Chef Johnny Hernandez on creating an authentic brand
Johnny Hernandez is a nationally-renowned chef based in San Antonio, driven by his passion for Mexican cuisine and culture. From growing up in his father's restaurant, to attending the Culinary Institute of America in New York and working as a chef for well-known businesses such as the Mirage Hotel & Casino and the Four Seasons Biltmore in Santa Barbara, Chef Hernandez has seen it all.
Upon returning to his home state to open a new restaurant, Hernandez's sole mission was simple, We want to own Mexican food and be the dominant player in the Texas restaurant industry. It's a narrow focus, but it ties to our core mission of celebrating the food and culture of Mexico. His restaurants, La Gloria (opened in 2010) and most recently The Fruteria “ Botanero by Chef Johnny Hernandez (opened 2012) have skyrocketed to critical acclaim and expanded into Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport and the San Antonio International Airport. Hernandez took some time to chat with us recently, giving us a sneak peek into his business and what he will share during his presentation on the TIPS: Technology, Innovation, Profits, Solutions stage at the upcoming 2016 TRA Marketplace.
TRA: Why is branding important? J
H: Being able to 'stand out' is critical in such a competitive field. We have multiple layers of goals and strategies we use to approach our customers. My restaurants all begin with an approach of providing a multi-faceted experience for customers from beginning to end.
TRA: What can restaurant owners and restaurateurs do to help promote their brands?
JH: Getting your name out during initial contact with customers should reveal what you are about. They need to have an idea of what your restaurant's makeup is from the name alone -- and then their experience at your restaurant helps them understand what your brand is all about. We have two new concepts in the works at our restaurants. The restaurant name itself must be unique from the competition. For us, we incorporate something that embodies a work of art or craft in Mexico. From the logo, to the artwork, promoting your restaurant brand starts with your name and how people react to it.
TRA: What points will you emphasize to restaurant owners both new to the industry and those who are veterans?
JH: I've always appreciated multi-generational concepts in the restaurant industry. I try to challenge people who are new to the industry, 'How can you differentiate yourself and create a long standing legacy?' which is important. I appreciate the fact that long-standing restaurants evolve and learn how to grow their business over time. Through the food, dining room, kitchen technology and other areas of marketing, they typically do a tremendous job of showing the history of their mission while being able to adapt. At TRA Marketplace, I'll highlight some key players in the industry who do this well. Running a good restaurant is habitual and is reinforced in our trainings. It's all about the culture, which we want all of our staff to embody for others to see. I also believe branding can be amplified by other businesses. Strategic partnerships are important and necessary for brand longevity. We always evaluate internally, 'To what extent do I go to verify a potential partner? How do I evaluate them properly?' We will share some of our tips with entrepreneurs and chefs or restaurateurs who want to take the next big step. Hear more from Chef Hernandez and other industry leaders at the TRA Marketplace.