Lessons From A Delicatessen

So, I used to work at a deli.

It was an amazing deli. Like, one of the best, old-style, Jewish deli’s in the country.

It’s still there in fact.

They recently celebrated their 25th anniversary 🙂

I started working there in college. Partly because I needed the money (I was in college at the time) and partly as a homage to my grandfather. My grandpa Morris was a Russian immigrant who introduced me to Jewish food as a kid.

Anyways… I loved the place. They made their own bread. Their own corned beef and brisket.

They flew in salami and smoked fish from Brooklyn. They flew in cheese from Europe.

I started as a bus-boy, basically…

But within a couple months had worked my way up to the retail department. This is where they sold expensive high-end meats, cheeses, and olive oils.

I was promoted quickly because I obviously loved the place. I went out of my way to smile, greet customers, and be friendly.

Hey, it’s just my style 🙂

Working in the retail department was not an easy gig though. Most people came to the deli for lunch. They had a crazy lunch rush – From like 10:00am to 2:00pm.

But folks bought sandwiches. Salads. Soups.

They didn’t so much buy meat or cheese by the pound…

Or $40 bottles of olive oil 🙂

How do you change someone’s intention and get them to buy something they don’t know they need?

For Katzinger’s, the answer when I started working there was a two-pronged process:

1. They offered an aggressive range of taste samples.

You know how in the grocery store, on the weekends (their busiest time) they tend to have food samples at the ends of several isles?

Well… Katzingers offered samples up and down the retail counter – From bread, to cheeses, to olive oils. Every day was something different.

2. All the retail employees (IE. – Me and my co-workers) became walking encyclopedias of food information. We had tests. We had to know the difference between double and triple cream cheeses. The process for different olive oils and infusions.

And it worked. Pretty well, anyway.

Offering samples of expensive food can get, well… Expensive!

So of course I wanted to find another way. Not just sampling… Not just by displaying our knowledge.

I went away that summer of 1998 to Seattle, to get married.

I’m still married today – 14 years, 5 cities, 2 kids and a hurricane later – but that’s another story for another day 🙂

Anyways, while I was in Seattle, we went to the Pike Street Market. I was mesmerized. So many colors, so much noise, so much great food… The fish vendors yelled, threw fish to each other across the room…

It was electric.

I knew what I needed to do at Katzinger’s.

When I got back after my wedding, they were still sampling foods… But I started making a spectacle of it.

Someone would walk in the door… And I would yell across the room, “Hey! Come here! You want to try the BEST CHEESE you ever had in your LIFE!?”

Of course they did. How can you turn that down?

I also started throwing food.

Before, if the sandwich line needed something from retail, they would shout out what they needed. We would cut it, then wrap it…

Then walk down and hand it to the line worker so they could finish the sandwich.

Not any longer.

Now, when someone would yell out “Retail! I need .5 Havarti!” one of us would scream back “.5 Havarti… Working!”

We would cut it, then yell “Havarti, coming at you!” and throw it across the deli to the line.

People loved it.

And the retail business went NUTS.

So what’s the point of this story?

When it comes to marketing, be remarkable. Memorable. Passionate.

You will have more fun, and your customers will too.

And those of you out there in blog-land, who happen to live in New York (or Columbus, Ohio)…

Send me some deli food, please!