“I’m a five-star queen,” she says.
We all laughed. Something in the way Melina looked made us stop. This wasn’t a joke.
Melina, alongside her parents, Paul and Athena, came up to San Francisco. Why? To celebrate Athena’s birthday by touring Yelp’s HQ. But why Yelp? As Paul would put it, “We owe so much to Yelp. It has secured my kids’ futures and brought my family closer together.”
The Sippels own TKB Bakery & Deli in Indio, CA. TKB stand for “The Kids Business” because
that is exactly what it is. The business started with Melina and her two brothers, Brandon and Nathan, selling mom’s cookie dough door-to-door as kids. Athena was a pastry chef and Paul a stockbroker. What started out as a small side project quickly grew.
With the popularity of their cookies, the business grew and they eventually became a wholesale supplier for retailers across the country. Their business was a hit! Soon they expanded and opened their deli.
When they first opened in 2001, the retail did about half the business of the wholesale. Now the deli does five times as much business as the wholesale side. Was this explosive growth all due to Yelp? It depends who you ask.
“The Fourth…” they say in unison.
We assume they mean the 4th of July. They don’t. They mean January 22, 2015. That was the day they learned that TKB Bakery & Deli was the fourth on Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat list. When they found out about making the list, they admit that not everyone in the family realized how significant it was.
It was only a short time prior that Melina even started paying attention to Yelp. “I started seeing all these people come into the business — people who weren’t from Indio. It’s not that hard to tell. So we started asking them, ‘How did you hear about us?’ Time and time again they said ‘Yelp.’” That’s when she started paying attention.
Having five stars on Yelp became central to their business. Every sandwich they made, how they trained their staff, and the way they spoke to customers, Melina would ask employees, “Is that five stars?”
That, she says, is how she became a five-star queen.
Listening to them talk about their business, we know the reason for their success is something special. “The Fourth”, as they call it, was a result of what they were already doing. Even when they set up their business, Paul made sure the customer was central. “We set up our deli in a way that no employee ever has their back to our customers. The customer is the focus. They watch everything we do. ”
The customers love the show. In addition to being able to watch their sandwich being made, they get to experience Melina and her two brothers’ special brand of family love which, Melina says, “…includes a lot of smack talking.”
They also treat their customers like family. New customers are called “Virgins” and every one of them gets one of Athena’s famous cookies for free. Athena says, “It’s goodwill. It brings people back. What’s the cost to me? It doesn’t matter because when they get in the car and leave they are still talking about that cookie. It makes them feel appreciated. They should feel appreciated. We appreciate them.”
Goodwill is something that came up time and time again. As Paul said, “Goodwill is everything you see but don’t expect. There was a saying on Wall Street: Pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered. Greed is not a motivation for running a small business. The reason we try to put a smile on our customer’s faces at every meal, the reason we gave our employees health insurance, the reason we opened on Memorial Day and threw a party for our customers when we should have been closed, is because of goodwill.”
Their incredible Yelp page is due to this approach to their business.
There is the authenticity of the banter between the kids.
They are always trying to put a smile on your face.
Even choosing to open the store on Memorial Day, knowing their most loyal customers would be on the road, caught in traffic, and in need of a good meal and a little extra love:
TKB Bakery & Deli’s success is not because of Yelp. It’s because they are running a great business. Their success on Yelp is simply a reflection of their continued excellence. That’s why they made the Yelp Top 100 List in 2016 and 2017, too.
As we were getting up to leave there was one question still unasked, “What happens if you get a one star?”
Melina just looked at us and after a long pause said,
“These are my customers giving me feedback. If I don’t listen, I shouldn’t be in business.”
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