It’s one of the worst nightmares a business owner can dream of – an extensive fire, burning your entire establishment to the ground. While some call the thought unimaginable, Jill Shalhoob, owner and operator of Jill’s Place in Santa Barbara, called it reality. In May 2013, Jill’s Place experienced a fast-burning fire that severely damaged her popular restaurant, closing it for what would be an entire year.
“People ask me how it was to have an entire year off,” said Jill. “Well, to have your day-to-day life stop so abruptly is definitely not a vacation. Initially, it took a while for it to actually set in that my once bustling restaurant would be closed for a while – first I thought six months, then it turned into one year. I am not a patient person, I’m more spontaneous, so realizing this was simply out of my control wasn’t easy. I basically had to make arrangements to completely reopen my business – from insurance, to city regulations, to contractors and subcontractors – it was truly like starting over.”
While a catastrophe of this magnitude could bring some people down, Jill made the decision to turn this negative into a positive and bring back Jill’s Place stronger than ever. “I’m so thankful for all of my amazing customers. They’ve been such a source of overwhelming support throughout this process. They missed the restaurant, the service, the food. That gave me strength to keep moving forward,” stated Jill.
In fact, her customers were such a positive influence, they actually thanked her for reopening. “When our customers returned, they thanked me. To that I said, ‘no, thank YOU!’”
Let’s rewind for a moment to Jill’s beginnings, as it definitely shines a light on how she has found so much success as an entrepreneur.
Although Jill is the daughter of Jerry Shalhoob, owner of the highly successful Shalhoob Meat Company, she sought out to make her own name in the local foodservice industry. Jill began her professional career with Shalhoob Deli & Catering in 1987, serving deli-style lunches and soon developed an off-site catering company specializing in grilled meats. Side note: Jill loves to grill. She took her passion for grilling, and grew her catering services to serve 1,000’s of people at one time. “I learned so much through the catering side of my business that I never knew before. You learn a lot catering to such large groups – there are so many special techniques I picked up over the years in order to serve such large crowds. One thing’s for sure – when I grill, I grill, so I try and work the grill as often as I can!”
In 2002, with a wealth of knowledge under her belt, Jill decided it was time to expand her services to offer a full-fledged, in-house dinner menu. Insert Jill’s Place! “I remodeled the deli space to create a dining room, made a few additions to the kitchen to accommodate dinner options, and obtained a type 47 liquor license,” she said. “Along the way, I literally taught myself how to run a full-service restaurant. Things fell into place pretty quickly, which let me know I made the right decision.”
The following are practices for which Jill credits her steadfast, loyal clientele and, therefore, her successful return to the restaurant business following 2013’s fire:
1. Always remain forward thinking, and be consistent. Food makes people happy, therefore it makes me happy. I always try to look at the big picture and present my guests with the best foodservice possible. I always ask myself “what do my customers want,” and that’s consistent, great food. That sense of consistency spans to our front and back of the house, too. I ensure I’m consistent with my staff, the food quality and our customer service/appreciation. Consistency is truly the key to any great operation.
2. Keep your team motivated! Along with training my staff to know our menu, I teach them that what you put out is what you get in return. Keep a positive attitude. Get to know our regulars. Be consistent in great customer service. Even when a night starts on the slow side, I challenge my staff to remain positive and upbeat because that’s what will bring customers through the door – and it works!
3. Treat your customers like friends. At Jill’s Place, our customers truly are our friends – and they feel it. We provide our customers with good home-style food at reasonable prices, greet them at the door with smiles (some even with hugs), and say goodbye when they leave. It’s all about fantastic customer service!
4. Jump on the social media train! Before we reopened, I took full advantage of ramping up our social media efforts to market our “new” place. My tactic was to get word of mouth going that we were reopening and better than before. With so much success via outlets like Facebook and Twitter, I’ve kept our social media efforts going. You have to make it fun – post great pictures and insightful information. Our customers frequently tell me they saw our posts and love them.
5. Utilize your sales rep. Although I give our Jordano’s Sales Representative, Sean Bevan, a hard time (that’s just my personality), we truly work great together. He keep us up to date on new products and great ideas. He has been with us since we opened in 2002, so I truly rely on him to keep our business a success!
In closing, Jill has the following advice on overcoming a catastrophe. “First and foremost, be sure to check your insurance policy ahead of time and have good coverage. Take time to go over your annual premium, update personal property and pay for business interruption coverage. When a disaster strikes, remain positive and remember that your future is what you make of it. We came back stronger than ever, and you can too!”
For more information about Jill’s Place, visit www.jillsplacesb.com or find them on Facebook and Twitter.