Some operators find that publishing a restaurant cookbook is an effective marketing tool to build their brand and raise chef awareness. Such was the case for Mario’s Italian Steakhouse and Catering in Rochester, New York. The restaurant’s cookbook is like a 212-page business card, says co-owner Anthony Daniele. The restaurant has published two namesake cookbooks, and though “everyone knows our restaurant, the books build credibility. They legitimize our career and the work we’ve put into our restaurants.”
Similarly, Jasper Mirabile, Jr., co-owner of Jasper’s Restaurant Group, Kansas City, Missouri, was asked to do cookbook dinners and signings within the first week of the 2003 release of his self-published The Jasper’s Cookbook. “We didn’t even plan on that. And we never had a marketing company,” he says. Guest speaking and chef demos became regular events. From there, he was chosen to develop recipes for and represent Wisconsin cheese for the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. Soon, other food companies contacted him to develop recipes and represent them.
Jasper’s regularly sells its book from the dessert cart, and one day a representative from Andrews McMeel Publishing, Kansas City, Missouri, dined at Jasper’s, noticed the book, and expressed interest in publishing another cookbook for him. The resulting Jasper’s Kitchen Cookbook was released mid-recession in 2009, and was met with much local press, which brought in more customers.
When we came up for air in February, we noticed that for the [preceding] four-month period, [restaurant] sales were up more than 15 percent over the previous year, and business has not slowed down since,” he says.
Mirabile realizes the serendipity of having a publisher approach him about publishing his second book. For others, he recommends self-publishing, simply because it’s difficult to get a national publisher’s attention.
For one year, Jasper’s cut back on its marketing efforts and used that money to publish the first book—ironically receiving more publicity from the book than it might have from other marketing efforts.
Mario’s Italian Steakhouse also self-published its cookbooks using a local printer, Phoenix Graphics, that specializes in printing cookbooks. The company also helped with the design and layout, Daniele says.
The average cookbook sells 5,000 to 8,000 copies, says Carlyn Berghoff, CEO of Berghoff Catering and Restaurant Group, Chicago. She has written three cookbooks, including the first released in 2007, The Berghoff Family Cookbook. In about three years, it sold nearly 100,000 copies.
Berghoff credits much of the success to the book quality, including full-color photos, and the fact that she went with traditional publisher Andrews McMeel Publishing. While the publisher did its job securing national media coverage for the book, Berghoff also hired a local public relations agency to handle publicity in the local market for 90 days. Between the two, publicity landed book coverage in the food and travel sections of newspapers and on local television stations.
She advises others who want to go through a traditional publisher to find a book agent with cookbook publisher inroads, as this should produce greater success in getting a publisher’s attention in the crowded market.
“Our books have gotten people talking about us, and I wanted to get people cooking,” Berghoff says. But it wasn’t easy and isn’t cheap.
The recipes must be written correctly, tested, retested, and rewritten. “You need a good writer, and if there isn’t one on staff, hire someone,” she says. She also chose to have the recipes tested by a professional. “If you don’t do a good job, you won’t ever get published again.” Like others, she notes that it takes a few years to develop a cookbook.
Not all experiences yield glowing reviews. Susan Goss, chef/co-owner of Chicago’s West Town Tavern, authored and self-published 3,000 copies of the West Town Tavern Contemporary Comfort Food cookbook in 2010. She has found it hard to get the book placed in bookstores, although she does sell copies when she conducts cooking classes and demos. But authoring the book didn’t open doors to television appearances like she had anticipated. “In that respect, I’m underwhelmed,” she says.
However, developing the book combined her love of writing, story-telling, and recipes. “I didn’t realize how much of a sense of accomplishment it would bring,” she says.
If she had to do it over again today, Goss thinks that she would do something digital rather than a static, printed cookbook. “There’s an overabundance of cookbooks, and now people use the internet, their laptops, and iPads in the kitchen,” she says.
Now she would consider doing a blog with paid advertising on it instead of the cookbook. “A printed cookbook isn’t living. It doesn’t keep up with me, and the way I do things has shifted,” she concludes.
By Jody Shee