There’s a great marketing vehicle that most restaurants ignore, while a small few do it to great success.
Selling your own products is a perfect brand extension of your restaurant, and keeps you front-of-mind with customers every time they open their pantry door.
And some restaurants even generate substantial sales from these products—and none quote any downsides to the venture.
BiNA osteria opened in downtown Boston three years ago and at the same time opened BiNA alimentari, an adjacent European-style gourmet food shop.
The store sells cheese, artisanal wines, olive oils, vinegars, house-made breads, pastas, gelati, prepared foods, coffee, tea and pastries—most of which are found in the kitchen at BiNA osteria.
Those products that aren’t made in the restaurant are used in the restaurant—primarily French and Italian products. Everything is beautifully packaged and presented.
“People often ask where they can get the food they eat in the restaurant, so this was the perfect opportunity,” says owner Babak Bina.
The products are mostly made in the restaurant. “It’s a way to get people to enjoy what they have had at the osteria,” Bina explains, adding that as the menu changes in the restaurant, so do the products available in the shop.
As well as being a marketing tool, Bina also enjoys using the store to introduce products to the Boston market, such as wines or delicacies from Italy.
BiNa alimentari is open sevendays a week and is busiest at lunch and dinner, Bina says.
“There are a few seats in there, so we can send [prospective customers] to alimentari to grab a coffee or pastry. We do have panini and soups too, so it does relieve some pressure on the restaurant when we’re busy.”
Sapphire restaurant in Laguna Beach, California, opened Sapphire Pantry a week after it opened, in February 2007.
“It was difficult (to set up both at once), but once you are in the battleground you’ve just got to do it,” says chef Azmin Ghahreman.
The 950-square-foot store has the potential to add substantially to the operation’s bottom line, he says.
It sells 110 cheeses from around the world, homemade butterscotch, potato chips and BBQ sauce; teas, juices, dressings, cheese, pesto, sandwiches and imported charcuterie.
There’s also fresh food such as grilled salmon with BBQ sauce and grilled and marinated steaks. Wine is a popular product, but can’t be marked up as much as in the restaurant, Ghahreman points out.
The two operations are connected via their back-of-house so the same chefs create food for both.
The pantry has a strong local following,” says Ghahreman. “We’re the best cheese shop in Orange County. We do a lot of picnics for the beach and our business is more touristy in the summer. We also have a strong breakfast business with muffins, croissants and strudel, muesli, granola, and yogurt parfait.”
Zea Rotisserie & Grill, New Orleans, sells four of its sauces in the restaurant, online and at select supermarkets.
The sauces—Thai Rib Sauce, Pepper Jelly Vinaigrette, Spicy Garlic Soy Stir-Fry, Sweet Chili Glaze—were often requested by diners.
“Pepper Jelly Vinaigrette was what we got the most requests for,” says Greg Reggio, one of the founders. “It became so popular because everyone heard about it when it won a contest. So I would put it in one of those plastic eight-ounce deli containers.
“After a couple of years of doing that Reggio decided to work on the presentation so had his friend, who owns a hot sauce company, make up some labels. Sales took off since the sauce looked so good and before long, the restaurant was shipping the sauce to the hot sauce company for mass bottling.
Soon Zea Rotisserie was selling 4,000 cases of the vinaigrette a year, so at that point, Reggio moved to selling the product mostly in supermarkets and online (with minimal sales at the restaurant).
One great advantage, he says, is “if we happen to run out in a night, I can run down the street and pick up the sauce in the grocery store. It tastes exactly the same.”
But the best thing, Reggio says, is “I love the idea of someone opening up their pantry and having a bottle of sauce with my name on it. It’s great marketing. People see it in the closet and think about going out for dinner here that night.”
Sales from the sauces are good. “If you look at the other competing products they sell for $2 or $3 but we decided not to sell a commodity product. We do have a slightly larger bottle and people know it’s a good product and it flies off the shelf. It’s the most expensive product in there.”
By Amanda Baltazar