< All episodes

The Local Marketing Lab Podcast logo

August 16, 2023

Digital Storytelling: Be the show, not the commercial

with Shawn Walchef
Founder of Cali BBQ and Cali BBQ Media

Subscribe & Listen Now

Apple Podcasts icon
Spotify icon
YouTube icon
Google Podcasts icon
Amazon Music icon


Join Shawn Walchef, founder of Cali BBQ and Cali BBQ Media, as he reveals the transformative power of digital platforms for storytelling and brand promotion. Discover how to captivate your audience with short-form videos, overcome fears of imperfection, and tap into the creator economy.

Armed with only a smartphone, Shawn delved into the realm of digital platforms, determined to share his culinary journey with the world. From smoking ribs to the intricate process behind them, Shawn’s captivating videos on TikTok garnered millions of views, shattering the confines of his physical restaurant. But little did he know, this was just the beginning of a journey that would defy all expectations.

Listen now to hear how Shawn’s story unfolded and how you can improve your digital storytelling be the show, and transform your marketing content.

Key Takeaways

In this episode, you will be able to:

  • Realize the game-changing effect of digital platforms on the way you construct and market your brand story.
  • Appreciate the profound role that videos, particularly short ones, play in audience engagement.
  • Conquer your fears, and prioritize the tempo, quantity, and consistency in content generation.
  • Understand how internet and social media access has leveled the playing field in storytelling.
  • Harness the numerous opportunities that the creator economy offers through online platforms.

Don’t worry about the algorithm or hacks to get more views. The real hack is to stay curious, ask for help, and keep learning. Anyone can become their own media company and share their story with the world.

digital storytelling be the show: BBQ ribs from Cali BBQ



Justin Ulrich
Welcome to The Local Marketing Lab, where you get real-world insights from industry pros to help you drive local revenue and local growth. This podcast is brought to you by Evocalize digital marketing tools powered by local data that automatically work way care and when your locations need it most. Learn more at evocalize.com. Well, what’s up, everybody, and welcome to the local marketing lab.

I gotta say, Shawn just did an amazing podcast, but I realized it was not recording. Yes. So with us today, we have Shawn Walchef. Shawn, the founder of Cali BBQ. The Amazon of Barbecue.

He’s also the founder of Cali BBQ Media, which is a digital hospitality company that helps restaurants grow their businesses through smartphone storytelling. And he also has a couple of podcasts, one of them being the Restaurant Influencers Podcast, which features interviews with leading restauranteurs and industry experts. Shawn, I am so excited to have you on the show because I’ve had an excellent preview of the content today. Everyone else, hopefully you stay tuned. It’s going to be a great one.

But real quick, Shawn, if you wouldn’t mind, just tell us a little bit about your background and how you got to where you are. 

Shawn Walchef
Sure. My name is Shawn. We own Cali BBQ and Cali BBQ Media in San Diego since 2008. So, 15 years in business.

We have five distribution locations in San Diego, two stadium locations at Snapdragon Stadium, two Ghost Kitchen locations, and a Master Smokehouse, and a media center. We built a media company. We turned our barbecue business into a media company in 2017 when we launched our first show. And we did that because we realized no one was coming to tell our story. We figured out how to make great barbecue, how to provide phenomenal hospitality, figured out how to take care of our community and give back.

And I thought that if we did all those things, the local media, the local press, TV stations, radio, magazines, newspapers, they would come out and write about us and we’d be able to grow and open up more restaurants. And what I realized was no one was coming. And when I realized no one was coming, we realized that we had all the tools that we needed in our fingertips, and that’s in the smartphone. 

Everything that I do on a daily basis, weekly basis, yearly basis is empowering not just small business owners, but big businesses and anyone that’s listening, that the more that you tell your story on the Internet, social media isn’t someone else’s job, it’s your job. And if you learn how to use audio, video, words and images on a daily basis and publish on platforms like LinkedIn and Instagram and Facebook and TikTok, there’s incredible opportunities for you to scale your business in ways that you’ve never dreamed of.

Justin Ulrich
What are some ways that you’re leveraging social for your businesses? We talk about short form video a lot because that’s what the internet wants right now. And anybody that’s listening to this, the best place to start is with video. And that’s video that you take from your smartphone and you publish raw, unedited video. The more that you build up the consistency in that, the more opportunities there are.

Shawn Walchef
We just had a video get over 1.4 million views on TikTok for our Cali BBQ page and it’s literally just Bernice, my pit master, taking ribs off of the smoker. So we slow smoke ribs. We have a pretty intricate process, but we’ve started sharing bits and pieces of how we fabricate the ribs, how we smoke the ribs, how we take them off, how we put them in honey and butter and sugar, wrap them, put them back on the smoker. But we keep sharing that on the Internet. And what we like to say is people used to build open kitchens where they knock down a wall so you could see the cook cooking in the kitchen.

Well, now an open kitchen is an Internet kitchen. How can you share the story of what you’re creating on the Internet and publish it on a daily basis, weekly basis, yearly basis, so that more people can learn about your brand and get excited about the things that you do? That’s a good point. You mentioned Bernice pulling the ribs off the smoker. I could watch that stuff for a while.

Justin Ulrich
It’s process — people love watching processes, which is why it’s taken off so much on the Internet. It’s like different processes are going to peel to different different folks. Like you’re going to have someone who’s going to want to know how you’re smoking things or how you’re mixing up the mixtures or batter or what have you. And then you’re going to have someone who’s going to want to see how you’re doing. Taxes in the back office?

Shawn Walchef
Yes, absolutely. I’m about to interview somebody on Restaurant influencers the show for Entrepreneur and he built his tax business literally on TikTok. He has over 3 million followers. He just gives out tax advice just like he would in real life. But now because of it, he has creators that are curious about his tax business.

I mean, I’m curious enough to book him on the show. And that’s something that it doesn’t matter what you do if you’re a software engineer, if you’re somebody that’s in sales, if you’re in marketing, if you’re the CEO, your story, what you do every day matters. Just most people don’t get to see it. You’re on zoom calls laying down the mission of the brand, yet you’re not recording it. If you don’t record it and repurpose it for the Internet, it’s like it didn’t even happen.

You only impacted one person. What if you published it and impacted somebody that wants to invest in your company or that has 500 units and they want to onboard with whatever brand you have? I mean, these are the things that it matters to everybody, and we’ve never had an opportunity. The iPhone came out in 2007. June 29, 2007.

We act like we’ve had the Internet forever. And it hasn’t been around forever. It’s still young, we’re still early. And it’s gotten so complicated that people are scared of, how do I start creating? Every single person is a creator.

Every single person is a storyteller. You don’t have to be great at video. I was terrible at video. I was terrified to go on the local news to talk about barbecue in the beginning. But I realized no one can tell our story better than I can.

And if I don’t get better at doing it, we might go out of business. Yeah, I’m guilty of the same thing. Being in marketing, it’s still creating podcasts or creating any type of content like that. Nobody gets to hear podcasts that don’t. Record and never end up on the Internet.

Don’t record. All that content is gone. But it’s, like, honest with you. Just we recorded an episode that no one will ever hear. But that is the biggest fear that stops people from podcasting.

I’m fortunate to be at a place where we have a show with entrepreneur. It’s been viewed by over 25 million people since we started. Toast is the title sponsor of the show. I’ve had Rob Deirdek of MTV on the show. I’ve had Chef Emeril Lagasse. I’ve had Robert Irvine. John Taffer. Like, some of the biggest names. The fear of me effing up that interview, of not recording that interview is real. What if I stumble?

What if I stutter? What if I say the wrong thing? What if I don’t introduce them the right way? That’s what prevents people from doing. But if you get to the point where you do, the answer to the Internet is quantity plus speed plus consistency equals quality.

The problem that everyone has, anyone that’s listening to this, anyone that’s watching this, is that we want quality first. We want a commercial for our brand. We teach, be the show, not the commercial. My children do not want to watch a commercial. They’re six and four.

They know how to hit Skip on YouTube. My wife and I, we don’t want to watch a commercial. Like when we went back to Bulgaria. I go to Bulgaria every summer. We spend time in the village.

If we’re able to watch TV, at the end of the day, they don’t have DVR. And I’m sitting there watching a commercial, and I feel like, oh, my gosh, why watch the commercial? Yet people are still spending time on commercials. And what we teach is, if you want to be different, if you want to tap into the creator economy, have the courage to produce a quantity of content at speed with consistency, and eventually you’ll start to make quality content. But it won’t happen in the beginning.

And people will laugh at you, and they will make fun of you, but if you have the courage to do what Justin did and record an episode that no one hears, you’ll be able to laugh from it. The lesson that was learned is that we record. I have my zoom is on record all the time. Someone has to tell me to stop recording. That’s a good point.

Justin Ulrich
You never know when you’re going to get a quick nugget worth doing. If we didn’t record it, I mean. For me, it would have been worth doing, would have been worth record, but yeah, that’s a very good point. Even when we do an intro of calls like these, and we just do a little bit of back and forth before we start recording, it’s like there’s great nuggets that are dropped and it’s like that content is lost. I don’t do that.

Shawn Walchef
You get right into it because you don’t know. Post, edit. It’s not live. That’s true. Anybody that wants to start a podcast, that’s your takeaway, is record everything.

Justin Ulrich
That’s right. Eventually you could piece together a show. I think that’s some really good advice for listeners around. Just get started creating. If you never get started, you’re never going to get used to it. You’re never going to get comfortable and the time is going to fly by and you will never have an opportunity to capture the traffic that you would have been able to get into your location if you would have just started two, three, four months back.

Shawn Walchef
Get started. Get good at it. Anybody can post one video. Anyone can be motivated. My media mentor, David Meltzer talks about the difference between motivation and inspiration.

Motivation will get you to do something once you’re motivated to do it. Inspiration is like you can’t get it out of your head. Like, this guy is in my head and I can’t get him out of my head. And I know that I need to be doing it and now I’m going to do it. And not only am I going to do it, but I’m going to learn every single day and I’m going to get a little bit better every single day at doing it.

Because you don’t need permission to do it. You need permission from yourself to do it. I think that’s actually a really good point too. Sometimes I think there’s a fear of risk in just many people creating content within a location. There might be a process you put in place just to kind of review content, but give everyone the opportunity to just capture what they’re doing day to day.

Justin Ulrich
Someone’s going to find it interesting. Yes, absolutely. Now, if someone doesn’t have a presence on multiple platforms, or if they don’t have it on any at all, how would you recommend them getting started? The best platform, because it’s the most uncomfortable for business owners and business leaders, is TikTok, because it forces you to do video. You can get on facebook, and you can post words you can get on Instagram, you can post pictures, you can get YouTube.

Shawn Walchef
You definitely need video. But if you get on TikTok, it’s short form video, and you have to do short form video. And when you start doing short form video, you learn that by doing video, you eventually can transcribe that with some incredible AI software that will give you a blog post. You can start updating your website that’s just been sitting dormant, that no one cares about with content. That’s why we talk about shows, creating a show.

If you have a show, a podcast, a video show, you’ve done the heavy lift of becoming a media company. There’s so many things that benefit once you start publishing content on a regular basis. Yeah, that’s good advice. The other piece, too, is like, as a marketer, when you have video, like you said, it’s so easy to create derivative content from it, and you can share it across all the other channels. That’s right.

Long form video gives you short form video takeaways. I mean, every episode that we do for entrepreneur, it’s a 45 minutes episode. I interview somebody who is a leading storyteller, a leading hospitality expert. I get four videos out of every long form.

Justin Ulrich
That’s how you do it. Like you said, quantity, what was your equation? 

Shawn Walchef
Quantity plus speed plus consistency equals quality. 

Justin Ulrich
Perfect. Yeah, you mentioned too, TikTok videos being two, three minutes plus. That’s something that the algorithms choose your videos to show over others. 

Shawn Walchef
Yeah. I mean, I think one of the most important things when you’re starting to create content is to not worry about the algorithm. So many people are focused on the hack. What’s the hack to how do I get more views?

How do I get more engagement? I’ll tell you what the hack is. The hack is to do it every single day. And the more that you do it with the greater speed and the greater. Consistency, eventually you’ll start to agree with that, for sure.

Justin Ulrich
So real quick, Shawn, I’m going to try to share my screen here, and you let me know if this comes through. It’s something that I wanted to create, a little something for you as one of our guests, something fun that we do on our end. But this is an image that we had AI create of you. I don’t know if you knew this or not, but the cat’s out of the bag. You’re going to change the name of your business to I don’t know, that’s what it says here on his shirt.

AI says it generates some crazy stuff. That’s why there’s lots of conversations around generative AI where it messes up, where it captures things well. But just here’s an image of Shawn lighting up the kitchen. We’ll get this edited out and made a little bit better, but send it over for you. No one else has this image but you awesome.

So Shawn. We’ll wrap things up. I know you got to get out of here. If you wouldn’t mind. How can people get a hold of you? How can people follow you? 

Shawn Walchef
People can follow me at Shawn P. Walchef, @Shawnpwalchef, that is on Instagram. That’s on LinkedIn. That’s on X, on threads. It’s on all the platforms. I’m weirdly available, but yeah, reach out. I think one of the things that. My grandfather taught me was stay curious. Get involved, and ask for help.

You don’t listen to this unless you’re curious, unless you find a love. Then you actually have to do something and happy to meet with anybody, listens. To the show, and then ask for help. I appreciate that. I’m sure all the listeners will give Shawn a follow.

Justin Ulrich
He’s got some awesome content. I’ve followed him for a while now. Great podcasts, great videos, great stuff from events. 

Shawn Walchef
How did you find me? On LinkedIn.

Justin Ulrich
Which platform? LinkedIn. LinkedIn. You’ve created some really cool video stuff, for sure. Lots of event content. You were showing up on on the invite. Chicago National Restaurant Association stuff. And that’s what your Cali Barbecue media helps produce video like that for other organizations? Yep, absolutely. We help other brands become their own media company.

Shawn Walchef
If a barbecue restaurant can do it, anyone on Earth can do it. 

Justin Ulrich
That’s right. Perfect. Well, thanks again, Shawn. 

Shawn Walchef
Appreciate you, Justin. Thank you. 

Shawn Walchef

Founder of Cali BBQ and Cali BBQ Media

Meet Shawn Walchef

Shawn Walchef is a renowned entrepreneur with a penchant for turning traditional businesses into digital successes. After carving out a niche for himself in the vibrant food and hospitality industry in San Diego with Cali BBQ, Shawn embarked on an intriguing journey to reimagine the narrative of his business.

By launching Cali BBQ Media and the engaging Restaurant Influencers Podcast, Shawn has turned his knack for weaving captivating stories into a resource for other entrepreneurs, encouraging them to harness their own tales and the power of everyday digital tools to push business boundaries.

Host of the Local Marketing Lab podcast, Justin Ulrich - Headshot

Justin Ulrich

VP of Marketing at Evocalize

Meet the host

Justin is a seasoned marketing leader known for his creative expertise and innovative go-to-market strategies. With vast experience spanning both B2B and B2C landscapes, Justin has made his mark across a spectrum of industries including software, POS, restaurant, real estate, franchise, home services, telecom, and more.

Justin’s career is steeped in transformative strategies and impactful initiatives. With specialties ranging from channel marketing and brand management to demand generation, his strategic vision and execution have consistently translated into tangible results.

Recent episodes

< All episodes

Empower your franchisees.
Drive real local results.

Not every franchisee on your team is a marketing pro — yet.
Let’s change that. Reach out, and we’ll show you how!