a little bit different when I go out and I have a sandwich at your restaurant.

Shane Murphy (26:33.646)

Yeah, I remember one of the places where I was watching your content was like a toast unboxing. You're unboxing the toast point of sale. And I thought about this where it's like, okay, how often is a restaurant owner showcasing an unboxing to their audience of a point of sale? And who is that content for? It might be for like,

their customers who are thinking, they're investing in technology. They're going to implement online, better online ordering and things like that. But at the end of the day, that also gives toast content. And I remember watching this because we were, you know, we're one of the very few like text marketing systems that's integrated with toast. And we work with a ton of toast customers and people are always asking us because our company does text marketing that works with pretty much every point of sale out there.

Shawn Walchef (27:33.985)


Shane Murphy (27:34.286)

And everyone's always like, hey, what's the point of sale that I should be using? And I remember I sent somebody your unboxing video because they were like, hey, I'm thinking about toast. And I was like, hey, I saw this today. We were thinking about you. Check this out. Just something to think about. And like that was the start of actually a relationship between us that you never knew about. And I'm sure toast was able to go and reuse that to...

Shawn Walchef (27:38.465)


Shawn Walchef (27:42.785)


Shawn Walchef (27:50.689)


Shawn Walchef (27:58.081)


Shane Murphy (28:02.766)

get your story out to others as well in their sales content and their reps probably fell in love with you because you were showcasing them. And sometimes you can take those vendors and use that to showcase to your customers who were forward thinking or trying new things. We want to hear your feedback on how the experience has improved. Talk to us, share with us what you think. And that's it.

vendor can become a connecting point with your customer base. But very few restaurant owners would think to use a vendor in that way. But it's absolutely possible. Same thing with your food reps. Hey, do you guys know that we get the most one of the most expensive cheeses that US food sells? Here's, here's our route from US foods. And that little thing can speak to the quality, the passion, the reason why you chose that.

Shawn Walchef (28:37.793)


Shawn Walchef (28:45.761)


Shane Murphy (29:02.798)

And to go back, you talked about talking about the why. Why did we make the decisions? That is a great place for people to start. And if they just start, the stories will build, eventually become legends, and you're gonna improve and get better at it as time goes on. And that is what is gonna create a sustainable brand. So.

Shawn Walchef (29:27.329)


Shane Murphy (29:28.526)

Sean, this has been awesome. Thank you for sharing all of these thoughts. How can people follow you and your brand and get in touch with you?

Shawn Walchef (29:39.265)

I am weirdly available. You can follow me at Sean P. Walcheff, S H A W N P W A L C H E F. Instagram is probably the fastest, but I'm very active on LinkedIn and TikTok and Facebook and all the platforms. You can follow at Cali BBQ media. If you want to follow the restaurant, more restaurant specific content, that's at Cali BBQ. And I'm always willing to talk to any, anyone that listens.

of this content, we believe you're playing the game within the game. There's so many people out there. I know how hard it is to run a restaurant. We've been doing it for 16 years. We're still trying to figure out how to do it. I mean, we built a media company on top of our restaurant.

But we also know that we're in this for a lifetime. So it's not just my lifetime. I've got a seven -year -old boy and a four -year -old girl, and we're all just trying to figure out how to be a little bit better every single day. And shows like this help us share that knowledge and build deeper communities. So thanks for doing this, Shane.

Shane Murphy (30:40.878)

You bet. Thank you so much for joining us today and follow Sean and Cali BBQ on Instagram and your favorite social platforms. So thanks again, Sean.

Shawn Walchef (30:52.609)

Thanks, Shane.

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