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Talking Restaurant Branding at Charlie Awards Opener

“Sexy, down-to-earth and cheeky” is how Amol Dixit described the brand identity of Hot Indian Foods, the food truck he launched in 2013, and those three words are touchstones for every aspect of the business.

“Every customer touchpoint, including the food, is a manifestation of the brand,” explained Dixit during a panel discussion at the Charlie Awards kickoff event August 25. From the “sexy, sassy” Hot Indian logo to the cheekily named Indurrito (Indian burrito), Dixit said each aspect of the brand is meant to make Indian food more accessible and bring forward the vibrant side of a cuisine more often known for its traditional attributes. Dixit has grown the brand to include a restaurant spot the Midtown Global Market and a stall at Target Field, plus Hot Indian Foods is a new vendor at the Minnesota State Fair.

Dixit was among several chefs, restaurant owners and industry pros gathered at Foreign Legion in downtown Minneapolis to discuss tools for marketing a successful restaurant.

At Pizza Lucé, CEO JJ Haywood said the brand has coalesced around its staff, which she described as “fiercely individualistic.” “They don’t want to be told who to be,” she continued, “and that’s actually a great asset. We’ve made it part of our brand.”

“Give us your pierced, your passionate, your tattooed masses yearning to prepare the best pizza Minnesota has to offer,” reads the employment page of the Pizza Lucé website. “It’s important to us to have our staff be authentically who they are,” said Haywood, “and let our guests be who they are.”

Social media is one way Spoon and Stable connects with its restaurant guests to build relationships and keep the conversation going after the dining experience is over. Chef and owner Gavin Kaysen uses sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to not only promote his restaurant and see what guests are saying, but also to respond to them directly.

“How we are on social media is no different than how we are when we’re talking to our guests,” said Kaysen.

Participating in the conversation is crucial for any business using social media, said Tim Alevizos of Intercom Agency: “If you’re going to put yourself out there, you’ve got to respond. Your social media is one of the most direct expressions of your brand.”

The Charlie Awards is in its fifth year of honoring the best of the Twin Cities’ restaurant, food and beverage industries, and will host two more Hot Topics events leading up to the November 15 awards ceremony: September 29 at the Food Building in Minneapolis, and October 28 at General Mills headquarters in Golden Valley.

Speaking during the Charlie Awards kickoff event August 25, CEO JJ Haywood (center) says the Pizza Lucé brand is an extension of its “fiercely individualistic” staff.

New this year, the Charlie Awards will honor the dedicated individuals—be they the chef, owner, server or dishwasher—who make the Twin Cities food and beverage community so successful. Fill out the nomination form HERE by September 24 to recognize someone within your business.

The 2015 Charlie Awards are set for 3:30 p.m. Sunday, November 15, at the Pantages Theatre (710 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis). Guests can also gather for the after party in the IDS Crystal Court, and a dinner from 2014 Charlie Award-winning chefs will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Windows on Minnesota (50th floor of IDS).

Tickets for the events go on sale September 24 at www.charliesexceptionale.com and at the box offices of the State, Orpheum and Pantages theaters. Tickets for the main show and after-party are $35 ($25 for food community members); tickets for all three events, including the dinner, are $150, with a portion of proceeds benefitting Open Arms of Minnesota.

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