I left Buffalo, New York some 30 years ago and once I moved to Atlanta then Los Angeles after that and worked in radio as a DJ for many years there was no turning back. The new environments opened my eyes to all that I had missed growing up on the East side of Buffalo. Nevertheless, there is one thing that is foremost in my mind on the few occasions when I return, think or talk about Buffalo… the food. Without question, my career in the music industry has afforded me the opportunity to go to some of the best restaurants in the country but none of them compare to Buffalo’s still famous food spots.
Tale of Two Legendary Restaurants, One that still is and what that WAS.
Scottie’s Steak House popped on the scene in the early 60s in Buffalo (see video). Owner James Scott explains everything that we know it takes as black entrepreneurs to run a successful business and get it off the ground. As a radio and music industry black entrepreneur, I can agree even today with MOST of Scott’s points in the video but not all of them. He makes two statements that probably explain why his restaurant is no longer around today. He states that “Owning your own business is not fun” Says who? The old adage is true, ‘Do what you LOVE and the money will COME” an black entrepreneur going into a business he or she is not passionate about is almost sure to fail. Running your own business that you are passionate about is like falling in love. Time slips away and you can spend endless hours doing what you do and not even notice you have been doing it for 10 hours straight. That is the bliss of doing what you love.
Scott mentions on the video that he has worked 18 hour days. I know music producers who LIVE in the studio and can do it for several days straight with little or no sleep. I never hear them complain about how many hours they have been in the studio, they are more focused on the result of it. The number one rule is you NEVER go into business to make money (unless you have a great business partner who handles that part and you are the creative ebb and flow). Most of the people who I know and am close to today are black entrepreneurs and they are all successful in their own right because they LOVE what they do FIRST and FOREMOST. Our creativity is at its peak when we love what we do and THAT’s what sells our businesses first.
In the years to come, Scottie’s Steak House experienced great success and it’s amazing how the video coverage talks about the local government in Buffalo giving small business loans to blacks back then who were smart enough to capitalize on the culture and what they knew best but how much did they love it? This is not a dig on Scottie because I have no doubt he faced many other obstacles that got in the way of him running his business as a black man. Restaurants in the black community were something that white business owners often failed at because they were not connected to the culture of black food. Like most cultures, black folks KNOW when the right cook is in the kitchen and you better be connected to the culture the food is from if you want our business. (Thanks to Doug Ruffin who told me he stopped Canisius College from dumping many years of great Buffalo News footage and video in the trash after it was donated by local TV networks who were updating their studios. These videos are priceless.)
I’m not sure how Scottie got to his idea for the perfect steak sandwich, but he did. This was the MOST Crucial time for his business
Scottie’s Steak house had the most amazing steak sandwiches. By far the best I’ve ever had to date. A childhood friend, Cricket, asked me to walk there with her one day and I wanted to go to see what the big deal was about Scottie’s. Everybody in the neighborhood was talking about their steak sandwiches and how good they were. Sure enough as soon as we walked in the door it was crowded and the smell was unbelievable. Cricket ordered a regular steak sandwich/sub and she gave me a piece of it. It was love at first bite. I went back on my own a few days later than again the next week and many times thereafter, I was hooked. Then something happened. I noticed (read more, click here) that the more popular Scottie’s Steak House became the sandwiches were changing.
There was more vegetables than meat. I watched the girl make my sandwich one day and I noticed she was putting half the meat with the peppers and onions than I was used to. I thought this might just be a new employee and after a not so enjoyable experience with a “vegetable sandwich” I went back a month later and there was even LESS meat and the PRICE went up!!!! It appeared they were using what they once used for one steak sandwich to now make 3 sandwiches. Where the meat was once the main ingredient, it was now pretty much used for seasoning the sandwich like Lawry’s. I never went back and I noticed there was no crowd the last few times I was there and people stopped talking about Scottie’s like they used to.
On the other hand…Bocce’s Pizza
Bocce’s website states:
Bocce’s Pizza is one of the oldest and best-known pizzerias in Buffalo, NY. Since 1946, we’ve been proudly serving our customers some of the best-tasting food in Western New York. Our fresh pizza is still made with the same sauce recipe used back in the 1940’s.
Our delicious food has touched so many lives throughout the years that we are sought out by many who had to leave the Buffalo area. We get phone calls and have customers come in all the time requesting a half-baked pizza or wings to take home to share with their new friends and family across the country.
Stop by or call today for an Original Bocce’s Pizza and let us create a delicious memory for you!EXACT same ingredients and the same amount of ingredients that they have been using since they opened in 1946. They didn’t go from 50 pepperonis to 3 and the cheese and the bread and the sauce have never changed. No matter who works there, they are taught to make the pizza the same way and they do. Bocce’s Pizza is STILL around today and STILL successful in Buffalo and beyond because they KNEW what the customers loved about them and they never wavered in an effort to cut costs or make extra profit.
People would have paid their rent for that pizza as long as it tasted the same. I KNOW MANY people, including myself who order that Pizza be expressed or when they go to Buffalo to visit they bring it back with them. I even have one childhood friend who is a Vice President at a University who can only tolerate Buffalo for 1 day per visit, but she loves Bocce’s and she makes sure she gets two large Bocce’s pizza’s before she leaves and she brings a separate suitcase for her pizzas, takes them home and freezes them and enjoys them for the next month. We laugh about her process but she loves that pizza. If you want to know the whole story about how Bocce’s got started, go here.
The overall point here is to be the MOST successful in business you must:
- LOVE what you DO…FIRST.
- Understand AND be a part of the culture that you are serving
- Don’t sell your customers short or try to blindside their senses (in this case taste buds)
- It’s better to charge MORE than to give less (and have the nerve to charge more)
- Always be loyal to why you are successful and use that to GROW other products for your customers
- The demand remains high as long as your brand remains loyal and you remain trustworthy
My best in business