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Sophie's Cuban Cuisine Case Study


NOV 08, 2022


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The Interview

The Transcript

[George] My name is George . I am the Director of Technology at Sophie's Cuban. I've been with the company for about 13 years. We've been around for 25 years and our mission is to just be able to provide real quality food and get you in and out in a heartbeat.

[Nabeel] You're the only lunchbox customer who has a lunchbox tattoo on their arm. I feel like we need to give you royalties or something.

[George] I believe in the product man, and I believe in the people. So I'm there. 

[Nabeel] You guys have been here for 25 years in New York. That. Special in itself. Nothing lasts in New York that long, especially restaurants. They recycle so quickly. Why do you think you have survived so long in New York?

[George] Almost all that is a testament to our founder, Manuella Matos. She started this company coming from Peru, an immigrant. She let her kids home, back home, you know, because she wanted to create something better for them. That drive, that determination, it translates to her daughters. It translates to everybody that that puts on a Sophie's uniform and it's contagious, it's infectious. It's a will to just be successful and provide something great for the community. 

[Nabeel] You know, it feels like a family. Your GM's back there, she's taking 50 photos of you already. There's so much history and tradition in this restaurant and in everything you guys have put together.

And then you add technology, you add Lunchbox. How'd you decide to not only make the decision to pick Lunchbox, but how did you make sure it doesn't interrupt everything else you have built? 

[George] Everything that I spoke about prior, whether it be the passion, whether it be the mission, I felt like Lunchbox was so on the same page with us. Once I had a few meetings with yourself, obviously with everybody else on the team, I, it just kept on growing and growing. I think it's just because of the similar backgrounds - we're hungry, we're both hungry. You guys wanna help the people that are feeding people, and you know, we want to feed people.So combined, I think we're pretty powerful. 

[Nabeel] Yeah, that's amazing. And. You know, we were, uh, speaking off camera, and you've been here for 13 years. I was at my last job as a restaurateur for a decade. You, I lived in Astoria. You live in LIC so I love how much we have in common and it's easier to build a tech company for food people when you've, you're a food person yourself. So sitting here, spending time with you, hanging out with you off camera. While we were putting this together, it just feels like home. 

[George] Yeah, man. We try to create that atmosphere no matter what the location is, no matter what the situation is. You know we try to be about that so that the culture's there and our, and our teammates see that. 

[Nabeel] Tell me about the green sauce. What's happening? Why are so many people addicted to it?

[George] Yeah it's a really funny story with the green sauce. The ingredients that are found in a traditional green sauce in Peru are not really available here, especially not back in the nineties when it was first rolled out.

So they ended up grabbing a bunch of jalapeños instead of using Aveda. They mix black pepper with this green pepper and it kinda gives it a similar look. But again, being that they didn't have those ingredients, they just ended up using jalapenos and for whatever reason, no matter what you put the sauce on, it just tastes incredible.

It goes great on everything. I've tried it on Pizza, empanadas, and  yeah, it goes great on everything. there's only seven ingredients, you know? 

[Nabeel] Wow. I love it. You know, we have some restaurant groups that are very much part of the community and the community loves and supports it back. How have you guys been able to build that with your local community? Even this location here, there's so many people who are passing by, they all know you, they all, you know, telling you to take a picture of the photo from this angle. How have you guys built that community here? 

[George] I think it's just about being genuine. You should always hire for attitude and not just skill. And that goes with everybody in Sophie's. So if you, if you're just genuine in what you do, I think people will respond to that more. And then, being that we were not the best marketers before, now that we're able to reach the community through social media and email campaigns and whatnot, now we're starting to branch out with other services in the area, like people that help kids in need — and you know, it's new to us because it's something we haven't been able to do in the past, but we're excited to start getting more involved. 

[Nabeel] You mentioned email campaigns. Are you using Lunchbox for any of it? Because one of my big thing is I don't wanna just build an online ordering company. I wanna build a company that helps you speak to people. Are we enabling you or helping you speak to your guests? 

[George] Yes, it's a great product suite. It has a bunch of parameters and features that are amazing., Some that I still need to learn, obviously. Definitely. But yeah, I think the product is great. 

We had some great numbers, you know, great click rate, and great open rates.

[Nabeel] George, uh, would love to spend some time talking about the origin story. I feel like you guys have a superhero origin story. It could be a movie of itself. Take us through the origin story. 

[George] Yeah, so back in Flushing Meadows, when Manuella first got here, she basically would prep in her kitchens all day. You know, as soon as kids got home, they would all go out to the soccer fields and any soccer players that had finished their games and wanted to eat some good Peruvian cuisine - they knew where to go.

[Nabeel] She was selling out of a cart? 

[George] Yeah! like your typical icy cart, you know what I mean? it's not a big - just enough to be able to be mobile and to keep on moving, you know?

[Nabeel] And, and what happened like  one day she woke up, she said like, I'm going to do this.

[George] That inception happened even back in Peru. Uh, the Luna family has been working in food service since the fifties. She grew up always peeling potatoes. She was always, she was always working in food service. The only thing is that, coming to New York, coming to the States, she wasn't so sure that Cuban food was the right cuisine. At that time it wasn't. Now it's, I think, know what it's now. So she basically put out an ad in a newspaper looking for cooks that had Cuban influence. As soon as her daughter was old enough, They opened up one shop down on Greenwich Street.

[Nabeel] By the time Greenwich opened. How many years of the cart business had been happening? 

[George] I think it only took her about three years. She knew what her demographic was. She knew who she was trying to target. So the rest is history, man. I mean, that place was so busy. They would sell out just after the lunch rush. 

[Nabeel] You guys are at the forefront of supporting and feeding the community. Thank you for hosting us.


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