Thanks to our role as a Host Team for Social Media Week Chicago, we’ve had the opportunity to connect with social media experts from a variety of industries all across the city. Ebrahim Valliani is the proprietor and driving force behind Chicago’s latest restaurant; Chi-Town Eatery. This hip, trendy, fast casual restaurant, which recently opened in the West Loop, has made quite a splash on the Chicago restaurant scene, particularly online. With flat screen TV’s streaming live feeds in the restaurant and a growing online presence, Chi-Town Eatery has turned to social media to increase awareness and make its mark on Chicago’s foodie market. We sat down with Ebrahim to discuss how he utilized social media to launch the restaurant and develop the brand.

Chi-Town Eatery

It seems like it would be a challenge to enter the Chicago market which already has an established foodie focus – what was your strategy for entering the conversation and differentiating your restaurant and brand?

Chicago is such a great city. Being been born and raised in Chicago has always reminded me that it is not just the food that attracts guests to your establishment, but also the environment and service. Each and every time I walk into a restaurant, the focus shifts to the cleanliness of a restaurant, food quality, customer service and the ambiance of that particular place. Chi-Town Eatery is a brand that my partners and I created based on all of that and more. From the beginning, our strategy was to create a menu rich with everyone’s favorite food options with a Chicago twist as well as a space that would incorporate all facets of Chicago from Art, Architecture, Landmark and Sports.

Chi-Town Eatery not only allows you to enter a hip/trendy, chic/industrial style space full of décor that creates a visual tour of the entire city, but also a menu of specialty food items that will leave your taste buds running wild. We work with our local food distributors to ensure only the highest quality in products and use all natural ingredients, including our meats that are 100% natural as we strive for excellence day in and day out. We are “Made in Chicago” and there is a special connection for our guests because we have developed our own brand and it is something new for the neighborhood, for the community, where they can feel welcome and enjoy the experience.

How did you incorporate social media into the pre-launch strategy for Chi-Town Eatery?

I remember being in our test kitchens at the beginning of the year and going over the first menu review. That same night I started to post a preview of our menu for our fans and future guests to see on Instagram and there was a lot of excitement. We continued to build our page and kept our fans up-to-date by posting announcements throughout the construction process, additions to our menu, news about our digital platform and the technology that we would use in the restaurant and more. On Facebook and Twitter we would post similar updates but we made sure to modify our content for each of the three platforms.

What are some of the methods and tools you have used, and are currently using, to increase awareness and promote Chi-Town Eatery and have they been effective? What will you continue to use?

Chi-Town Eatery is a new brand but already in three months the impact that it has made on the social scene is remarkable. From the start, we have had a philosophy for constant contact and dialogue with our guests and potential visitors. From our digital marketing monitor inside the restaurant, to the ‘#chitowneatery’ shirts that the crew wears and the “live” Instagram feed on one of our digital menu boards, as well as our website and “online” presence, we continue to keep our customers engaged and informed through social media. In the past few weeks, we’ve tapped into a series of online partners to get the word out including Grub-Hub, Seamless and Dining-In.Com for deliveries. These popular food delivery engines have allowed us to get in front of more potential customers as well as businesses/companies for group orders.

Partnering with established outlets that have a strong digital presence is part of our strategy but working with neighborhood groups and organization is also important and a big part of our ethos. Before the start of the school year, we partnered with our neighbors to support a “Back to School” drive for Alderman Burnett, in which we collected school supplies. A very important part of creating awareness is also to engage in programs and events that are happening in Chicago. A few weeks ago we were involved in Social Media Week Chicago which sparked discussion on all fronts of how companies and businesses must use social media to survive in today’s day and age. We also have Chicago Idea’s Week coming up and more events later in the year. For Chi-Town Eatery and our fabulous crew, we will continue to engage on all fronts with social media leading the way for our brand and communicating with our fans.

Which platforms have proven to be most successful so far?

Facebook, Twitter and instagram have been the three platforms that have been the most effective for our social media marketing strategy. We have a digital marketing monitor in the restaurant that allows us to showcase weekly deals using any of our social media platforms. Currently we have a special that allows the patron to “Check-In” on facebook and receive a complimentary fountain drink. With this simple “Check-In,” our guests can enjoy a cold beverage and in turn, inform their network of friends, colleagues and family on Facebook of Chi-Town Eatery and its location in the West Loop. We have also explored advertising in local newspaper publications, mainly the “Red Eye,” “Where Magazine” and other publications, or print media that cater to the Downtown food scene.

What’s your personal favorite social media platform?

My favorite social media platform is Instagram because it allows the guest to view pictures and videos that cater directly to the establishment. That individual can then follow your page and continue to view updates similar to facebook but without the advertisements, sponsored stories and other such distractions. The connections that can be made on a social media platform are important in creating awareness about your brand. With our instagram page early on, that set the tone and served as a platform for our Facebook page and Twitter handle as well, which stay active on a weekly basis. The instagram live feed is also what we chose to display on one of our digital monitors and it allows the guests to see in “real time” what we are posting on there. We repost some of our favorites that customers have posted to their pages and they get excited when they come in and see their pictures up on our monitors which are one of the ways we build a connection with our consumers and guests.

And last but not least, what’s your favorite item on Chi-Town Eatery’s menu?

Those that know me really well will laugh because they know I don’t have favorites, but if I had to choose a favorite menu item, it would be the Farm Fresh Burger. We posted a video to our instagram page just last week that shows some of our fans eating a Farm Fresh Burger which is our half pound burger patty, topped with an egg, bacon, choice of cheese, served with lettuce, tomato, red onion and hand cut fries with our chunky house ketchup on the side.