Category Archives: Restaurant life

#Goodbye11

I have been a very bad blogger this year for some very good reasons! A lot of other folks did some darn fine writing for me! Here’s hoping for an amazing 2012! Some of my year’s milestones, distractions and fun moments:

1) Bocktown Monaca opened September 7th! I had fun chatting about it on Should I Drink That’s Podcast

2) My wonderful brother-in-law was married on the beach in Wilmington, NC. Cheers to a beautiful couple and beautiful few days off in November!

3) Plans for the first ever Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week got underway! (Late April 2012) Here is hoping for a great week of beer events in the ‘burgh!

4) Entrepreneur Magazine stopped by to talk with me about Tabbedout! (December issue, page 45!)

5) My husband and I had dinner with Rick Sebak! He’s got my vote for one of my most favorite people ever. If you don’t know who he is, google him and buy some of his wonderful DVDs from WQED. Here is his blog: It is called Rick Sebak’s Blog which is a perfect name for it if you know him. You won’t be sorry for investing time in all things Rick (If you are on twitter he’s @rickaroundhere)

5.5) Don’t ask me why this made my little list, but this was one of my favorite badges from Foursquare ONLY because I received it for my fun ‘Imaginary Starbucks’ location! I checked in 100 times there… (in my spare time!)

6) I spoke at Beaver County Women’s Conference, Podcamp and Duquesne’s Entrepreneur’s Growth Conference, some of it was caught on video… I can’t watch it at all! I do plan on doing much more of this in 2012! Eventually I have to get good at it, right?

7) in 2011, lots of folks wrote very nice things about me, about Bocktown and about our use of social media. If you actually link through to these folks, take some time to read/subscribe to the other stories they have written!

Scott Beveridge from the Washington Observer gave me some courage at Podcamp and wrote about me in his blog: A Twitter and Business Marriage Success Story

China Millman from the Post Gazette actually noted our use of social media with Bocktown!  A 2012 goal is to get her to taste our food and beer pairings! Social Media Promote Local Food Scene

Deb Smit from Pop City notes our use of Social to build business. Business is buzzing at Bocktown Beer and Grill thanks to social media

Mike Pound from The Beaver County Times helped and helped and helped herald in the opening of ‘b2’ with this nice followup article to a very long and arduous entrepreneurial journey: B- Ready New Bocktown is Open The original article mentioning the second location was published in August of 2009! Thanks for hanging in there with me, Mike!

Bob Batz wrote a great piece about Pittsburgh’s women in craft beer, and somehow, I was the above the fold photograph on the front paper! Can you say super-size? I can’t express my thanks enough for the timing of this article. It came out one day after we opened, and three days before the premier beer event of the year, the Steel City Big Pour.  My district manager, and right hand woman, Tera Bevilacqua is also in the article along with other beer pioneers in our area. Crafty Women: In the region’s craft beer industry, women play some key roles

8) I figured out a great big analogy that I want to forget, likening my business to having a baby. I am sure that it is nothing at all alike, since I have never given birth, nor would I want to birth a 5500 sq ft dining space, but I had fun using the analogy just the same. B1 is the first born. B2 is the new little one. We can’t expect the new one to be exactly like the other. It has to crawl, before it can walk. Don’t forget to spend time with the old one, so it doesn’t get jealous…. blah blah blah. So true, but I am over it after this post! I would have been a horrible mother.

9) I bought lots of new tech stuff to help me work more efficiently. Maybe it will start showing in 2012. I hope so.

10) I think my all time best moment of 2011 will be tomorrow night at 11:59 PM when I find my  husband and pull him close for a smooch, and say “Whew! Are you ready to do this all over again? Honey, I am pregnant with our third… Bocktown 3 is a bun in the proverbial oven!” #b3ast


Settling for silver…

I haven’t had a lot of time to post, and a lot of what I have wanted to say, I cannot post anyway.  As most of you know, I am working diligently on our second restaurant and have had many, many setbacks that will never be publicly discussed.  What I can say, is that I promise to exceed your expectations with Bocktown Monaca once it does open, and it WILL open.

Settling for silver…

Who would think that lowering expectations is a good thing?

With the holidays fast approaching, I find that everyones’ emotions are running a little closer to the surface. A customer might be impatient, a co-worker may be overwhelmed, or a friend my seem too busy for a conversation.  I am making my own personal extra effort to just slow it all down, accept what is going on around me with grace, and just enjoy the moment. In doing so I am lowering my expectations, and encouraging those around me to do the same.

With the advent of social media and hyper-connectivity, we are all moving faster mentally and physically. We are spending our time updating this or that, buying a new gadget, tagging photos and well… blogging!  Don’t get me wrong, I love the new forums and all of the crazy new badges, applications, and the tremendous ease of communication.  What I think I don’t like, is the lack of communication that also exists in this same arena.  I often see the stabs and the jabs, and I even partake once in a while… (see my #pickonbobby posts.)  One thing I won’t do is bash someone or a business, online.  It has been done to me personally (that is a whole other post that I am trying to get the courage to write,) and I have seen it done to plenty of businesses, both small and large.

I will suggest to anyone who will listen: Don’t go there unless you have exhausted every other means of communication with the person or business first.   If you don’t like a place, how about this for an idea? Quit going there. If you don’t like a person or their opinion, I have news for you: You aren’t going to change them, ever! If you ‘have it in’ for someone or someplace, keep in mind that many, many other people actually depend on that person or business, even love or derive their income from them. Why don’t we all take a step back and quit demanding our own ideas of perfection be carried out by random strangers? How about enjoy the creativity, opinions and imperfections of those around you that actually contribute to making this world interesting?

One of my best friends in the entire world, pegged me this year, by saying, “Chris, you are one of those people who always has to have gold; you never settle for silver.”  And in my heart, I knew he was right the minute he said it. I also accept that this is my fatal flaw. I am simultaneously proud and embarrassed by this fact. Hell, Bocktown wouldn’t exist without such high standards, but then again, Bocktown 2 would have been open two summers ago if I could accept silver. I also think that I have been this person in the above paragraph who has expected and even demanded that someone or something change just to suit me.  Thank the beer gods, I grew up and out of that phase!

I do understand the concept of ‘not accepting mediocrity.’ I definitely have lived that mantra. I have always been that someone who has demanded better service, selection and more attention to detail.  I expect an awful lot from the people around me.  I just will never ever get the idea of hurting people, publicly humiliating them, or destroying a reputation over one’s own higher standards. I am learning to settle for silver now and again, and I hope that some of you will too.

I hope you each have or find a friend that can help you in the way that mine did for me this year. I hope that a silver filled holiday season is in your cards and that you have the ability to enjoy and accept it!  — Chris


Puking up a Business

I truly believe that every small business is a puked up version of the personality of the founder.  I really do hope Bocktown is a reflection of my personality.  All of my restaurant experiences good and bad went into making it work as it does.  I am extremely proud of it, and am glad some of you see that when you visit us.  Even when I am not there, it seems as if you get my message, my vibe or attitude.

Did I get lucky? Did I paint the walls the right color? Did I order enough craftbeer to keep you interested?  Did I pay attention to every menu item to assure great taste and quality? Did I overload the tables with information and marketing? Sure, all of the above!  The culture of the brand runs very deep, it’s in the host’s smile and under the dishwasher’s fingernails.  It’s under the gazebos in the beer garden and on our t-shirts. I hope it is setting up a little outpost in your heart as well!

This observation goes out to budding business owners: “Don’t be afraid to show your soul to your customers!” They need to love you, understand you, and rally for you.  You need the relationship, not the sale.  Don’t be afraid to be yourself, be human and make mistakes.  Own up, move on, and grow.

If you aren’t specifically on the entrepreneurial tract, next time you are visiting any small business, look around and get to know someone! Embrace them with their faults and their quirks, and be glad that not everything in their world is the same, efficient, monotonous robotic crap that we have been raised to expect. As my tagline says, ’embrace the unusual.’  Don’t run away from it.


Local means what?

Local is one of the hottest words in business these days.  What exactly is it all about?  When you see CNN, Walmart, and other national companies hopping on the localvore bandwagon, you can be sure small business has hit a nerve in big business’ buttocks.

It does seems that everyone is touting the ‘buy fresh-buy local’ mantra.  New restaurants are opening with grand efforts to use the freshest seasonal ingredients from local farms and manufacturers. CNN is promoting the nation’s farmer’s markets with a new @foursquare healthy eater’s badge. Walmart has developed its own ‘in-state’ produce program. New and redesigned distribution businesses such as Wild Purveyors are ‘cropping’ up to fill the overwhelming demand, scrambling to find enough local ingredients to keep the market happy.

Inherently, there is a key problem in big business buying local.  Their needs far exceed what a small farmer can produce.  Big business can sit down and create a contract with a farmer that will demand every scrap of vegetation from every acre they own. I’m not an economist, but having just one customer can’t be good for a farmer. Even if the relationship works to put them through a few seasons, what product does that leave for the small businesses that are actually trying to purchase a few bushels of the season’s finest crops?

One conversation that I had recently with Cavan from Wild Purveyors centered around the plight of big business getting in on the trend. He told me about a local farmer’s recent decision.  It poignantly shows how lopsided the supply and demand chain is. This farmer who makes artisan cheese has been courted by Giant Eagle; he has steadfastly refused to sign.  He pointed out that he could only produce enough product to keep this one customer in cheese, and if he made the commitment, his profit margin would get squeezed to pennies.  Wild Purveyors is an example of a newer company that has developed because the need existed for them! They themselves wanted these fresh, boutique ingredients and couldn’t source them through one wholesaler. They can get the artisan cheese to many customers rather than one, and they do it well.

For any restaurateur reading this, you know that buying local is so much extra work, it is almost not feasible.  Imagine for a moment. Call one wholesaler to get all of your ingredients, writing just one check and then get back to running your restaurant. OR: Buy as much as you can from the local countryside. Call 20 different companies, purveyors, farmers, dairies, even travel to the farmer’s markets and then find only half of what you need for the day’s business… They day would be over and you wouldn’t have had time left to run the restaurant itself.

So back to the title of this post… Local means what?  Personally I think we needed a place to hang our hat.  A place where we as consumers can say, “we don’t want your mediocre, mass-produced crap anymore.”  Local is the buzz word, but it is just a reflection of a generational shift back to community.  What keeps dollars in your community?  What can save you money? What can create jobs? What can fill the buildings in small town center? Can we depend less on fossil fuels through this?  It seems that any spin you want to put on the word ‘local’ works.  Farmers, organic, sustainability, job retention, all come quickly to mind.  Let’s not forget that local can extend to a local accountant, a locally owned payroll company or bank, a locally owned national retailer…. how far do you want to go with this?

Local can mean regional as well.  Huntington Bank is trying on the local hat as well. They aren’t local to Pittsburgh, but recent coverage in the Pittsburgh Business Times, may lead you to believe that they are.  Huntington does do business here, with significant investment in the area, but they are headquartered in Ohio.  They know that it is important to be associated with the community to be successful in Pittsburgh and they are trying to doing it through bricks and mortar, business loans to this market, and job creation.

Take a look at Cinda Baxter‘s efforts to create a ‘bricks and mortar’ mentality across the nation, through her 3/50 Project. She has also developed programs such as “Eat down the Street” and “Roll Local” to catch the eyes and ears of a generation of spenders.  She simply wants us to make better purchasing decisions and fuel local economies. Her message is spreading. In the past year, she has been featured on national news and travels speaking about the impact we can make by simply keeping dollars in our own communities.

Local means what? I think the key take away here is for everyone to make their own definition of ‘local.’ Take time to figure out what local means to you personally, and don’t fret over an all or nothing approach.  If you are in the market to buy an appliance, you may not be able to find it manufactured locally, or even find what you need from a reuse resource such as Construction Junction, but maybe now you will consider heading to Dormont Appliance rather than a megastore.

So next time you are feeling like spending a bit of hard earned money on yourself, and feeling good about it at the same time, buy locally so the bricks and mortar stores around you can survive and even thrive in this arena.

We’d love to continue the conversation with you at Bocktown.  Next time you are heading for the convenience and savings at the big box stores in the Robinson area, take some time to look around the corner and down the road for spots like Bocktown and other locally owned stores. These stores come easily to mind: Happy Baby Company, Janoski’s Farm Market, Pool City, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Uncle Sam‘s Subs and Ricci’s Sausage Company. If you find us, (we are tucked back by Target,) we encourage you to grab a Hot Sausage Meatball sandwich made with Ricci’s sausage on a Cellone’s roll. ‘Worsh it dahn’ with an East End Big Hop, a Penn Weizen or a Full Pint Chinookie IPA.  Introduce yourself, and we will toast your efforts to live a little more locally.

Additional notes:

  • More about local farms and markets can be found through PASA, Pennsylvania Association on Sustainable Agriculture.
  • It can be difficult to find locally owned businesses in your community. Many can be found easily through your chamber of commerce.
  • Mark your calendar to participate in local restaurant week with Bocktown and other Pittsburgh restaurants during the first week of November.

Bueda presents an in depth view of Bocktown’s social media efforts

Reprinted with permission. Please take time to visit and subscribe to Bueda’s blog to learn things such as “WTF is the Semantic Web?”  They understand this stuff so we don’t have to, but it is quite amazing, and centered right here in da ‘burgh.  Here’ s how Bocktown fits into the picture via Bueda.

Bocktown Beer & Grill’s Vibrant On & Off-line Communities

This is the first in a series of blog posts where Bueda will be profiling local Pittsburgh companies and organizations who are using social media in effective and innovative ways. Today we focus on Bocktown Beer and Grill and explore how Chris Dilla built a thriving virtual community around her establishment. (To read the original post explaining the series, click here.)

A few years back, Chris Dilla noticed a major inefficiency in the local dining scene; she recounts the dilemma she and her friends faced,

“We found ourselves going to one place to eat, and another place for some good camaraderie and better libations. That was all well and good, but we wanted one place where we could drink the best beers AND eat great homemade food, all while having fun with family and friends.”

To remedy this problem, Chris created the panacea that is Bocktown Beer and Grill: an establishment boasting 400+ craft beers (with 16 continuously rotating on tap), delicious Pittsburgh-friendly fare (picture a menu where appetizers are replaced by “Snacks N’At,” and “sammitches” hold sentimental names like “The Port Authority”), and a welcoming small-town atmosphere with live music and beer tasting.

It didn’t take long before Bocktown’s trifecta of great booze, grub, and fellowship won the hearts (and stomachs) of locals and beer enthusiasts alike. And after this community was established, it seemed only natural to start developing Bocktown’s virtual community and what Chris refers to as its “tribe.”

Forming the “Tribe”

After being introduced to Facebook and Twitter nearly two years ago, Chris instantly understood the “effectiveness [the] live interactive tools” could provide. Aside from being extremely cost-effective instruments in the promotion of her business (describing each site as a “virtual billboard”), she also saw these networks as an important complement to her main website—a way to “add a layer of instant communication” to her audience that a static site could not provide.

Most importantly, these tools would help her cultivate a “tribe”—composed of friends, patrons, business partners, and craft beer fanatics—that would act as an invaluable market research tool, aiding her with things such as menu development, event planning and the placement of future restaurant locations. She wisely realized that the tribe would decide what Bocktown “would become and what [it would] actually sell […] in the future.”

Click below to read full post

Tapping into the Power of the Tribe

Of course to really harness the tribe’s power, one must interact with it. And interact with it she does. A lot. In between running one successful establishment and coordinating the opening of a second, Chris uses her Blackberry Storm to interact with her tribe of Bocktown fans on Twitter (posting updates as many as 20 times a day), Facebook, MySpace (used primarily to promote the bands that perform on Tuesdays), Foursquare, and perform general maintenance on sites like Yelp! and UrbanSpoon.

She also encourages businesses to become a part of others’ tribes explaining, “it only makes sense that you will grow your own audience by interacting with like companies. Their followers will become yours.”

The dedication and passion Chris shows for developing Bocktown’s virtual community is exactly what sets her apart from the crowd. While an array of local businesses have set up accounts on these sites only to post a few status updates and then fade away into the internet ether, Chris is constantly thinking of new ways to reach out and connect with patrons, fans, and community members.

See it for yourself: Follow her on Twitter and she’ll probably follow you back—but don’t expect her to be just another silent follower. Never shy to reach out, she’s been known to use Twitter to help secure one customer a ride to Bocktown on a Sunday night and help reunite a lost puppy with its owners. And by simply interacting with the people who wanted to interact with her in the first place, she’s been able to grow her network. In fact, many of Bocktown’s fans have heard about it only after their friends were conversing with Chris via Twitter.

Need more proof of her involvement? Check-in to Bocktown on Foursquare and you better believe she’ll be coming over to your booth to say hello and ensure you get that free craft beer (if you’re 21+, of course). And if she isn’t there, she’ll alert one of her staff members to take over her duties.

It doesn’t take long to realize that it’s not the ROI that’s motivating Chris’ activity—it’s her sincere desire to develop the vibrant Bocktown community—both on and off-line—and constantly improve the customer experience in any way she can.

The Advantages of Twitter

While Facebook is the most popular outlet for her patrons, given the amount of activity on her Twitter accounts (@bocktown for work and @uncapd for personal use), it should come as no surprise that this is her favorite method of engagement. She finds Facebook is a better platform for maintaining her current network of friends, whereas Twitter provides more opportunities to interact with new people and expand your business.

She also loves the semi-anonymity the 140-character service provides and feels something about the limited amount of information tied to a profiles allows users to be more real and honest, making it a better resource to gain feedback about her business.

Getting Started

Visit any of the social media pages Bocktown has an account on and you’ll find it hard to believe that less than two years ago the company had virtually no presence online and the woman behind the interaction was debating the right ratio of personal to official/promotional messages and “clean[ing] up the personal posts and replies just in case it looked too unprofessional.” Over time she realized that even the odd, seemingly unrelated posts essentially “all add[ed] to a whole, a mirror or history of [a] business.”

Here are some simple tips Chris has for other small businesses looking to get more involved with Twitter:

  • Follow your vendors, partners, chamber of commerce, your competition, customers’ businesses, neighboring businesses, and especially the wholesale side of your industry—think of Twitter as a platform that enables a constant “modern day networking event.”
  • Create and use hashtags to really stand out
  • Read your direct messages often and respond promptly

Though ever so humble, she carefully reiterates she’s no “social media expert” and stresses “these are not new ideas, just new arenas for the same old ones.”

So, what can we expect next from this social media enthusiast?

An unsuccessful attempt at a Swarm Badge hasn’t discouraged Chris from experimenting with Foursquare. In fact, for her next endeavor she plans to utilize the LBS to organize a “virtual bar crawl” with other local bars and breweries. Similar to the concept surrounding the Ferris Bueller Tour in Chicago, patrons will earn a badge after checking into a certain number of participating locations—and don’t worry—this feat doesn’t have to be accomplished in one day. Not only would this be a great way to encourage participation and patronage, it could also introduce many Pittsburgh palates to craft beers (and hopefully help to mitigate this “icing” trend).

Bocktown’s main site will also be getting a makeover. The much anticipated opening of a second location in Monaca will coincide with a new site that will resemble a newspaper format. This redesign will allow more dynamic content to fill the pages to better reflect the restaurant’s involvement in social media.

Aside from these lofty projects, Chris would also love to tinker around with the idea of putting a live feed in one (or both) of her restaurants—a perfect edition to Tueday’s live music—and is not opposed to building up Bocktown’s presence on such social media kingpins as Flickr and YouTube. But all of these things take time…and Chris has a pretty full plate right now.

We’ll end this post with some words of encouragement Chris gave local companies during a recent speech at the Pittsburgh PodCamp:

“Stay with it, grow your groups, interact daily, and they will do most of the work for you!  You do have to keep things fresh, update often, and keep it interesting, but the tribe will do the old fashion word of mouth thing for you via 40+ social media outlets!”

Tired of drinking Bud Light? Head over to Bocktown Beer and Grill in Robinson Town Center and try one (or two, or three) of their many craft beers and some traditional (and locally sourced) yinzer grub. Open 7 days a week serving the full dinner menu until midnight or later.



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