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December 6, 2023

Mastering the art of local engagement

with Steve Lieber
VP of Business Development at BurgerFi and Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza

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In this episode of The Local Marketing Lab, Justin Ulrich chats with Steve Lieber, the VP of Business Development at BurgerFi and Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza, renowned for his expertise in local marketing and the restaurant industry. The conversation delves into mastering the art of local engagement — the significance of embracing social media, technology, and community engagement for successful restaurant brands.

Steve emphasizes the power of social media in reaching niche markets and building connections with customers, highlighting the success of Dave’s Hot Chicken and the impact of influencers like Logan Paul and Mr. Beast. The conversation also stresses the importance of experimenting with new platforms like TikTok and the value of authentic, engaging content coupled with affordable advertising.

Steve’s insights and real-world examples offer a wealth of knowledge for restaurant owners and marketers, making this episode a must-listen for those looking to enhance their local marketing strategies and customer engagement through innovative platform adoption and experimentation.

Leveraging influencers and social content. Leverage influencers and user-generated social content as an extremely powerful free marketing tool for restaurants. Getting authentic reviews and posts from influencers and customers builds credibility and viral reach.

Giving back locally. Steve stresses the importance of community outreach and service, sharing how his teams cleaning up beaches and feeding Navy Seals led to positive exposure and goodwill. Giving back locally earns community support.

Adapting based on feedback. Listen to diner feedback and be flexible rather than sticking rigidly to initial plans. Adapting menus and marketing based on customer input leads to better outcomes.

Tune in to pick up more tips for local engagement from this restaurant marketing guru!

Key Takeaways

Here are some topics discussed in the episode around local engagement:

  • Maximize local reach: Learn how to harness the power of social media for your restaurant’s marketing strategy.
  • Drive brand growth: Discover the secrets to leveraging influencers for a boost in your restaurant’s success.
  • Embrace innovation: Explore the benefits of adopting new platforms and experimenting with fresh marketing strategies.
  • Create engaging content: Uncover the power of authenticity and humor in captivating your restaurant’s audience.
  • Amplify engagement: Find out how to boost customer interaction through affordable advertising tactics.

If part of your brand is helping other people, that’s what the world needs right now. And that’s what’s going to get people coming to your restaurant.

Local engagement: BurgerFi burger
BurgerFi burger from burgerfi.com


Other shout-outs


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

What’s up and welcome to the Local Marketing Lab. Today’s guest has many years of experience, you might even say too many years of experience in the restaurant industry. He’s a certified Pizziolo from Italy and has earned the title of best Pizza in the USA. He’s also earned a lot more titles, including best fast food burger. And he’s in the top three of the best fast casual restaurants by USA Today. 

His mission is to create and deliver exceptional dining experiences that delight customers and drive business growth. He’s the VP of Business Development at BurgerFi and Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza. Steve Lieber, thanks for joining us in the lab, my friend.

Steve Lieber
Well, it’s great to be in the lab, Justin. And finally, I’m glad I got to make it here. I’ve been wanting to meet up with you and to talk about the industry and have some fun.

Justin Ulrich
Awesome. Well, we’re in the right place for some fun. Let’s let loose. One of the things that it was really exciting for me to meet up with you a few weeks ago at the Fast Casual Summit, and I got to listen in on what you had to say about because you spoken a couple of panels there, but you were talking about AI and technology and how the industry is moving toward leveraging those things to really engage with local customer base in different ways. 

And I thought you had some really good insights, which is why I wanted to bring you into the Marketing Lab. So I guess we could start there. Maybe we could talk. Given your years of experience that you have in the industry and across multiple brands, what do you feel is the most important aspect of local marketing?

Steve Lieber
Well, first thing I want to say is almost everything I know about marketing I probably owe to Gary Vaynerchuk now or all the good stuff. Right know, Gary comes out and literally, if you watch every, know, LinkedIn posts or whatever, he just tells you social media is free. It’s the best deal out there. And then when you pay to boost it even more, it’s even better, it’s a better deal, and it’s where all the attention is and you can segment your audiences. 

There’s so many different types of people that go to any type of restaurant at BurgerFi or an Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza. You know, you could identify 125 different customer groups, little tiny niche markets. And what social media allows you to do is connect with all of those little niche markets. 

One that always stands out of my mind is the Hot Ones with the hot sauce. That marketing. That’s a great cast. And then now it’s just so funny. I think tomorrow BurgerFi starts serving wings. Now, Anthony’s was known for the best chicken wings for 20 years, but BurgerFi took the same fresh wings. We don’t have a coal oven to cook them in, so we’re cooking them more traditionally, but doing a buffalo frank’s Red Hot Buffalo sauce and a Memphis barbecue. 

So we think that it’s going to explode on social media because it’s just the next new thing. And we looked at how Dave’s Hot Chicken exploded in five years to 250 restaurants, they only do social media. Nothing. They didn’t even have a website until they got bought by private equity. 

These guys were so disciplined in their approach, and they said, we’re just going to make the best food and invite the best food reviewers and make the best pictures on social media. And they stayed true to that. And they’re the number one brand right now. 

So if anybody doubts that social media is not the hottest thing, please study Dave’s Hot Chicken. Please listen to Gary Vaynerchuk. And the best part, Gary’s free. Every once in a while, if you want, you buy a book or you buy a V friend or you buy some T shirts or sweatshirts or go to VCON, but he gives it all the way, and all you have to do is listen and apply it to your company and it goes.

Justin Ulrich
I do love that. Yeah, it’s super easy to consume his content. Bite sized nuggets. You see little chunks floating around in your feed throughout the day. He’s got a lot of great points. And like you said, it is free. So it’s expert advice for free.

Steve Lieber
And then I think for the higher level, for you people that are CMOS and people like yourself that are the higher level marketers, he has the marketing for the now, he has a higher level show that also is free. And I’ve sat in on those a lot of times. They just blow the top of my head off because it’s higher-level stuff than I can understand. 

But it makes me really understand how marketing can deliver and how branding is going to become more and more and how branding is becoming more and more important. 

And then the influencer stuff. I’ve been listening to Gary lately about influencers, and I just saw Mr. Beast play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They offered him a 48 hours contract, right? And then what was the other big one? There was another big one, but he was just saying how these know, you could never compete a customer service product against Procter & Gamble or something because you never had the resources or never have the now. 

Oh, the other the other example is Logan Paul. His drink was out for a couple of years and it didn’t sell. And then Logan Paul got in it with his partner. I forget who the partner is, but now it’s a $250,000,000 super energy drink. And Gary said that would have never happened without social media. 

So now the Logan Paul’s of the world and the Mr. Beast, and he was talking about some girl, and he said, that girl Macy’s is dying for her to come in shopping because they need her to come in shopping to keep their brand. So to me, that’s really fun stuff. 

We think Logan Paul came and did a review at BurgerFi like two years ago when he was down in Miami. I think he got 9.2 on his burger. So we love when that happens and good influencers come into our restaurants and listen, we used to joke about it, but like, Dan Moreno started was one of the original owners of Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza. So we were already into sports marketing and that kind of stuff from the beginning of our company. And I think that’s why people have such intense feeling for these two brands. 

And even our new CEO, he was doing a great job at the other burger company. I won’t mention the name, but they smashed the burgers. But he said that he came over because he felt a special feeling about these two brands and that brands had we have so much pride. There’s many, many people at the Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza that have been there 15 to 18 to 20 years, and it’s a testament to the brand, and it’s a testament to the people. And that’s why both brands are winning awards, and that’s why we’re getting attention.

Justin Ulrich
Yeah, it seems like you guys get a lot of attention. I see a lot of content. I spend most of my time on LinkedIn in terms of social channels, but I see all sorts of content floating around. So good on you. You’re speaking at a lot of events, a lot of different sessions and stuff. 

Just to go back to one thing you’d mentioned earlier about social, it’s interesting that it continues to change, it continues to evolve, and you have to jump in and you have to get started at some point, right? Focus on one channel, really understand it, create effective content that’s engaging, and then you can kind of scale and move on to other channels as they come out. 

Because TikTok wasn’t around ten years ago, but look at how much of a powerful marketing tool it is today, and it’s like, get into social and adopt new channels, try new things. Don’t be afraid to get out there and do those new things because you never know what’s going to connect with your customer base.

Steve Lieber
Well, I think that there’s one thing stopping that. And I think, again, I learned this from Gary. Gary’s, like, when he started at the beginning, he goes, Guess what? I got three views. I got three views. My stuff was sucked. And you know how Gary says he goes, my videos were the worst ever, but now they get 200,000 views or something. 

He goes, “Everybody’s, video stinks at the beginning.” Everybody. There’s never going to be good video or good production at the beginning, but you’ll get better. And guess what? Some of the funniest and some of the most natural ones, one that Gary loves so much, is the guy with the ocean spray cranberry juice, just him drinking the juice on a skateboard and what that did for that brand. 

So sometimes it’s just the most authentic thing or the funniest thing or whatever that gets the most attention, but you never know what that is. So you have to just play around and you’re going to have a lot of failures and a lot of bad videos. And I was reviewing for a Poke brand the other day, and they sent me four or five videos, and I wrote back, that doesn’t look like I’d want to eat it. And they go, yeah, you’re right. That one sucks. And I was like, well, why’d you send it to me?

Justin Ulrich
Just for verification yeah. Mike in accounting said this one sucked. We just wanted to double-check.

Steve Lieber
But I think you’re right. It’s trial and error. And again, the more bad ones you get, that means sooner or later you’re going to get that one that goes viral or semi-viral or all of a sudden somebody will walk into your restaurant because they saw something that you posted and it touched them in a way. 

And then all of a sudden, once you start to get a couple of those little pings and all of a sudden, somebody who came in and saw my food truck ad on LinkedIn. 

As a matter of fact, here’s the perfect example. The Navy Seals saw my food truck on LinkedIn. And now we’re going up there on November 3 for Mustard Day, which is a day that you honor the fallen soldiers, the fallen Seals from the year before, and they swim their bodies out to sea, and we have the honor of feeding those frogmen and those Seals.

Justin Ulrich
That’s very cool.

Steve Lieber
And that’s how these connections start. I would have never met a Navy Seal. My nephew is in the army and my other nephew is in the Air Force. So we had to connect to the Seals. And fortunately, LinkedIn got us there. And actually, it wasn’t free. I paid $20 premium for my $20 premium LinkedIn. I recommend the $20 LinkedIn subscription. It’s certainly worth the money.

Justin Ulrich

Yeah, exactly. So speaking of cheap social, we talk about creating content, and a lot of times people don’t realize how easy it is to just spend a couple of dollars to boost something that’s already engaging. If you look through your feeds and you see what’s actually engaged with your audience really well by impressions or whatever the engagements are you’re looking at, you can then turn around and just put $100, $50 toward it and actually really get a lot more out of that same piece of content.

Steve Lieber
Again, it’s simple. I think my role, because I’m looking for multi-unit operators that own different franchise brands. Maybe somebody has a chicken brand and they want to get into pizza, they want to get into burgers. So that’s why I’m on LinkedIn. That’s where my audience of multi-unit operators and franchise owners and business investors hang out. 

And I think that’s important obviously, for the attracting more guests, on Anthony’s, which is a little bit older of a crowd. We’re on Meta a little bit more because those people have been customers for 20 years. We started in Florida and started in a lot of the old Italian neighborhoods going up the east coast of the United States. So a lot of those Anthony’s customers, we reach them through straight up short reels or just regular images on Meta. 

And then obviously trying to bring more new young customers into the brand, we start to show up now more on Instagram, there’s a lot of Anthony’s on Instagram, there’s a lot of Anthony’s on TikTok. And then with all that action of the cold oven and the guys throwing pizza and all of that fun stuff, you can have great YouTube videos and great TikTok videos. So that’s how that one brand works. 

BurgerFi, a little bit more of a younger brand, a little bit more for families that care about what they eat. So again, a little bit on Facebook, a lot of trying to target some mothers on Pinterest and some other places where the mothers who care about food and dining are, you start to go outside the box. 

And this is when we first started to talk about identifying these little groups of customers. The elderly grandma and grandpa that live in Florida and then they’re up in Philadelphia area half the year, the snowbirds. And then you have the young mother who has a young family who’s spending more time on Pinterest but still plays around on TikTok for fun or Instagram to share pictures of the kids. 

So that’s what we do from our mother marketing. And then they do a lot, a lot of analytics and again, some work and some don’t work. Some promotions get a lot of sales and some get a few and sizzle out. So it’s a learning process, but we try a lot and then thank goodness, right now the food is so great. We win a lot.

Justin Ulrich
Yeah, perfect. You made some good points. Knowing your audience is extremely important and every audience isn’t on every social channel. So if you know when you understand your customer base, communicate to them in the places where they are, you know.

Steve Lieber
I’ll give you a perfect example. So Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando area are loaded with largely Hispanic populations. Well, guess what? We started looking for franchisees that lived in those communities. So now we have a franchisee from Weston that owns the BurgerFi in Weston and now he wants to talk about doing an Anthony’s in Weston and he also has the BurgerFi in Wellington. 

And guess what? The sales in those communities, because they’re locally owned and because they speak Spanish and bilingual, are much higher than before. And there’s no other reason other than just a great culture in those restaurants to get the people in. 

The same thing in Kissimmee, Florida, again, another family that just runs the business and is active in the community, they actually started their own foundation to donate food for meals for elderly people. And guess what? People connect to that. They come in, they have great food that’s a little less greasy than they might get at other places that’s made with a little bit more care than they would get at another place. The restaurant is a little more fun. There’s a lot of loud music going on. 

And guess what? If we keep doing our job right, we’ll keep building the customer base. And then when we post those pictures on the social media format of where those type of people hang out, then it multiplies and amplifies even more like you were saying.

Justin Ulrich
Yeah. And if you can get real dialed, you can take that segmentation and tie it into your paid marketing and get really targeted just down to the neighborhood level, which is super cool. You mentioned a lot of really good things. That good tips, good pointers, places people should focus. 

Do you have anyone that you can think of that stick out to you as, like, really crushing it? And from a local marketing perspective, anyone you want to give a shout-out to?

Steve Lieber
Yeah, well, I did already. To Dave’s Hot Chicken. So I want to give them reverence again because they did it 100% on social media. Great brand story. Three best friends sitting around getting frustrated, saying, hey, we got to do something with our lives. And what did they do? Hot chicken and one item. And they did it really great and really amazing. 

And if you listen, I don’t want to steal the guy’s thunder, but you got to go see him. I mean, you saw him at the keynote, right? He is the brand, but him and his best friends are the brand. You can’t make the food without your partners. 

And the way that they targeted I forget the guy’s name, the LA food writer who wrote a review about them and that got him noticed. And then the fact that they just blew up on social media and they started direct messaging Drake and they started direct messaging Samuel Jackson and the owner of the Boston Red Sox. 

And everybody’s an owner in Dave. Everybody wants to be an owner in Dave’s now. And before them you know, probably Raising Caines. You know, another great, great brand. You know what I love about Raising Canes? I loved it so much that when I went to Saudi Arabia and met with my Saudi Arabian franchisee, I took him to the Raising Canes there to show him an example of just an incredible brand with incredible culture. And the culture translates to everywhere. 

You and I talked about this even before the show of how important is to help other people. And here’s a brand that helps other people. If your brand and part of your brand is helping other people, that’s what the world needs right now. And that’s what’s going to get people coming to your restaurant. That and good food. And that’s what they’re doing. Really, really great stuff. 

You see that guy Todd, from Raising Canes, handing checks to somebody in every new opening in every new town, they’re raising money, they’re making a difference. They’re letting people know that they’re there to serve the community, not just chicken, but to serve the community, too. 

By the way, here’s an internal marketing thing that was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen in my career, and I mentioned it hundreds of times over to other people. When you get a card from somebody at Raising Canes, a business card from them, every single person, from the highest person to CEO to the lowest person, whatever, maybe an entry level cashier on every single person’s business card, it says fry, cook, and cashier. 

Because every single person is trained to make chicken and to sell chicken. And then when they have meetings and they get psyched up in the morning and they have their ra-ra sections to build culture, they want to sell bird, we’re going to sell bird. That’s what they do. They sell bird. That’s something to get excited about. That’s not even my company.

Justin Ulrich
Maybe we’ll set up another episode where you could talk about what you actually do in your company. That’s great. Well, that’s what I like about you, Steve, is you’re all about helping others. And I see it in just the way you talk about things and the promotion of other people’s success and just trying to get visibility into what other good folks are doing. So shout out to you.

Steve Lieber
One of the things I think I do that for is to give confidence in my team and said, hey, I told you my back story. I was a bus boy, and now I’m a bus boy doing good, and my first job was a bus boy. And I still like to clean the tables and every once in a while take out the trash at the restaurant just to keep myself humble and to keep me grounded. 

And I think that that’s important if you show all this success. I keep telling everybody about the I’m like you guys, you don’t have $1,000. The three of you guys don’t have $1,000. If you have $1,000, you can start the next Dave’s Hot Chicken. That’s all you need. Those guys had $1,000 and they went to Restaurant Depot, and now they have 256 restaurants or however many open, they open today. Probably four more today.

Justin Ulrich
Seriously? Crazy success story. No, that’s very cool. I think one success story that I’d like to focus on just briefly is yours. I love hearing the accolades and how many awards you’ve won. And one thing that we like to do is also throw some information that we have into AI and see what it cranks out about our guests. 

And I just couldn’t stop thinking about all the award-winning burgers. You guys have the pizza. Here’s a picture of you just sitting in front of a mountain of success. So it’s kind of funny when you look at all the elements together, it kind of represents burgers, but I don’t know what AI is doing. It’s just like all sorts of stuff thrown together.

Steve Lieber
But it’s fun. Is that a DALL E image or what is that?

Justin Ulrich
This is using Midjourney.

Steve Lieber
Midjourney. Midjourney. Nice. I like it. That’s a good one.

Justin Ulrich

Steve Lieber
I think we use awards as third-party credibility. I tell my staff. I don’t want you to. Don’t say we’re the best burgers. Everybody says they’re the best burgers, but are you really the best burger? I’m somewhere on the planet, somebody’s got to have a better burger. But we can say that. Our guests say they were their best burgers because we have the awards and we have the backup to prove it. 

So when we started BurgerFi, it was 2011, and the haters came from day one. And the reason why the haters came from day one was they’re like, Steve, have you lost your mind? What do you mean? Well, didn’t you just win best pizza last year? And now you’re opening up a hamburger restaurant inside of an old Burger King that failed? And, like, are you sure you’re ok? 

And I’m like, well, you know I said, John and I had already opened a pizza place, so maybe we can do a burger place. You know, I don’t know. And they said, you sure you want to open up a burger restaurant in an old Burger King? I think in the ten years that it was a Burger King, the best year it had was $800,000. So it never even did it. 

Anyway. We studied the industry a lot at that time, and Five Guys was the hot brand, and Shake Shack had just started about five years earlier and was getting a lot of press. And of course, there was the legends, you know In N Out and Whataburger and things like that. 

And so we went to every single one, and we tried them, and we took pictures, and we studied their menus and tried to get the best elements of each one. But what we really noticed was that nobody really was making the burger restaurant for families, and that’s what we burger BurgerFi wanted to become. So no antibiotics, no steroids, no growth hormones in the meat. In America, that’s a big deal. 

Guess what? In all the other countries of the world, they don’t allow that in the first place. So it’s not even a selling point in Europe. But we allow growth hormone here. 

And then we had a discussion with Heinz, and I called in the vice president of Heinz, and I remember him coming to our office, and he said, Steve, you’re all wrong on this. And I said, what do you mean I’m all wrong? And he said, the reason that we use high fructose corn syrup in the ketchup is because the American palate, they like a sweeter ketchup. 

And I got so angry and I was like, they make great ketchup with natural cane sugar in other parts of the world. Can we just get some real good ketchup at the same price? And if it really is the reason that you’re doing it with high fructose corn syrup, then you should be able to honor the same price. It shouldn’t be any more expensive, right? And then we made that deal with them. 

So we started to do that with the menu, and the chef started getting crazy. Can we get organic gummy bears? I’m like, you tell me, chef, can we get them? We had peanut oil. We had peanut oil and everybody started freaking out. Peanut oil is allergic. You’re going to kill kids. You don’t know what you’re doing. 

Well, guess what? It was such highly refined peanut oil that we were buying that it didn’t cause an allergic reaction. And three years after us using it, the FDA removed highly refined peanut oil from the allergen list. 

So anyway, that was the menu. Natural food, great food for families, transparent menu, open kitchens. But we said, that’s not really a concept. That’s a great menu. Or great menu items. How do you make it a concept? 

And then you say, well, started looking around the room and said, wait, can we make a table out of recycled wooden pallets? Is that possible? Can we buy chairs that are made out of recycled Coca Cola bottles? Can we make this cool light fixture that we have over all of our dining room tables out of old log poles for tractors and dip them in chrome and repurpose them? 

Can we use the tray that we serve the food on over and over again and just put a tray liner down and wash it in between with sanitizer? Can we recycle cardboard and glass and plastic at these restaurants? And could we also recycle cooking oil? And could we run these restaurants cleaner than other restaurants in the community? 

Well, when we started to talk like that, Lauderdale by the Sea was like, wait a second, we’re starting to like these guys and they’re not even open yet. They’re talking about clean restaurants and recycling. And then, sure enough, we were waiting for training had already started. But you know how you have like, the one or two last inspections, the fire or somebody has to come at the very end. 

So at the last minute, I was, ah, I don’t want all you guys in the restaurant with the inspector coming. Let’s go put on rubber gloves and let’s go across the street. And we were picking up garbage off the beach. Impromptu, totally impromptu. Just rubber gloves, garbage bags, and everybody in their BurgerFi uniform. 

Well, Lauderdale by the Sea, I don’t know how much marketing this got us, but all of a sudden, a guy comes with a camera, takes a picture of us. It was a weekly newspaper. They came out once a week, and we were on the cover and it says, the team at BurgerFi is cleaning up the beach in front of Aruba Cafe, an opposing restaurant. 

And again, nobody we said, guys, we weren’t cleaning up in front of your restaurant. You just happened to be on the beach. We cleaned the whole beach, and that’s what we do. So we said, how can we build a brand that everybody would want to get behind? 

So that was the three prongs were the natural food, the natural restaurant design, the clean and natural, and recycling and business practices. And then this, I think, was my big marketing moment. 2007. You can correct my facts. 2007 was Facebook started, right, I think 2011. In February, BurgerFi started. 

And I kept saying, hey, this meat is expensive. How are people going to know that when somebody takes a picture of the burger, it’s BurgerFi’s food? Well, then we decided we’ll brand our name on the bun to let mothers know that this is the best food for your family. And then, of course, to let Instagram and Facebook know that we were born.

Justin Ulrich
That really is a cool touch. I love it every time I see it. And on your website, you have the video of them kind of slowly burning it in. It’s pretty cool.

Steve Lieber
That was the original process. Yep, exactly.

Justin Ulrich
Very cool.

Steve Lieber
So all of that ties in from a marketing way, but it was like a lot of it was what I call subliminal or subliminal marketing. You’re really comfortable in the room, and the music was really good, and it was a great mix with some old rock and roll classics for the retirees. So there were different segments of the music for different parts of the customer base as well.

Justin Ulrich
Oh, very cool. Well, hey, like we said earlier, it’s like if you know your customers, you could do different things, which sound like you kind of ran the gamut and did certain things that are going to appeal to multiple segments, but brought it all together nicely in a way that seems seamless to help create your brand that could have mass appeal. I mean, very genius.

Steve Lieber
Well, we made a couple of big mistakes. The one that you just brought up and mentioned that stood out. We thought we knew the guests better than everybody. We were convinced. 

So when we opened BurgerFi, we’re will never, will never do delivery. We’re not doing delivery if they want a burger just like Five Guys doesn’t do delivery. The President Obama had to come to Five Guys. We’re not doing delivery. And we’re ever, ever going to do drive throughs either. Okay, well, guess what? We’re doing deliveries in drive through.

Justin Ulrich

Steve Lieber
Okay. But the story I want to tell is when we started BurgerFire, and it’s still. To this day, if you look underneath, it says burgers, dogs, fries, craft beer. Not draft beer, but craft beer. And we said, you know what, we are going to be the new burger and beer place. We’re selling only like Sam Adams beer and higher nothing. We’re never going to have these local Budweiser. Miller Light. Coors Light. Never. That’s too light. Forget about we’ll never do that. 

And we started with Sam Adams. And guess what? The onion rings are made with beer. And we make a lot, a lot of onion rings. Everybody knows. And we were using one keg of Sam Adams every week, a very expensive keg to use for beer batter. 

And I was working the front every single day and people come, hey, you got any Bud Light? No, sorry. Coors Light? No. Miller Light. Bud Light. Coarse light. Miller Light. After the 5000 guest asked me, which was only like two weeks into it, I turned to Chef. Chef order some Miller Light. Miller Light. We started with. Get me Miller Light. What do you want Miller Light for? I said, well, I’m getting killed up front here. The guests want a light beer, so get a Miller Light. 

So chef turns to me and said, oh, good, I’m going to order two millilites because I’m going to use Miller Light for the beer batter. We just saved $65 a keg on the onion rings. So here was a case of us putting our ego aside and saying, guys, you don’t know what you’re doing. Listen to your guests. They want Bud Light. They want Miller Light. They want Coors Light. Just give them what they want and stop trying to be this higher authority on food. It doesn’t work that way.

Justin Ulrich

Steve Lieber
So that was our first of many lessons that we learned like that. Now our guests are asking for more chicken, and I think they’re asking for some burger bowls. So I think you’re going to see some fun innovation. But again, it’s not us really that’s doing that. We’re seeing that and we’re picking that up on social media. We’re listening. That’s the latest buzz word that I hear is social listening. Are companies listening to what’s going on social? And then are you acting upon that?

Justin Ulrich
Exactly. Your guests are 100%. They’re talking about you whether you’re part of the conversation or not. So you might as well be listening and join the conversation. 

You know real quick. You said you’re bringing chicken and you mentioned buffalo wings specifically, which to me, I was like, oh, man, I’m from Buffalo, New York. So when I hear buffalo wings, that gets me amped up. So super excited to see that.

Steve Lieber
These are going to be a jumbo wing like we use in Anthony’s. 100% fresh product. It’s going to be really well done. It’s a Frank’s red hot Buffalo sauce that we’re using and a Memphis Sweet barbecue. Those will be the two flavors that we start with. They’ll probably roll in and out of flavors on LTOs. 

We got a little late for football season this year. It’s half the season’s over already. But listen, we got the wings out know, we’re super excited. We think it’s going to bring in some more new customers. It’s just going to be another reason to come on a different day. 

And then right now, instead of having to make two orders for delivery for your Super Bowl party, now you can order one. You can order BurgerFi burgers and wings from the same location or you can order from Anthony’s and do pizza and wings and salad. So you got everything covered either way.

Justin Ulrich
There you go.

Steve Lieber
And I think you’ve seen my LinkedIn ads for Super Bowl and corporate parties. This is my favorite time of the year because first you’re thanking the teams and giving them a nice party and letting them bring their family and celebrate their hard work for the year. 

And then we’re getting into the football playoffs and just a lot of the holidays and a lot of reason to order some food for your family. And what better food than ours for hanging out at a reasonable price.

Justin Ulrich
Yeah, perfect. Yeah. Saving the best for last. Coming out just in time for the Super Bowl the way I look at it.

Steve Lieber
And again, everybody would challenge us and say again, what are you guys doing? Why are you doing chicken wings when every single buddy in the whole world is doing chicken wing? Why? But that seems to be a trend. That seems to be how we make decisions. If you look historically, yeah, it makes sense. 

One other thing that made me think of why and I hope this turns out to be a good decision, we went to Saudi Arabia and people know how come you went there? Because why? We want to make changes. That’s why. We want freedom in Saudi Arabia. And we saw what they were doing and we saw that women were able to drive. We saw that movie theaters reopen. We saw that they are changing from an oil economy to a tourist based economy. 

They’re building these major, major cities. So we went over there and we have a great partner and we have two restaurants open already and they’re serving amazing Hilal certified food in the Middle East. And we hope that we can keep bringing change. We have women working on the staff in the restaurant. That was a requirement that we put in in the deal and we’re very proud of.

Justin Ulrich
Cool. Yeah. Very cool. I love the missions that you guys get behind. It really shows. And I think it’s appreciated, very much appreciated by your customer base, for sure. Well, hey, Steve, how can people follow you, follow your brand?

Steve Lieber
Well, I’m on LinkedIn, so it’s Steve Lieber on LinkedIn. And BurgerFi, I would recommend the best. I love the BurgerFi TikTok. I love the BurgerFi Instagram. I like the Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza Instagram, and some TikTok videos that are coming out. They’re fantastic now, so those would be my favorites, but I’m pretty sure we’re out on a few more than that. 

But those are the ones where I like great images of the food. So I like to see the images of the food and to see the people eating the food. So I like the more video and more images.

Justin Ulrich
Yeah, for sure. The delicious content. We appreciate that, right?

Steve Lieber
People eat with their eyes, for sure. Definitely.

Justin Ulrich
That’s right. Awesome. Well, hey, go check out BurgerFi. Pick up a Barbecue Rodeo burger or a CEO burger. Like you will not be disappointed. Check out Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza. Steve, it was a ton of fun having you in the lab today, my friend. Thanks for joining.

Steve Lieber
Justin, real pleasure. Thanks, everybody. See you soon, man. Happy holidays.

Justin Ulrich
Thanks. Bye.

As always, thanks for joining us in the local marketing lab. This podcast was sponsored by Evocalize. To learn more about how Evocalize can help you grow your business, visit evocalize.com

If you learned something from today’s episode, don’t forget to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform and follow us on LinkedIn and Facebook at evocalize. That’s Evocalize and on X at Evocalize. 

And remember, keep innovating and testing new things. You’ll never know what connects with your customers best unless you try. Until next time. Thanks for listening.

Steve Lieber

VP of Business Development at BurgerFi and Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza

Meet Steve Lieber

With an impressive background and years of experience in the restaurant industry, Steve Lieber brings a wealth of knowledge to the table. As a certified Pizziolo from Italy and the holder of titles such as best Pizza in the USA and best fast food burger, his expertise is well-established.

Currently serving as the VP of Business Development at BurgerFi and Anthony’s Coal Fire Pizza, Steve is dedicated to creating exceptional dining experiences that not only delight customers but also drive business growth. With a focus on leveraging AI, technology, and social media to engage with the local customer base, Steve offers valuable insights for restaurant owners and marketers.

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.

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