Deli Uses Dow's Surge To Draw Business At Cucina Deli in Salt Lake City, sales dropped off sharply during the recession. The deli owner had to cut costs, but he also came up with an imaginative promotion to increase revenue — offer free coffee every Monday until the Dow broke the 10,000 mark.
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Deli Uses Dow's Surge To Draw Business

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Deli Uses Dow's Surge To Draw Business

Deli Uses Dow's Surge To Draw Business

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Our small business series continues, today, from Cucina's Deli in Salt Lake City. The restaurant's sales are down, but profits are up. The owner came up with a creative marketing promotion, or rather a stock market promotion.

From member station KUER, Jenny Brundin has the story.

Unidentified Woman: Dean, where do you want these?

JENNY BRUNDIN: It's 9:30 in the morning but the pace is already starting to pick up behind the counter at Cucina's Deli. Servers deftly prepare curry chicken salads and red peppered spicy ham sandwiches. The catering orders are starting to pile up.

Mr. DEAN PIEROSE (Owner, Cucina's Deli): I took out the first one at 6:45 this morning and it hasn't stopped.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRUNDIN: Owner, Dean Pierose, says a year ago it was a different story. November, then December, then January, sales plunged 35 percent.

Mr. PIEROSE: I had the hell scared out of me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRUNDIN: Pierose brainstormed. He never liked gimmicks or promotions. But by spring, the recession was getting people down. What about free coffee on Mondays? He had to tie it to something though - the Dow. All would be right, right - when the Dow hit 10,000. How about free coffee and lattes on Mondays until that harbinger of good fortune arrived?

Mr. PIEROSE: It's all free and I just wanted to do a promotion that was so good, it made people suspicious.

BRUNDIN: Pierose estimates that they served 22,000 cups of free coffee. He and his chef Penny Murphy added a green theme: You had to bring your own cup.

Mr. PIEROSE: And that actually became fairly comical as people bringing in beer steins.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PIEROSE: People bringing in camelbacks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PIEROSE: But Monday's was - it was a circus. It was really funny and it was really successful in...

Ms. PENNY MURPHY (Chef, Cucina's Deli): We saw people that we'd never ever seen their faces before.

BRUNDIN: Most people always bought something to eat as well. Pierose tracked the Dow on a big graph painted on the wall, a thick red line designating the 10,000 mark. The promotion worked with new faces becoming regulars and boosting sales.

Still, that wasn't enough and manager Shelly Walquist had to cut employee hours.

Ms. SHELLY WALQUIST (Manager, Cucina's Deli): Everyone had a hard time at first, but we tried to do it in an even way and, you know, maybe everyone took back about five hours a person and slowly we've gained that back and we've been doing a little bit better.

BRUNDIN: The 30 part-time employees are busier and there's been no turnover for an entire year. That's unheard of in restaurants.

Ms. MURPHY: It takes caramelized walnuts and blue cheese...

BRUNDIN: Chef Murphy also scrutinized food purchases. No more lemons would go bad. She watched more carefully.

Ms. MURPHY: I order usually 60 pounds of salmon. I could see that the salmon isn't turning over, so you order - you go back to like 30 pounds, just, you know, keeping an eye on what's selling, what's not selling, what are people buying?

BRUNDIN: Some customers weren't touching the piece of bread on the side of the plate. Now, servers ask if the customer wants it.

Mr. PIEROSE: A Baci roll is $.17. It adds up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRUNDIN: Sales are still slightly down at Cucina's - 8 percent. But profits are up. Pierose says the recession made him more efficient. He recalls a conversation with a client, also a small businessman.

Mr. PIEROSE: I said up until a year ago, there's a lot of things that you'd never even crossed your mind. But in essence, I bet that your sales are down. He said yeah. I said, I bet your profitability is probably up a little bit because you had to make drastic cuts with regards to, you know, your product and your people.

BRUNDIN: Cucina's is a second home to Robert Brussard, who enjoys a cup of coffee while reading his beloved Scientific American. He keeps an eye on the Dow and has an idea for Pierose.

Mr. ROBERT BRUSSARD: Well, I think that every time it goes back below 10,000 they ought to bring back the free coffee.

BRUNDIN: But, since the Dow hit 10,000 in October, customers just might be able to afford their own coffee.

For NPR News, I'm Jenny Brundin in Salt Lake City.

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