Roughly 15,000 people are using the iEat Rewards program introduced by the Paragary Restaurant Group in February, so marketing director Callista Wengler is feeling pretty certain that she’ll meet the one-year goal of 20,000.
“When we look at the progress on the sign-ups, it’s been a steady increase since we started,” Wengler said. “Our average spend per visit is around $25, and they’re coming in about 1.4 times a week. We have some iEat rewards members that come in four or five times in a week, maybe not in one location but in several locations.”
For every $250 a customer spends, they get $20 on their reward card. Wengler said the reward increases if a customer’s annual spending exceeds set amounts.
As it turns out, a restaurant’s most loyal patrons will spend as much as 10 to 12 average customers will, according to data analyzed by Paytronix, the company that installed and services the Paragary restaurants’ reward system.
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Randy Paragary, a founding partner in the business, sees iEat as one more incentive for customers to choose his restaurants versus a competitor. He couldn’t have done it, he said, if Paytronix hadn’t brought the cost down to where smaller companies like his could afford to establish a loyalty program.
“We could only do it because we have eight restaurants and now nine,” Paragary said. “We’re opening another Café Bernardo out in Pavilions (shopping center) this week. We have nine restaurants that share that cost.”
The latest Café Bernardo, located at 515 Pavilions Lane in Sacramento, occupies the space where gourmet grocer and wine connoisseur David Berkley had his store for many years. That’s why the adjoining bar at this Café Bernardo is called Berkley Bar.
“He’s a Sacramento character and very respected, especially for those people I’m finding that live out here near this location,” Paragary said. “I called him and asked him if he would allow it, and not only did he allow it, but he was flattered and happy about it.”
It’s one more place to rack up iEat points or maybe even double points if the chain runs a special campaign, as it did two months ago.
“That really did bring in customers,” Wengler said. “We had an uptick in the sales, and we had an uptick in the people coming in and using their accounts.”
Of loans and logjams
The federal shutdown couldn’t have come at a worse time for small business bankers, many of whom do as much as half of their business for the year in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve probably submitted, since just the beginning of October, about 40-some-odd loans to the tune of about $60- or $70-some-odd million,” said Don Mercer, the SBA national sales manager at San Francisco-based Bank of the West. “Historically, this is the busiest time of the year.”
Multiply Mercer’s load by the hundreds of other small business lenders out there, and you get a sense of the logjam that workers in the U.S. Small Business Administration will have to clear upon their return and the potential impact on economic growth.
“When you really think about what this government shutdown has done to us, take 40 percent of your business and shove it into a 90-day period of time,” said Mercer. “Now you condense that further. ... God forbid they stay out for a whole month, or even worse, what if they stay out for six weeks? Oh my Lord, now you’re compressing 90 days into, what, 60 days or 45 days? I think the logjam could be huge the longer they hold out here.”
Mercer explained that his staffers are spending more time on counseling clients because of the delays, and they’re still processing loans – SBA loans and conventional ones.
Soda by any other name
A few days after Payam Fardanesh had basked in the joy of having his Silk Road sodas featured at the Sept. 29 farm-to-fork dinner on the Tower Bridge, federal agents arrested the man they suspect is behind the notorious Silk Road website, an online black market for drugs.
Now Fardanesh can’t help but wonder which event is spurring all those “likes” he’s been getting at his Facebook page.
“I’ve been in front of thousands of people this last month,” he said, “and ... every 10th or 20th person will say: ‘Did you hear about the Silk Road website? Was that you?’ And, I’ve received some email messages from friends or customers but ... it’s all been pretty much good fun.”
Fardanesh’s mint, cucumber-mint and pomegranate-mint sodas are gaining ground quickly in the Sacramento market. He’s humbled that chefs such as Randall Selland and Patrick Mulvaney call him “chef” and that mixologists all around town are creating drinks that feature his beverage.
“The bartenders end up being the cheerleaders for it because they see so many people, so for example, the Paragary family, their new restaurant Hock Farm, my drink is their second leading mixed drink,” Fardanesh said. “It’s Silk Road and Pimm’s Cup.”
He’s bootstrapped his business so far, but he expects to need investors soon because his sodas are selling so well that he will have to ramp up for nationwide distribution. Fardanesh founded Roseville-based Silk Road Soda Co. with college pal Srijun Srinuanchan, but he bought him out because Srinuanchan wanted to move to the East Coast.