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Watch Sam the Cooking Guy show how to make 5 epic and easy recipes for toast LIVE for the company Toast from his home in San Diego.
Toast Inc CEO Chris Comparato interviewed Sam Zien and Shawn Walchef for this Toast company call in February 2021 about owning and operating restaurants, operating a business during the pandemic, digital marketing, creating online media, and, of course, some tasty toast recipes.
As The Cooking Guy cooked up everything from Cap’n Crunch French Toast to an Everything Bagel Toast take to Dim Sum-inspired Toast, Sam Zien and Shawn Walchef talked with the Toast Inc company about the year that was 2020 and how he got strategic with not just the recipe ideas for his dishes but his recipes for success.
We were thrilled to spend the day in the backyard kitchen of Sam the Cooking Guy (a former guest on our show) and for him to be our co-host for this edition Digital Hospitality.
“Make toast differently,” said Sam The Cooking Guy Zien on this special episode of the Digital Hospitality podcast also featuring the restaurant point of sale company Toast Inc.
“Don’t make the same thing all the time. We’ve given you five examples here. Bust out of your shell. Yes, toast is delicious by itself, but think about changing it up.”
Changing it up is something that Sam and Cali BBQ Media Founder Shawn Walchef know very well. After so many years in business, both San Diego entrepreneurs and media mavens know it takes pivots and growth to survive trying times.
• Visit Sam The Cooking Guy online
• Learn more about Toast Inc.
As expected from Sam Zien and Shawn Walchef, the interactive, on the nose live cooking show/company meeting was equal parts insight and comedy.
“I didn’t make regular toast,” Sam said in the intro to this episode. “I’m pretty certain they know how to make toast. Why show somebody something they already know how to make?
Coming out swinging, The Cooking Guy let it be known that Shawn Walchef would not be buttering or flipping any bread in front of those watching the stream from their computers at home.
Always on his toes, the Cali BBQ owner was ready to tell watchers why he wouldn’t be cooking with Sam the Cooking Guy at his home that day.
“Dana White doesn’t fight in the octagon and Jerry Jones doesn’t throw footballs,” smirked Shawn in response to Sam’s cooking quips. “We all play our part in the hospitality business.”
Digital Hospitality podcast visit to Eats by Sam for another close look at Sam the Cooking Guy and his empire.
Sam the Cooking Guy made “The Best BBQ Chicken Sliders” using our Cali BBQ Sauce.
For Shawn Walchef, his part is owning and operating Cali BBQ in San Diego and heading up Cali BBQ Media which plays home to the Digital Hospitality Podcast and has created the new Restaurant Influencers podcast for Yelp.
Over the years, the Cooking Guy and his BBQ brethren have become close friends, both reimagining the intersection between media, tech and food. Because of their prowess in partnering all these unique fields, point of sale innovators Toast brought in the unconventional icons to motivate and entertain their staff starting the new year.
Lifelong learners, Sam and Shawn have both seen many pivots in their professional careers. The fun and faith they have embarking on new ventures made them the perfect partners for Toast in this live event loaded with creativity and inspiration.
“You’ve gotta understand your audience, who they are and what they want,” states Sam.
While this is true for creating content, it’s true for problem solving tech like Toast, too. This proves especially true as the digital migration moves exponentially fast during this tough pandemic.
“Since we brought on Toast, we’ve gotten an additional 3,500 emails,” smiles Shawn Walchef (Cali BBQ Media) on the reach and growth of his Cali BBQ restaurant in San Diego simply through integrating Toast’s POS tech.
“That’s why we’re as excited as we are.”
For Shawn the proof is in the pudding, or simply, the Toast.
— Article by Ian Stonebrook. Get in touch with Ian @ianstonebrook or by emailing email@example.com.
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Who the F@*% Doesn’t Love Toast? | Sam Zien (Sam the Cooking Guy) and Howard Solomon (Solomon Leaders) | DH066
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TRANSCRIPT: Toast CEO Chris Comparato interviews Sam Zien and Shawn Walchef
Shawn Walchef (Cali BBQ Media): Welcome to Digital Hospitality, I’m your host Shawn Walchef, this is my co-host today, you might know him as Sam the Cooking Guy.
Shawn Walchef: Sam the Cooking Guy…
Sam Zien (Sam the Cooking Guy): Yes, I’m only kidding. I didn’t know I was trying to think of something funny to say it didn’t come out. So.
Shawn Walchef: So we’re in full transparency. We’re going to give you guys a little bit of a behind the scenes today. We did a demonstration. Sam made toast for the company Toast, which is our point of sale company.
Sam Zien: But I didn’t use a toaster and I didn’t make, like, regular toast.
Shawn Walchef: Why?
Sam Zien: We did because I’m pretty certain they know how to make toast. Why show somebody something they already know how to make like me coming over and showing you how to make what you don’t actually make barbeque? So maybe that was a bad example, but you get it.
Shawn Walchef: Well, nonetheless, we got to have an incredible conversation with the CEO, Chris Comparato of Toast, an incredible company. We have Toast at our restaurant, at Cali BBQ.
Sam Zien: We have Toast at our restaurants. Graze, Eats by Sam and Not Not Tacos.
Shawn Walchef: So we hope that you enjoy the episode. Let us know what you think. We talk about technology. We talk about digital storytelling, and we talk about not sucking. What else?
Sam Zien: Toast.
Shawn Walchef: Toast.
Sam Zien: We talk about toast. You’ve got to give people something they can do conquer.
Shawn Walchef: And your new TikTok channel.
Sam Zien: And my new TikTok Channel.
Shawn Walchef: His new Toast TikTok channel.
Sam Zien: That’s it.
Shawn Walchef: Enjoy the episode.
Chris Comparato (Toast): Toasters I hope you’re having a great day. And what a kick off. I have some very special guests with us today. Two of our favorite customers joining us from the West Coast. We have Sam the Cooking Guy. Zien, who has taken home fifteen Emmys for his cooking channels, is the owner of several restaurant concepts in the San Diego area, is a customer as well, and is joined by Shawn Walchef, the owner of Cali BBQ and Cali BBQ Media, where he hosts the small business focused podcast Digital Hospitality. Sam and Shawn. We’re so excited to have you with us. Thanks for being here today and it’s great to see you both.
Shawn Walchef: Thank you, Chris. Thank you for you us.
Sam Zien: You left out one thing about Shawn’s company name, it’s not Cali BBQ. It’s Cali Comfort BBQ, which is ridiculous, but it’s a real name.
Shawn Walchef: We did a rebrand. So we actually are Cali BBQ.
Sam Zien: After all the shit I gave you…
Shawn Walchef: After all the shit you gave me. We had to do a rebrand.
Sam Zien: I said it sounded like a mattress company. Cali Comfort doesn’t that sound like mattresses?
Chris Comparato: Get your barbecue and just take a nap.
Sam Zien: I didn’t know that he’d rebranded.
Shawn Walchef: We rebranded. You introduced us properly. I appreciate that. Thanks, Chris.
Sam Zien: Well, you left off my two and a half million subscribers on YouTube, but that’s alright.
Chris Comparato: Alright. Alright. But I got the Emmys in there.
Shawn Walchef: This is true.
Sam Zien: That’s true.
Making Toast for Toast:
Chris Comparato: So, Sam, I understand that while we’re chatting today, this is going to be a unique customer panel and interview. You have a little something special that you’re going to whip up for us Toasters. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Sam Zien: Yeah, so we thought it would be fun to make some form of toast. I have five different toasts we’re making. The best part of it is I’m not using a toaster at all. I’m going to do everything on a flat griddle here. There will be different versions that will come out and hopefully things that people don’t know and then will watch and go. Oh, crap. I’d like to try that. So I will start now.
Sam Zien: I have to make five in the next half an hour or so, but one every five minutes. It’s totally doable. I’m prepped. I’m ready. Let’s start some conversation and then we’ll just have some fun.
Chris Comparato: All right. And Shawn, you’re going to coach him a little bit. You’re going to sort of critique, coach and taste.
Shawn Walchef: Yes.
Sam Zien: No, no, no, no. Yeah, he might critique. He can’t coach. He doesn’t really cook. Yes. He owns a barbecue restaurant. But ask who’s behind all those big smokers and it won’t be him.
Shawn Walchef: This is the truth. This is the truth. So Dana White doesn’t fight in the octagon and Jerry and Jerry Jones doesn’t throw football. So we we all play our part in the hospitality business. I know where my spaces and his space is there. My space is more over here in the Digital Hospitality realm.
Becoming a Restaurateur:
Chris Comparato: Awesome. Well, listen, I’m going to stay away from the cooking and I’m just going to tee up some good questions and let you guys go. So let’s let’s kick this off. Why don’t why don’t each of you tell us a little bit about your journey becoming restauranteurs? You know, one thing that’s super interesting is that, you know, you guys got your start in hospitality years ago, but then certainly went through different times of uncertainty and the economic downturn in 2008. So why don’t we go each telling us a little bit about the journey and we’ll start there. So jump in.
Sam Zien: I’ll start just because I’m working on the easiest toast right now and it will give me a second. So I’ve been cooking on television for almost eighteen years, looked at some restaurant locations and there was always something wrong with them. I thought too big, too small, you know, that kind of thing. And eventually I came to the conclusion that what was wrong wasn’t the locations, but it was me because I knew I didn’t know how to open a restaurant or run a restaurant. The reality of I could cook on television, I can cook on YouTube, but that doesn’t mean that I can run a restaurant. And so I now have partners that know how to run restaurants. And they came in, they said, look, what if we do this? What if you do what you do best? You can be the brand, you can be the influence, you can be the you can be all the food. But we will be the people responsible for opening up in the morning and figuring out how to make tacos for a lot of people or burgers or that kind of stuff. And it’s been a great relationship. Honestly, the message here for. Me, to anybody that’s listening, is know what you do well, don’t try to do something you can’t. I think people run into trouble when they try and do things that they are not really supposed to be doing. And I know I literally running a restaurant is not my forte. It’s not what I’d be good at. I would run it into the ground. And so I’m the inspiration, the face, the brand, the food. My partners handle that part. So for me, it was easy. Shawn story is a little different.
Shawn Walchef: Yeah, I grew up when I was 13 years old, busing tables and washing dishes in my grandfather’s restaurant. He was from Bulgaria and he believed that it was important to teach, to teach somebody how to work. And I absolutely hated it. I mean, it was something where, you know, I was lucky to grow up in La Hoya, very privileged part of San Diego in the world, and all my friends that were all playing sports on the weekends and hanging out, definitely not working in the hospitality space, washing, washing dishes and busing tables. But lo and behold, after college, after getting failing getting into law school, three failed attempts, all schools here in San Diego, I had an opportunity to take over that same restaurant that I grew up busing tables in and me and one of my best friends from college, we decided to take a full liquor license and put a sports bar into a part of San Diego that was an underserved part of the community.
Shawn Walchef: You know, they tell you location, location, location. And the location that we picked had so many different challenges. Plus, we opened in 2008, the height of the economic recession. So, you know, we really cut our teeth. And 12 years later, we’ve become a barbecue media company. You know, anybody doing barbecue in San Diego is laughable when you go to Kansas City Barbecue Society or National Barbecue Association and you talk about the barbecue meccas of the nation, but we learned how to do it the right way. You know, we had mentors. My mentor was Gene Goycochea.
Shawn Walchef: He taught us, you know, kind of what Sam said. You’ve got to know what you don’t know. And we knew that we needed a specialty and that specialty was barbecue. But I wasn’t going to be the one, you know, the pit master behind the scenes. But I was going to find somebody that was going to help bring on this culture. And then we became a media company that was around twenty seventeen where we started publishing podcasts. Sam and I started our friendship. I had him on Behind the Smoke, which was what Digital Hospitality was before, and I asked him if he was going to be opening up a restaurant. He said there was no chance. So now I’ve had him on the podcast, I believe four times we’ve had him on the podcast. He has, I think, four restaurants. So he’s by far surpassed how many restaurants we’ve opened. But we’re hoping to catch up, catch up with him with some of our ghost locations.
Chris Comparato: So let’s we’ll make a little list as we go. Things to know in the entrepreneurial world. Don’t do what you can’t do. Find people to do that and clearly never say never.
Shawn Walchef: Yes. Never say never, never. Not in the media.
Sam Zien: I had absolutely no intention of opening a restaurant and now I’m happy. But it works for me because of the relationship that I have.
Managing Business While Making Media:
Chris Comparato: How do you guys split your time? Sam, tell me a little bit like you’re doing the YouTube channel. How do you sort of split up your time between the restaurants and YouTube and then Shawn the same thing for you between the restaurant and sort of the media?
Chris Comparato: How do you guys juggle your time?
Sam Zien: You know, I’ve always said one of the things I like most about what I get to do is every day is different. This stuff we’re doing now is different than it was yesterday. We shoot YouTube three times a week. I fill in restaurant stuff the other parts of the week because I’m not there running the restaurant doesn’t mean I don’t go. I try to go. I try to be as kissing babies, shaking hands. Hello. Because that part is really important. We all know the restaurant world has this term of touching tables, and while in the age of covid, it’s not quite the same as it was when everybody was inside your restaurant. People still come to the locations they want to see you. They want to say hello. And I have the, you know, the advantage of having a huge audience on YouTube so people will come in and say hello and they want to say hello, get a book signed or whatever. So I try to do as much of that as I can and then figuring out new food. I’m writing my fifth cookbook now that I shouldn’t be here.
Sam Zien: I should be home writing. It’s due to my publisher the end of July. But but you know what? It’s that thing…
Sam Zien: The more you have to do, you can find it. I don’t have a good analogy. If you had a one gallon jug, you can put in more than a gallon’s worth of water.
Sam Zien: You just have to you just have to figure out how to do that. And it actually works out.
Chris Comparato: Awesome.
Chris Comparato: And then Shawn, how do you split up your time?
Shawn Walchef: Yeah man, I think the most important thing is just being mission-driven and knowing that we have a deeper purpose. We are just a single unit barbecue restaurant. We’re hoping to open up our ghost kitchen was supposed to be three months ago, hopefully in two weeks. But we all know how opening a restaurant goes and we plan on opening 10 more ghost kitchens. We call them friendly ghosts here in San Diego. But, you know, focusing on working on the business and not in the business, I think it’s one of the hardest things that I had to learn along the way. Like I said, I didn’t know how to do barbecue. I reached out to somebody that knew how to do it and brought them in. You know, my general manager, Eric, he’s been my right hand. He’s kind of the yin to my yang. So he’s the one driving the financials, driving the operations. And he allows me to go out and have the time to focus on podcast content creation, digital storytelling and teaching other restaurant owners that if if a small single unit barbecue restaurant in Spring Valley, San Diego, can do all these incredible things, soak in there.
Cap’n Crunch French Toast Recipe:
Sam Zien: I’m going to interrupt for one second and debut our first toast.
Chris Comparato: OK.
Sam Zien: Which is right here.
Sam Zien: I’m going to put them all on this platter if I can fit them. So I’ll show the camera. The first one is…
Chris Comparato: Overhead view.
Sam Zien: …Captain Crunch, French toast. So you literally make French toast just like you would, but at the last minute, you dip it into this. Severely crushed up Captain Crunch cereal.
Chris Comparato: Captain Crunch French toast.
Sam Zien: And it adds the sweet, but it also adds. It adds a little bit of crunch and some straight deliciousness to the whole thing. That’s fantastic. It’s really good.
Chris Comparato: All right Toasters Captain Crunch French toast.
Sam Zien: Ladies and gentlemen, you’ll be glad that you did.
Chris Comparato: My kids are going to love that.
Navigating Restaurant Pivots:
Chris Comparato: All right, so let’s switch gears a little bit. We’re talking about time. You know, 2020 was an enormously difficult year for all of us. It forced us all to sort of adapt and pivot and get creative. So why don’t we jump off of that a little bit and talk a little bit about some examples where you guys have had to get a little bit creative.
Chris Comparato: You know, when covid hit last March, obviously things took a big turn. So tell us a little bit about any ideas or lessons learned or moves that you made to pivot and get a little bit creative on how to navigate 2020.
Shawn Walchef: And one of the most important things for us was understanding that if we really are a digital first restaurant, March 17th, I laid off twenty nine employees, which was more than half of our staff servers, bartenders, hosts. We kept the heart of the house. But there’s never been a harder day in my career than laying off those those team members who are family. I mean, we hire for hospitality and letting them know that, you know, currently we just couldn’t bring them on. But we were going to fight like hell to keep our business going and to evolve into this digital first restaurant and bringing on more third party. So we were with DoorDash exclusively. We brought on Uber Eats, we brought on GrubHub, we brought on Otter to integrate all of those. But then the biggest thing was, you know, I’m not just saying this because this is a Toast call, but really the biggest thing was understanding our point of sale system. And what was Aloha doing for us and what did we need? You know, we’re so big on owning your website and controlling the content and the content that you produce for social media should go on your website first and then distribute it to Instagram and Facebook and Twitter. But if you don’t control your your website, you don’t control anything. So who is going to help us with online ordering? And the more that we did the research, the more that Toast was the obvious answer. I mean, we integrated Toast. We went live actually on September 11th during covid. And I, I shared with you on a call, a call before this. But, you know, getting customer relation tools where we’re able to actually understand the data and understand these are the customers that are spending money. It’s different than somebody that’s following you on Facebook or somebody that’s following you on Twitter. That’s great. But these people actually spent money in our four walls and we’ve spent 13 years building an email list. And that email list got to eight thousand five hundred, which isn’t a lot, but it’s also not a little you know, we have a great engagement rate. But since we brought on Toast, literally, we’ve gotten an additional three thousand five hundred and we’re talking about five months. So we would have hundreds of thousands of emails had we had that technology before. And that’s why we’re as excited as we are about the next digital wave of what’s happening for hospitality.
Chris Comparato: Yeah, Shawn, if you were to compare the business today to the business a year ago in terms of same store sales or order volume, you are you are you up? Are you down?
Chris Comparato: Are you even? Tell us a little bit about what that what that looks like.
Shawn Walchef: So we’re doing 50 percent of the revenue that we did pre covid, but we’re full service restaurant, sports bar. But what we are doing is we’re three times more profitable. So our labor cost has reduced significantly. Our food cost is down by six points. And that’s all not just because of technology, but because we’ve optimized and simplified. So we figured out what do we do best? We got rid of breakfast on Saturday and Sunday, even though we were built on breakfast and we focused just on barbecue. So we really simplified our menu to basically the in and out of barbecue. Let’s focus on those things, do them the best, but then utilize technology to help get customers what they want when they want it. You know, that’s part of the problem is discriminating how people get our barbecue. You know, we’re we have one location now. Obviously, we’ll have ten in San Diego County will be much easier for us to get barbecue to other people. But making somebody drive forty five minutes across the county and then wait an hour in line to get some brisket. Our job is to use technology, use things that Toast offers, as well as other technologies to get people barbecue when they want it.
How to Open a Ghost Kitchen:
Chris Comparato: Awesome. Before we switch to Sam, Sam, I know you’re firing up. I don’t know what you’re firing up there. It looks really good. But before we switch, tell us a little bit about the ghost, the Ghost Kitchen Initiative you’ve got going Shawn. You mentioned you’re going to spin up some some kitchen concept. So tell us a little bit about that.
Shawn Walchef: So the ghost kitchen we’re opening, it’s part of another twenty ghosts. So we’re going to be part of the hub, essentially a virtual food court and will be for pickup and delivery. It’s two hundred square feet, but we’re going to be doing all of our smoking in our original restaurant location. We’re going to repurpose about 60 percent of the dining to build a Master Smokehouse and Media Center. So we’ll be able to service all the ten ghosts. We call them Friendly Ghosts, because we’re going to share the story of how the barbecue gets to where it goes. And no matter where we opened up those ghosts, we’re going to be part of the community. So we’re going to treat it just as if we opened up a full service restaurant. I think that’s important because this is the great gold rush for ghost kitchens, virtual kitchens. And a part of it is if you don’t have a heart behind that brand, then it’s going to be very hard to stay in business. It’s fine to sell something once. But we all know in the restaurant that in order to be successful, you have to take care of your regulars.
Chris Comparato: Yeah, no totally makes sense.
Elevated Avocado Toast and Mushroom Toast Recipes:
Sam Zien: So let me cut in for a second. I’m going to show you two toasts while we’re here, because the last two of the most complicated ones and then we can chat. So right here, this is the only avocado toast in the mix today and there needed to be one.
Sam Zien: This is avocado. I’ve got locks ripped up and little pieces on top, a little tiny, finely chopped up red onion, and I’m going to use everything bagel seasoning just to finish it off. You know, just give that little crunch and a little garlic pieces on that. It’s going to be really fantastic. OK, wait. The other one that we have is right here, and this is going to be a mushroom one. So this is just a little piece of baguette that I brushed with. I’ll show you. Some roasted garlic a head of garlic, the top chopped off to expose all the cloves, little olive oil on top, wrap it in foil, put it in the oven at four hundred for forty five minutes or an hour, the cloves squeeze out. Its sweet, it’s delicious. It’s amazing. But what we’ll do now is we’re now going to put some of these beautifully softened shiitake mushrooms right on top of that. It’s my favorite thing to do. I love mushroom toast and shiitakes speak to me, they’re just so delicious and tender. My favorite mushroom of all time. So we’ll get these beautifully on here. They’ve been softened with a little vermouth in the pan. I’ve given them a little kosher salt and pepper, a little parsley. And we’ll finish this off while it’s still warm with a little good Parmesan cheese just grated over the top.
Sam Zien: Just like that, there you go.
Sam Zien: So that’s three toasts, we got we got two more coming, we’re doing fine, Shawn.
Shawn Walchef: Yeah. So you should have done 10 toasts.
Sam Zien: I should have. I wanted to do 10. Shawn talked me off the ledge, which honestly was a very bright thing to do. It would have been just mental.
Chris Comparato: Well, I hope Shawn and the crew are hungry. It sounds fantastic. You know what I loved about that? I love the everything spice, the everything bagel spice that you want on that. But that’s a nice move.
Sam Zien: It goes on anything. Let me throw a half a teaspoon of it into scrambled eggs in the morning.
Chris Comparato: It’s it’s what I do.
Sam Zien: It’s beyond what you normally would expect it to do for you. Doesn’t have to be on a bagel, you know, or that kind of thing.
Sam the Cooking Guy Channel on YouTube:
Chris Comparato: Awesome. So so Sam, tell us a little bit about 2020 and any pivots or creative moves that you’ve had to make, whether it’s, you know, with your YouTube audience or whether it’s with your restaurants. Tell us a little bit about your experience.
Sam Zien: You know, we say, well, speaking of YouTube, we started the beginning of the pandemic off by doing sort of locked down kind of food. What you could do if you only had certain things in your pantry, what could you do with the tuna in that kind of stuff? And that was OK. We did our own half a dozen of those shows. And then we looked at each other and we as our our very small crew, there’s three of us. We said, yeah, this probably seems right. But do we need to focus on the fact that we’re locked away at home? No. Shawn and I were talking about the success of Martha Stewart way back in the day when she first started, and nobody would have imagined that her making super fancy desserts and flower vase arrangements and stuff would appeal to mostly women in the Midwest, 80 feet of snow outside in a two hundred fifty square foot studio apartment. But you don’t just watch things on YouTube or television. If you need to know how to do something, you want a little bit of an escape, you want to see what’s possible. Finally, one day we said, screw it. Let’s just go back to doing what we do best, standing here in my backyard cooking. So we did that. We were very happy about the change. YouTube was affected only in a very positive way. The numbers went up. We hit we hit two and a half million subscribers middle of last year. We’re tracking to be somewhere at three million in the middle of this year. So that’s all good. People want to cook. They’re at home. That’s been good. Same thing, though, for restaurants. We experienced what Shawn did. We had to lay people off. And that was it is absolutely heartbreaking. It’s nothing anybody wants to do. But it is the reality of it, because if we don’t save ourselves a little bit as we go, then we lose everything. And then those people have no jobs to come back to. And I think we all understand that. But we have to make some pivots. And our big pivot was really working on our third party delivery service game because it had to be because people just weren’t coming at certainly some word of many were still comfortable going out in public, some of them way too comfortable going out in public. We won’t talk about those idiots right now. We will talk about the fact that we amped up and became very aggressive in our third party delivery service stuff. And we changed our menu to make it more third party order online friendly because it wasn’t necessarily that. And then everything has to change and and we’ve got a great staff and great people running this stuff. You know, I benefit because people look at me and go, oh, you’re so smart. Look at all the things you did when it’s people behind the scenes. But but it is people behind the scenes at the heart of it. And you want to do everything you can to protect the little world that they live in. So when this bullshit is over, they can come back to a place rather than come back to locked doors.
Shawn Walchef: I think one of the important things that Sam did, we talked about it when we had him on the podcast for the Eats by Sam. One of his concepts that he opened up in the pandemic was establishing the brand identity online through Toast. So what we had talked about was the recipes and his recipe book and how important it was to him with his publisher that it was Sam’s voice. So it was the same voice that you heard on the YouTube channel, but the what the team did at Eats by Sam, I mean, let them know of literally each menu item. Sounds like you’re ordering from Sam. So on the back end, it sounds like Sam’s joke. So each time. So while you’re going through that digital experience, you don’t feel like you’re at some stuffy place. You feel like you’re hanging out cooking with Sam.
Sam Zien: That’s the thing. You know what? It’s really what branding is people that want me to do things would never suggest I try to make food that I’m not capable of or be a different way. We don’t want you to swear. We want to be in a little box. No.
Chris Comparato: Sam, you haven’t sweared yet.
Chris Comparato: But that’s OK. We got plenty of time.
Sam Zien: So sorry. God damn it, I don’t know why, but I’m fucking holding back. But the point is, I know what you do. I don’t try to make a fancy foie gras truffle dishes because that’s not my world. I can do that. But it’s not my regular everyday world and it’s certainly not the world that our my audience wants to play in. There’s other people they can go for that Shawn knows what he does. I know what I do. And that’s the key. Do something and do it well.
Sam Zien: That’s the way you should go about this stuff.
Chris Comparato: Awesome.
Shrimp Toast “Dim Sum” Recipe:
Sam Zien: So we have another toast, actually, if that’s the right time for it.
Chris Comparato: We got another toast coming?
Sam Zien: Yeah. OK, so this one I’m a very big dim sum fan and if you don’t know dim sum, think of it essentially is as Chinese brunch because that’s really what it is.
Sam Zien: So this one is called the shrimp toast. So it’s a little slice of baguette. And I’ve processed shrimp and scallop, little sesame oil, some ginger, salt and pepper and some green onion. And you spread it. You spread this gross kind of paste thing on top of a piece of baguette, scatter a few black sesame seeds on it, and then you deep fry it for about a minute and a half.
Sam Zien: And now they come out looking like these guys. And they’re just beautiful. If you went to dim sum, this is absolutely something that would show up on one of the cards for you to choose, but it’s just one of these great, really fun things. Shawn and I split one…
Shawn Walchef: Phenomenal.
Sam Zien: …before we got going and we both really like it.
Chris Comparato: That’s what you guys are munching on before we got started.
Sam Zien: Exactly. Exactly.
Restaurant Technology in 2021:
Chris Comparato: All right, Toasters we’re going to be eating a lot of toast with all these ideas, Sam, I hope we can find these in one of your cookbooks. If not, we’ll hit the YouTube channel. I know I hit the YouTube channel and checked out your breakfast burrito. You had a nice little surprise in there with the McDonald’s hash browns, everyone’s favorite episodes. So so talking about you guys mentioned third party delivery and how critical that was in 2020. Anything else on the technology front?
Chris Comparato: I know you’re both big users of Toast, but is there anything else on the technology front where, you know, technology could play an even bigger role to support hospitality?
Chris Comparato: As you look out into the future, are there any other things that technology partners like Toast could be doing to make your lives easier and to provide an even better experience?
Chris Comparato: As you think about how we’re all evolving.
Sam Zien: If you could figure out how to make the third party delivery service fees less. If you could figure that one out, that would be amazing.
Chris Comparato: Now listen Toast Delivery Services.
Chris Comparato: When we launched TDS, it was to really give restaurants an option and a hedge against those fees. And we’re seeing more and more restaurants turn to TDS to sort of move away from the big guys. But that’s one move. But yeah, absolutely. We put pressure on them, but they’re also partners. So it’s an important play for us.
Sam Zien: Right. I get it. I get it. I don’t know, I mean…
What Sets Toast Tab Apart:
Shawn Walchef: I think one of the most important things that you do that separates you from so many other tech companies is having boots on the ground. I mean, having people like Will and Ali, who are our reps here understanding? You know, I talked to a lot of different companies to their sales teams and their marketing teams. But one of the things as a restaurant owner, we have so many things that are on our plate that we’re trying to figure out and we’re not always ready for a solution, but we have pain points. So when you start to listen to what our pain points and while it might not be in Toast’s realm, listening to those pain points and then giving that feedback internally to Toast, that’s where a lot of the new product development obviously has come, because you guys do a phenomenal job of relaying that information, knowing that it’s not just me that’s complaining about it. If we can fix this or we can make this improvement, then maybe we can impact all of these other restaurants and roll this out in a way that gives great Digital Hospitality.
Chris Comparato: Well Shawn, we’re going to pick your brain on the friendly ghost, that’s an area that we’re investigating and we’d love to pick your brain on that. So let’s switch gears a little bit. I mean, both of you guys have really done a deep dive into media with your your properties and your presence on media. So maybe Shawn we’ll start a little bit with you.
Chris Comparato: I’d love to hear a little bit more about how did Cali BBQ Media come about and how what inspired you to merge your restaurant business with a media platform? Certainly it’s inspiring stakeholders across the board. And Sam, you’re doing that as well. But tell us a little bit about Cali BBQ Media.
Shawn Walchef: Yeah, I mean, I think it came out of necessity. You know, we opened in 2008, so really the iPhone came out in 2007, the first iPhone. And I and I say that and I talk about it a lot because.
Sam Zien: Oh, yeah, you do.
Shawn Walchef: I talk about it all the time. I tell him all the time. But it’s so important because it’s it’s so short of a time. I mean, we’re only 14 years later and the amount of tools that a restaurant owner, a small business owner influencer has to use these different platforms to create media content without a middleman. You know, now you don’t have to go to the local news. You don’t have to go on radio. You don’t have to be in the newspaper. Literally, you can use your iPhone and you can go live on any of these social platforms and get your message out. And what we learned was basically by getting ignored, you know, we were in a part of San Diego that wasn’t sexy, that maybe we weren’t serving the best barbecue. I thought we were doing a phenomenal job of barbecue, but we were getting ignored. So we started figuring out, well, how can we get people to start caring? And the way that we got people to start caring lives by participating more, by getting outside of the four walls of our restaurant, by using social media to share what we were doing. By I mean, we’ve always gotten we’re always big into community involvement. But as we started doing it, as we started sharing the story, what we say is digital marketing. You have to learn how to do digital marketing, to talk about your brand, to talk about yourself when you get into digital media. Now it’s digital storytelling. Now it’s not about us. It’s about who did we have on as a podcast guest? What were they doing? What was fascinating about that? What’s fascinating about what our partners are doing, not just for us, but for everybody else, you know, what can we do to help this charity? You know, it’s one thing to donate to a charity, but if you share what you’re doing, you might inspire other people to donate, which makes that impact even larger.
Shawn Walchef: And that’s kind of Cali BBQ Media in an essence.
Spreading Kindness With Content:
Chris Comparato: What I love is that it’s values oriented and mission oriented. And it’s not just doing good for business, but doing good for society and doing good for everybody, really.
Sam Zien: I’ll just say this. It’s as simple as understanding the importance of video versus just words or sounds. I used to shoot videos for Bed, Bath and Beyond. And for four years we did one video every week for them and it was always product related. A deep fryer, a mixer, a stand, whatever, vitamins, that kind of thing.
Sam Zien: And near the end, we were always saying, why are you not taking our videos and putting them on the page where you could order this item? And I don’t know why they’re big company. They honestly, they just couldn’t get out of their own way. When they started to do that the difference on buy rate between someone looking at the page and looking at the page with one of our videos on it was tremendously different. It was very successful. And that’s I mean, people want to see that. You feel that I can say some, write some words. But when I share how I feel about my food or charity organization that I work with or talk about a friend, it comes out differently. You can’t read emotion in words. You don’t get a sense of it. And what are we trying to do? We’re trying to make customers really part of our family. So they come back again and again. And how do you do that is the best way to do it.
Sam Zien: This kid’s been talking about how important the cell phone is, how powerful it is to the point where I’m honestly fucking sick of it. But the point remains, he’s absolutely 100 percent right. I like to give him crap about it, but it’s true. And people don’t get it. They haven’t gotten there yet. For some reason.
Sam Zien: I’m not exactly sure why, but…
Finding Success On YouTube:
Chris Comparato: So, Sam switching to you a little bit. You’ve got almost three million subscribers to your YouTube channel.
Chris Comparato: You know, what do you think are some of the key success factors that have made, you know, Sam the Cooking Guy, a success. Share a little bit of wisdom with us?
Sam Zien: Yeah, I’ll say this. I think giving them what they want is very important. We had thirty thousand subscribers in May of 2018, so three years ago. In August of 2019, we had a million in August of 2020 we had two million.
Sam Zien: So we’re adding this big number every year. But the difference between the thirty thousand and the million is because we started taking a look at the data, who was our audience? What might they want? Up to that point we were pretty frivolous with how we approached YouTube, which I’m embarrassed to say because we’ve been on YouTube quite a while. But I would wake up and I go, I feel like making a Caesar salad.
Sam Zien: I’d make a Caesar salad, we’d shoot it and it would be an OK video, but not that many people gave a shit about it. So now we start looking. Things are popular. What is this? In my data set, two and a half million people, 80 percent of eighty five percent are guys. And of that, eighty five percent, 80 percent of those are between 18 and 40. So, these are young men often cooking by themselves. Do they want a Caesar salad with gently shredded parmesan swirls over the top of it? Probably not. You got to understand your audience and who they are and give them what they want.
Sam Zien: People open a restaurant and they they make lasagna or whatever, and it doesn’t sell in the first week and they stop, they change it and three weeks later they change it to something else. And two months later, they close. They haven’t given it a chance and they maybe really haven’t thought about giving their audience what their audience wants. Just because a certain type of restaurant works in this part of town doesn’t mean you can take that exact mix and put it in that part of town. And it will play.
Sam Zien: Doesn’t work like that. So you have to think about who they are. Wait, I have one more toast. And then and then I will finish with this. So this one is the last one, the most complicated. So this is and I’ve used the ciabatta for this. So I sauteed some spinach underneath just a little bit of avocado oil, salt and pepper. I put some prosciutto on the flat top and got a little bit crispy. But the fun part is this is a poached egg and the egg has been poached, cooled down and then essentially breaded. So it’s crispy panko on the outside in the deep fryer for about a minute and 15 seconds.
Chris Comparato: Wow. Wow.
Sam Zien: And by the way, nothing to do with the toaster. No offense, I hope I didn’t disappoint anybody by not using the toaster.
Shawn Walchef: They have a lot of Toast partnerships with toaster companies.
Chris Comparato: That looks tremendous. Sam, have you have you done toast on your cooking show or is this is this like a first time video for toast?
Sam Zien: No, I haven’t, actually. We’re going to shoot this for our TikTok channel right after.
Chris Comparato: Perfect TikTok.
Chris Comparato: My daughters wanted to know if you were on TikTok.
Sam Zien: We are on TikTok. Absolutely.
Chris Comparato: Fantastic.
Sam Zien: And I haven’t been on long, but we’re there. And then it makes we put some video up to…
Shawn Walchef: Two and a half million already on a perfect poached egg.
Sam Zien: After three or four days on…
Chris Comparato: You’re TikTok famous.
Sam Zien: Well, not yet, no.
How To Do Good For Your Community:
Chris Comparato: All right. So let’s switch gears a little bit. You know, we’ve talked a lot about sort of 2020. We’ve talked about teamwork. We’ve talked about the business. We’ve talked about media. Let’s switch gears and talk a little bit about how to do good for our communities.
Chris Comparato: And Shawn, you were talking about this a little bit earlier, so I thought we’d spend a couple of minutes talking about what you guys are doing to sort of give back, because I think that’s something that’s part of your missions and part of Toast’s mission, which is to give back more. So Shawn maybe tell us a little bit about the Spreading Kindness Campaign that you guys have launched and anything else that you’re doing. And then, Sam, I know that you’ve got a few organizations that you’re involved in. By the way, we’re going to participate and help out those organizations.
Sam Zien: Aw. We know that thank you. Very generous. Thank you.
Shawn Walchef: Thank you very much.
Spreading Kindness Campaign:
Chris Comparato: But Shawn, maybe we’ll start with you a little bit. Tell us a little bit about Spreading Kindness.
Shawn Walchef: Sure. So I have a business mentor by the name of David Meltzer, and he at the end of the year, he challenged all of his mentees to go out and spread kindness and to do a video. And you know something for us, our mission always as a restaurant is how can we give back. I mean, the amount of people and organizations that we’ve helped on micro levels by by no means. You know, we’re one we’re one restaurant. Obviously, we’d love to give as much as we can, but every time a charity came by, whether it was for breast cancer, Alzheimer’s, the local fire department, the local church, we always did whatever we could to to to do our part, whether it was a gift card, whether it was a donation. But the most powerful thing is always showing up. So it’s one thing to give a gift card. It’s another thing when someone says, can you come to my event and bring food and participate? Because once you go and you participate, then you start to understand what is the mission? What are they trying to accomplish? What’s the village? What’s the impact that you can make? And, you know, as we started participating in events and organizing events for ourselves, we really wanted to figure out how can we continue to do this and how do we make this a way of life, this Spreading Kindness Challenge. It was an easy opportunity for us, you know, at Christmas time to go and do something nice for somebody that was unappreciated. And I talked to my wife. My wife said that she had just talked to our postman and he was telling us that he was on a 14 hour shift. You know, he didn’t get time to have a lunch break, but he was trying to get all this packaging. You know, a lot of people are staying at home. They’re buying things online on this also around election time. So she said, why don’t we do something nice for the post office, go bring barbecue and feed the local post office. And I did what my mentor teaches me is to ask for help. So it wasn’t just us, it was asked another restaurant owner. Victor Lopez of El Pollo Grill said, would you be willing to partner up and let’s go take care of 70 postal workers? We brought food. We shared it online. We made the video and back to spreading kindness through media. When you do that, it inspires our customers, Victor’s customers, the community to go, well, I can’t do anything right now, but I can donate and I want to donate and figure out how can you go help more people. And what we did is we turned that into going to feeding first responders and feeding ICU units. So we made an initiative between two local restaurants to feed as many ICU units in San Diego as we can. And now with the thanks to Toast, we’re going to continue to do that. Just yesterday, we made a drop and we got a comment back on Facebook that a couple of the nurses cried because they felt so appreciated that someone would go out of their way. And why, you know, what they’re doing to protect our community is we should be crying too.
Chris Comparato: Yeah, awesome.
Sam Zien: So Shawn had his mentor suggest this. I grew up with a father that believed in giving back and. You know, you run into people that say, you know, I don’t have the cooking gene or I can’t do this or golf or whatever, but you can learn those things. You can learn to be someone that gives back to your community. We all have to live here. And from the beginning, when I knew that I had some kind of voice because I had some presence in the media that made sense to me to do it. And the more I did it, you always feel better that, you know, I do this for I do a charity event. I give to some organization and they benefit. They feel good. Honestly, I feel better inside because of it.
Sam Zien: But the crazy thing is, is that the more you do it, the more it happens. But you don’t have to you don’t have to have a platform. You don’t have to have a restaurant or a media face to be able to do this stuff. I do it because it’s the right thing to do, because it’s what I was taught. It’s because of how great I feel.
Sam Zien: But I also hope that when people see me do stuff, they’ll go, well, if this guy can do it, honey, maybe we should be doing something.
Sam Zien: And something can be as little as checking on an elderly neighbor that lives on your street. We have to care about each other. We really, really do. You just can’t drive past and ignore everything that’s in the world. You know, I feel like there was a time when I was maybe a little bit like that and my thinking changed. I don’t know what caused it, but you never know what kind of day somebody is having, what’s going on in their lives, doing the right thing, making a difference is all that matters, because the reality is when this world ends for all of us, and it certainly will, we’re never all going to we’re never going to be here forever. What are you going to not going to remember the money in the bank, the fancy cars, the vacation homes, the cruises and stuff that you took, you’re going to remember what’s in your heart. And I think about that all the time. And I tell my kids I try not to be corny with it, but that’s the stuff that you will remember. But more importantly, having kindness done for somebody. That’s what they remember. A nurse crying because he brought his barbecue to their place is an amazing thing.
Sam Zien: It really is. Who knew you could make somebody cry with barbecue? Right? And it’s happening.
Sam Zien: So we have to do this. It’s a mindset. And if you don’t have that mindset, figure out a way to get it in there. Start small.
Chris Comparato: Yeah. I love the fact that you guys are spreading kindness. And the bigger thing is you’re leading by example.
Sam Zien: Right.
Chris Comparato: People see that. People witness it. And I think that’s tremendous.
Chris Comparato: You know, as we start to wrap up any any last comments that you’d like to make for the Toasters, you know, we’ve got an army of fifteen hundred and sixteen hundred Toasters listening to this broadcast. But any parting comments?
Sam Zien: Yes. Make toast differently. Don’t make the same thing all the time. We’ve given you five examples here. Bust out of your shell. Yes, toast is delicious by itself, but think about changing it up.
Chris Comparato: We’re going have to run a poll, Sam. We’re going have to run a poll. Is is it the Captain Crunch toast versus the mushroom toast?
Sam Zien: Well, you’ve got five. We’ll take a picture from the top and then maybe you can see what people like the idea the most.
Chris Comparato: We’re going to poll. And we’ll give you the feedback on the most popular toast.
Sam Zien: Excellent, but as I’m looking at all this, I think this is potentially a YouTube episode, not just a TikTok.
Chris Comparato: I think I think I’m going to go after the dim sum. The dim sum looked good.
Sam Zien: I would.
Shawn Walchef: Yeah.
Chris Comparato: And Shawn any parting words for for our audience from you?
Shawn Walchef: It’s it’s basically what we say on every podcast. That’s what my grandfather taught me to stay curious, get involved and ask for help. You know, you’re curious because you’re part of a great company. I mean, it’s so many people go to work and they hate their job. I mean, if you’re part of Toast, I mean, the people that I’ve worked with, everybody has just been so incredible, mission driven, purpose driven to help people like me, like Sam, that are trying to not just have restaurants, but build restaurants and hospitality into the future. You know, you’re curious, but then you have to get involved. You have your things that you have to do as your job, but do the things that are uncomfortable if you’re not on social media, be on social media and follow the restaurants that are your accounts. Learn what they’re doing, listen to what they’re doing, find out what charities they’re supporting and then finally ask for help. I mean, there’s never been an easier time to reach out to people all over the globe.
Shawn Walchef: I mean, Sam the Cooking Guy accessible, hit him up on on Twitter, on Instagram, no matter where.
Sam Zien: TikTok.
Shawn Walchef: TikTok.
Sam Zien: He’s a better man than I am. We end all of our podcasts, usually by saying don’t don’t eat shitty food.
Sam Zien: So not quite as meaningful, but the sentiment is there.
Shawn Walchef: Well, that works too.
Chris Comparato: Well. Guys, listen…
Shawn Walchef: Say on brand. How about that? We both say on brand.
Sam Zien: That’s it.
Chris Comparato: Guys, as soon as we all get shots in our arms, I look forward to visiting you look forward to it Shawn, I look forward to a morning walk.
Shawn Walchef: Yes, sunrise gratitude. Let’s do it.
Chris Comparato: Love it.
Shawn Walchef: We need to have you out for coffee and breakfast.
Chris Comparato: Absolutely, and we’ll make more toast, will break some toast together.
Sam Zien: You got it.
Shawn Walchef: It’s a deal.
Sam Zien: Thanks Chris.
Shawn Walchef: Thanks Chris. See ya Toasters.
Chris Comparato: Awesome guys. Thank you so much. Thank you.
(The preceding interview was created from a transcript automated by Trint and reviewed by contributing copywriter Tony Brown)
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