New Business Lessons
It’s been just about three years since sisters Noel Pietsch and Stephanie Pietsch Gambetta opened their Wahoo’s Fish Taco franchise on Ward Avenue, but a lot has changed in that short time.
With the weight of the economy on their shoulders, the sisters share how they learned to tighten their belts, stretch their dollars and even don their aprons again in an effort to not only stay afloat, but to grow their business in tough economic times.
HB: How has your business changed since opening in 2006?
Noel: One of our toughest problems in the first year and a half was keeping the restaurant staffed with quality employees. So unemployment has been one of the few perks for us in this economic downturn. When we opened, we had a 300 percent turnover. Our entire staff, with the exception of one or two people, has switched out about three times. Now, we are rarely hiring because we have a solid team of people who really want to be here and work hard at what they do.
HB: What have you done to recession-proof your business?
Stephanie: We really learned to work on our efficiency. We’re setting goals and controlling what we can, be it labor or food costs. We turn the lights off when we don’t need them. And the past couple of weeks we’ve been working shifts in the restaurant, just to keep our hands in the business. Then when we expanded, instead of adding another restaurant, we launched a catering department and a lunch wagon out at Sandy Beach. They’re less traditional, but have lower overhead.
HB: We understand you had some creative marketing strategies as well.
Noel: Our marketing budget has been limited from the beginning, so we’ve always focused on grassroots marketing. For example, we bring samples into offices downtown, so businesses get an understanding of our catering division. We also partner with BAMP, a local concert promoter. We feed them for free in exchange for cross promotion at their shows. We also have Wahoo team riders – paddleboarders, surfers and skaters – and we sponsor a lot of surfing and bodyboarding events. We support the youth a lot because if we get them eating at Wahoo’s, they’ll do it the rest of their lives.