Episode 5: Lavelle’s Bistro
Episode 5: Lavelle’s Bistro
Editors Note: Running a small business can be rewarding and maddening in equal measures, just ask Geoff Welch, President and Co-Owner of Date-Line Digital Printing. If you actually want to ask him that, you’ll have to catch him between acts of spreading thanks, destroying outdated machinery, and helping people do their very best work through his site, This Tiny Empire.
So moved were we by Geoff’s desire to strengthen the small businesses community in Fairbanks, we invited him to be a part of this website. With this series, you’ll get a glimpse into the worlds of ten local businesses as seen through the eyes of one of their peers. Without further ado, your Small Business Insider.
Beyond my affinity for the food and atmosphere, I also love the way Kathy Lavelle uses teaching and community to develop “sticky” relationships with her customers. The classes she holds are equal parts brilliant marketing and labor of love, and pair nicely with the growing local community of wine enthusiasts called “Grapenuts.” Members of this group are given a special bottle and offered discounts and exclusive learning opportunities in exchange for the $100 annual membership fee.
Our wine guild members feel that they are a part of something and they are!
When I approached Kathy about this article and my interest in her emphasis on teaching and community, she was immediately open to sharing. I get the distinct impression much of her work exists at the intoxicating intersection between a profitable venture and a lifelong love affair.
Here is what she had to say:
What makes Fairbanks such a great place to do business?
Fairbanks has been a great place to have a business and our client base is extremely loyal. The economy can be a challenge, but the past 15 years has been pretty stable. Folks feel like they are in Seattle when they visit Lavelle’s Bistro and I think it’s important for people to escape even if it is only for a few hours.
How do you spend the first hour of your work day?
I usually ask my employees to allow me to take my coat off before they inform me of what is going wrong, because that makes for a challenging start to the day. I try to prioritize, diffuse the immediate problems, and move on to the business of the day.
How do you make time to innovate and push your business forward?
Moving the business forward and not burning out is a challenge; my husband and I love to travel and that gives us an opportunity to re-invent ourselves. I also love to take classes and learn more about our industry. I attend classes at the Culinary Institute of America as often as I can, which helps me stay ahead of industry trends. The Food Channel and the celebrity chef scene have provided incredible learning opportunities for me.
What is the most useful piece of technology you have?
We use a food management system called Foodtrak and a point of sale system called Squirrel, which help us manage our business day to day. Even so, my husband and I liked it better when he was the chef and I was the waitress and we wrote out paper tickets.
If you could travel back to the time when you started your business, what would you tell yourself to do differently?
I would probably take more classes on human resource development because cooking food and serving wine is easy compared to managing a large staff. That being said, we have a very dedicated and loyal staff that has been with us a long time.
Why does teaching your customers about wine matter to you and your business?
You have to be a good student to be a great teacher. Knowledge is power and I think everyone wants to feel power. I love sharing knowledge and I tell my wine students that learning about wine is not like learning a foreign language. You don’t have to take wine 101 to be able to take wine 102, you just need to jump in and start learning the language of wine to understand what your likes and dislikes are.
I love your Grapenuts program! Explain how your educational approach ties into this loyalty program.
Our wine guild members feel that they are a part of something and they are! We wanted to create an excitement about the field of wine because it is important to explore and taste new wines.
What is your favorite part of the work you do?
Meeting new people. I am fortunate to be located in a hotel and I am constantly meeting new people. I also love to connect with our local clientele and follow their lives and their families.
Photos by: Ronn Murray Photography
575 1st Ave., Fairbanks, AK 99701