Parasole: Political correctness not mandatory for indies’ marketing plan

Parasole: Political correctness not mandatory for indies’ marketing plan

EDINA Minn. —In the dog-eat-dog restaurant world, there seems to be little that serial “restrepreneur” Phil Roberts won’t say to help his nine-unit group’s marketing message stand out amidst chain advertising blitzes, Internet distractions and cable TVs 24-hour news cycle.

In fact, eating dogs has been a theme of the marketing initiatives at Chino Latino [3], one of his Parasole Restaurant Holdings’ [4] Minneapolis locations. The 10-year-old casual-dining concept offers street vendor-type eats and exotic alcoholic drinks inspired by countries and cultures within 1,000 miles of the equator, permitting it to act on both Latin and Asian inspirations. —In the dog-eat-dog restaurant world, there seems to be little that serial “restrepreneur” Phil Roberts won’t say to help his nine-unit group’s marketing message stand out amidst chain advertising blitzes, Internet distractions and cable TVs 24-hour news cycle.

“Wok the dog,” was the large-letter message on a Chino Latino billboard. The suggestion of cooking a canine, which is a part of some Asian culinary heritages but a discomforting thought for many, had a “Minneapolis community up in arms,” the 70-year-old Roberts says, but it garnered attention for Chino Latino—something harder for independents to achieve in a landscape filled with chain messages. —In the dog-eat-dog restaurant world, there seems to be little that serial “restrepreneur” Phil Roberts won’t say to help his nine-unit group’s marketing message stand out amidst chain advertising blitzes, Internet distractions and cable TVs 24-hour news cycle.

Chains can produce ads for TV, print or elsewhere “that they can spread [the cost of] over 10, 20, 30 or 50 operations [in a region],” Roberts said. “As an independent, you can’t do that. Each venue has got to take the [cost] hit for whatever you do marketingwise or mediawise.” —In the dog-eat-dog restaurant world, there seems to be little that serial “restrepreneur” Phil Roberts won’t say to help his nine-unit group’s marketing message stand out amidst chain advertising blitzes, Internet distractions and cable TVs 24-hour news cycle.

The bottom line when it comes to competing with chains, Roberts said, is that “we can’t outspend them,” so “we have to penetrate the [marketing] fray with ‘the message.’” —In the dog-eat-dog restaurant world, there seems to be little that serial “restrepreneur” Phil Roberts won’t say to help his nine-unit group’s marketing message stand out amidst chain advertising blitzes, Internet distractions and cable TVs 24-hour news cycle.

For Parasole those messages are often politically incorrect or include double entendres often of a sexual nature, Roberts said. —In the dog-eat-dog restaurant world, there seems to be little that serial “restrepreneur” Phil Roberts won’t say to help his nine-unit group’s marketing message stand out amidst chain advertising blitzes, Internet distractions and cable TVs 24-hour news cycle.

Roberts’ laser-like marketing focus on targeted customer groups and indifference to criticism by people outside that circle has been part and parcel of his approach to doing business for at least the decade he has worked with writer and marketing specialist Tim Alevizos of Minneapolis-based Intercom, he indicated. Today, that attitude can be seen in other larger organizations, such as the 1,212-unit Carl’s Jr. [5] chain, which has been willing to absorb criticism of sexploitation to reach core young male customers with humorous TV spots that, at times, combine oversized food with well-endowed, but under-clad women. —In the dog-eat-dog restaurant world, there seems to be little that serial “restrepreneur” Phil Roberts won’t say to help his nine-unit group’s marketing message stand out amidst chain advertising blitzes, Internet distractions and cable TVs 24-hour news cycle.

In the case of the dog-woking controversy, protestors marched on Roberts and the billboard. The controversy also drew the attention of local media, including major network affiliates. He said his group promised to remove the billboard when the campaign cycle ended, which it did, but only to replace it with one that simply said, ‘Mommy, Mr. Whiskers didn’t come home last night.’” —In the dog-eat-dog restaurant world, there seems to be little that serial “restrepreneur” Phil Roberts won’t say to help his nine-unit group’s marketing message stand out amidst chain advertising blitzes, Internet distractions and cable TVs 24-hour news cycle.

The predictable outcome from the latter move: protestors again “went nuts,” according to Roberts. —In the dog-eat-dog restaurant world, there seems to be little that serial “restrepreneur” Phil Roberts won’t say to help his nine-unit group’s marketing message stand out amidst chain advertising blitzes, Internet distractions and cable TVs 24-hour news cycle.

Kip Clayton, Parasole’s vice president of business development, said the company does just under $60 million in annual sales, with more than $14 million of that from its Manny’s Steakhouse alone. The company must “work the edges” of acceptable messaging to successfully compete with larger foes, he indicated. —In the dog-eat-dog restaurant world, there seems to be little that serial “restrepreneur” Phil Roberts won’t say to help his nine-unit group’s marketing message stand out amidst chain advertising blitzes, Internet distractions and cable TVs 24-hour news cycle.

The tactic is working, said Roberts, who launched Parasole in 1986 but incorporated some of his older restaurants, including the 31-year-old Muffuletta in St. Paul, into the company’s portfolio. —In the dog-eat-dog restaurant world, there seems to be little that serial “restrepreneur” Phil Roberts won’t say to help his nine-unit group’s marketing message stand out amidst chain advertising blitzes, Internet distractions and cable TVs 24-hour news cycle.

“Our guest counts are up probably 15 percent,” he said, adding that customers “may be spending less but they are coming in more often.” —In the dog-eat-dog restaurant world, there seems to be little that serial “restrepreneur” Phil Roberts won’t say to help his nine-unit group’s marketing message stand out amidst chain advertising blitzes, Internet distractions and cable TVs 24-hour news cycle.

Clayton explained that scenario spells “flat” sales in 2009, but “in a sense, flat is the new ‘up.’” —In the dog-eat-dog restaurant world, there seems to be little that serial “restrepreneur” Phil Roberts won’t say to help his nine-unit group’s marketing message stand out amidst chain advertising blitzes, Internet distractions and cable TVs 24-hour news cycle.

For his part, Robert knows a thing or two about chains, as two of his creations, Buca di Beppo and Oceanaire Seafood Room, became multiregion operations before he spun them off or otherwise divested of his interest in them. —In the dog-eat-dog restaurant world, there seems to be little that serial “restrepreneur” Phil Roberts won’t say to help his nine-unit group’s marketing message stand out amidst chain advertising blitzes, Internet distractions and cable TVs 24-hour news cycle.

At least one of Edina-based Parasole’s concepts has a name inspired by the company’s edgy marketing philosophy. Months-old Burger Jones, an “urban burger bar” in Minneapolis, has a name in which ‘Jones’ is not only a reference to the straight-arrow-looking illustrated mascot, but also a double entendre for the feeling by an addict that he or she must have something, often associated with drug lust. —In the dog-eat-dog restaurant world, there seems to be little that serial “restrepreneur” Phil Roberts won’t say to help his nine-unit group’s marketing message stand out amidst chain advertising blitzes, Internet distractions and cable TVs 24-hour news cycle.

“This is sort of a streety, snarky way of suggesting to the consumer, ‘You gotta have it. You gotta come back,’” Clayton said. —In the dog-eat-dog restaurant world, there seems to be little that serial “restrepreneur” Phil Roberts won’t say to help his nine-unit group’s marketing message stand out amidst chain advertising blitzes, Internet distractions and cable TVs 24-hour news cycle.

Parasole is well known for its double-take generating billboards with messages such as, “Third World Brunch (Sally Struthers Portions)–Chino Latino,” a statement that earned a cease-and-desist request from an attorney for the actress turned hunger charity spokeswoman. But it uses other attention grabbing techniques, including “The Mouth,” a newsletter at Parasole’s www.parasole.com website that is also sent to the company’s 30,000 loyalty program members, and quirky illustrations, such as the one of Manny’s mascot, Manny the Bull, with overly developed bits of anatomy. —In the dog-eat-dog restaurant world, there seems to be little that serial “restrepreneur” Phil Roberts won’t say to help his nine-unit group’s marketing message stand out amidst chain advertising blitzes, Internet distractions and cable TVs 24-hour news cycle.

Much of Parasole’s messaging is intended to elicit “visceral” reactions, “but we don’t try to hurt anyone; it’s intended to be good-natured fun,” Roberts said. “Frankly, I think people come to expect them and look forward to them. They almost have kind of a cult following.” —In the dog-eat-dog restaurant world, there seems to be little that serial “restrepreneur” Phil Roberts won’t say to help his nine-unit group’s marketing message stand out amidst chain advertising blitzes, Internet distractions and cable TVs 24-hour news cycle.

Even if not everyone is waiting in anticipation of Parasole’s startling word combinations, some, including Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune restaurant reviewer Rick Nelson, can at least appreciate them on arrival. Nelson, in a recent review, referred to Burger Jones’ double entendre-laden menu and “overkill” approach to some foods as “all harmless, juvenile fun,” and concluded, “It isn’t often that a restaurant has a sense of humor, and this diner is grateful that Parasole lets us in on the joke.”— [email protected] [6] —In the dog-eat-dog restaurant world, there seems to be little that serial “restrepreneur” Phil Roberts won’t say to help his nine-unit group’s marketing message stand out amidst chain advertising blitzes, Internet distractions and cable TVs 24-hour news cycle.