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Founders and Owners / Delta Produce
Delta Produce began in the room next to cofounder Dionisopoulos’ bedroom. He and Marafatsos operated their produce company from his house for eight months before moving into a warehouse in Washington, D.C.
“We were looking for a profit that people rely on, something that fuels our economy,” Dionisopoulos says. “People eat every day, three times a day. So we wanted to get into the business of distribution.”
Delta Produce’s market advantage is that it is sustainable and fresh, and comes with free marketing. The partners create a strong social media presence for all their clients, advertising their deals and restaurant openings on Twitter and Facebook.
Local businesses in the Washington, D.C., area have caught on to Delta Produce’s mission. Clients include Burger King, the White House, the Department of State, and the Department of Justice.
Founders / Nom Nom Food Truck
Age: 25 & 27
Chen and Green are ahead of the curve in the food truck contest. At 25 and 27 years old, these recent UCLA graduates have already competed on the Food Network’s The Next Great Food Truck Race (they came in second) and have customers lining up for blocks to try their Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwiches.
The women started Nom Nom truck when they realized Los Angeles was lacking in Vietnamese cuisine. “We wanted to bring authentic Banh Mi sandwiches to a larger demographic,” Green says.
To save money, they originally rented their truck to save on overhead costs. Additionally, none of their revenue goes into costly marketing measures.
“All of our marketing is very organic. It either comes from social media or word of mouth,” Chen says. These social media efforts have served them well. Their Twitter handle, @NomNomTruck, has accrued more than 24,000 followers since 2009.
The company has even brought out their maternal instincts. “We consider our trucks our babies,” Chen says. “Right now we have three babies and we’re watching them grow.”
Owner / Iorio’s Gelateria
A Michigan native, Lemmer grew up visiting her grandparents on the East Coast. They emigrated from Italy and brought with them a delicious recipe for Italian water ice.
Lemmer says she would go home and ask for water ice in Michigan, only to be told by her parents that it was not available there. “They’d say, ‘Well, if you want it here, you’re going to have to bring it here,’” she says.
That was the genesis of Iorio’s [ee-or-ee-ohs]. Lemmer skipped her junior prom to travel northeast and research Italian water ice and frozen carts. She came back and started a catering service at 15, serving water ice at private parties, music festivals, and art fairs.
Demand grew to the point that Lemmer decided to open a store in Lansing, Michigan. There was just one problem: “Italian water ice is a very summery, hot weather kind of treat,” she says.
To make the business sustainable all year long, Lemmer added gelato to the concept, and Iorio’s Gelateria was born. A second store opened in Ann Arbor last year, attracting the adventurous culinary college crowd at the University of Michigan.
As a young leader, Lemmer hopes to empower people. “My goal is to help everyone do their jobs better, so that I’m not the necessary ingredient to make it work,” she says.
Digital Marketing Specialist / Tavistock Restaurants
Chen calls social media instinctive for Generation Y.
“You already know what it means to go update your status, to retweet someone, or to tag a photo, but the real challenge is knowing how to tie that to your business objective,” she says.
It’s a challenge Chen is up for. Her job at Tavistock Restaurants, whose portfolio includes Freebirds World Burrito, is to brainstorm social media strategy and handle customer relationships.
One example is Freebirds’ Fanatics loyalty program. “Our restaurants, they’re really loud, there’s rock ‘n’ roll music blaring, it can be really intimidating to some people,” Chen says. “So we want to get people in there three times so they really understand the brand and grow to love it from there.”
She created a system that rewards loyalty card registrants with food, enticing them with free drinks, chips, and burritos so they would visit. Her plan worked. Fanatics registrants increased five-fold during the first days of the revamped program.
Chen says social media is especially important and useful for new and growing chains. “If you start that early on, you set that standard for the guest to communicate with you in this way, and they’ll see that you’re an open brand that cares about them and their opinion,” she says.