The Dinner Conversation

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Terrell Sandefur - SoChi Services - Part 1

Always interacting with social media, Terrell Sandefur
I recently got a chance to sit down and have dinner at Dovetail with Terrell Sandefur from the SoChi Gallery. Terrell is a busy man. Not only does he have a wife and two kids, but he's a driving force behind Macon's film festival, MAGA. He also runs SoChi Services, which provides promotions and social media management. And of course he runs the SoChi gallery, one of downtown Macon's beautiful event spaces. So, he's very rarely at a lack of things to do, but he knows how to make all of his time taking work fun. 

For example, as soon as we sat down at the table a server came over and sat a bottle of Vixen vodka in front of him and said, "This is for you." That's never happened to me before. Nor too often to him either from the surprise he displayed.

As we began talking, Terrell told me of a new client he recently picked up and has been managing their social media, Hanger On The Wharf, in Juneau, Alaska.

TS: I just got recently - two months ago - a new account in Juneau, Alaska. That's my furthest client away. But it's a restaurant, it's a big restaurant. And, you know, I'm not there! I'm learning how to promote food that I've never seen, smelled, tasted. It's not as easy as actually going to dinner and taking my own pictures and describing the quality. Because I have no idea, not yet anyway. They're flying me out there in the spring.

RR: That's cool.

TS: And it is unbelievably gorgeous out there.

RR: I'm sure. Any place in Alaska is going to be absolutely beautiful.

TS: And their restaurant is right on the water. It's right on the wharf. So you look out, when you're there, you see the wharf and then the mountains. And it is completely picturesque. It's a big place for cruise ships. They'll get a thousand people coming in the restaurant at one time.

RR: Oh my God! That's a restaurant nightmare. Even when we get tour buses and they stop outside, your heart stops and all you can say is, “Here we go.”

TS: It's weird how I got this gig. A friend of mine from Atlanta was out there and is friends with the owner. The owner graduated from Auburn. I'm not real sure how she ended up finding her way to Juno, Alaska but she's been there for a long time. And she has four restaurants out there. She was talking to my friend about how she's killing it and she has so many employees but where they're failing was in social media. And she says, "I don't have the time to do it and I don't know how to do it and our competition are real focused on it."

And my friend says, “I've got THE person for you. He's in Macon, Georgia.”

So she calls me on the phone and says, “How would you feel about running social media for a restaurant in Juneau, Alaska.”

I said, “I'd be all over it.” The next day she gives me a call and she hires me right then. So, it's been a bit of a challenge because my contact is not the owner but one of the managers. And I tell her, “I can do anything with a photograph. If you can get me a photo of the daily specials or the signature dishes, I can research and flower it up.”

RR: Photos drive Facebook more than anything else.

TS: Yeah. So I'm going to be out there. I'm going to be out there for several days with my camera, my iPad, I'm going to interview the chefs. And I'll have to do it all in a few days to last me months.

RR: Well once they see, while you're taking pictures and posting them out there and they see the response, they'll get more into making sure they send you pictures every day.

TS: I have pulled some pictures. I've searched Food Spotting, any kind of social media where they post pictures. But now I've pulled what I can pull. I've even posted on their Facebook page, “If you're dining with us tonight please check in on Foursquare or Food Spotting and take a picture of your dinner. We'd love to see it.” I'm baiting them.

RR: That's perfect, we do the same thing. We hear more than anything else, with The Rookery, the posting of the specials everyday gets people excited. They say, 'I've got to go down there. I've got to have that for dinner.' So pictures make a big difference.

**Just then Allan Bass walked up to tell Terrell about Vixen Vodka which is a Colorado distilled Vodka owned by three Atlanta, Georgia ladies. A representative had been trying to send Terrell, an avid vodka drinker, a bottle since they met at the Macon film festival but couldn't get in touch with him. Allan, a representative from Quality Wine and Spirits, happened to bring by a bottle for Dovetail to sample and then passed it on to Terrell at the request of of Vixen. This sexy, playful vodka has “wild times” written all over it. The idea for the vodka was conceived on a girls weekend at St. Simons Island.

We began to talk about our orders for dinner. Terrell was eyeing the smoked and grilled pork rib chop with a leek and shiitake savory bread pudding. I notoriously order the Put-Ups as an appetizer. This time I planned to order it again because Chef Doug Sanneman had just added a smoked trout dip to the line up and I really wanted to try it.

Ever the foodie and always thinking of promoting the places and items he enjoys, Terrell asked if we could go into the kitchen to take pictures of our orders because the lighting in the kitchen is so much better. Which led us to talking about some other restaurant marketing he has done in the past.**

TS: I did marketing for HendersonVillage in Perry, the country resort with an amazing restaurant. I did some serious chef dinners for three years. I'd do them every three months, where I'd bring in the hottest chefs from Atlanta, some from Savannah and a few from Macon, and they'd do a 6 or 7 course dinner. Each chef would do one course. I'd bring them down to Henderson Village which was great because I could give them a place to stay. So they'd have a room, a house, a cottage, or a room in an older house. See, Henderson Village brought all these old houses on what used to be a plantation. Some of them were slave quarters which means they were one room but they were redone and amazing. These chefs would come in for the publicity. I'd have Atlanta press and media come down. One time Food Network came down and filmed it. That was hot!

RR: I bet that was fun.

TS: All these food critics would come in to write and that's how I got these chefs. They would come in and do a themed dinner on whatever was in season. One year we did a pecan dinner. One fall we did a wild game dinner. I brought this guy in from Miami who was from Cuba. He hand rolled cigars at one event!

RR: Wow. That sounds amazing!

TS: And he was in an Armani suit! He wasn't a slouch. I did wild game, cigars and a scotch tasting at that one dinner. That was probably my favorite dinner. And they all sold out within minutes. Well, my first dinner it took me two weeks to sell 100 seats at $100 a ticket.

RR: That's still impressive.

TS: My second one sold out in two minutes. What I did was I sent one email blast to everyone who came plus other foodies. Everyone had heard about it so they were either pissed that they missed it or they were elated that they were there for the first one. So I think everyone who was at the first one came to the second one. And it just kind of rolled from there.

Now everyone is like, 'Why don't you do it in Macon?' But I don't have anywhere to put them up. I don't have a client that has a hotel that will give me rooms for free, which Henderson Village did. They said you can take these room and use it for press and for the chefs.

And I'll tell you. Several of the chefs went on to be on Bravo's "Top Chef" and a few of them won it.

RR: That's fun stuff.

TS: Richard Blais, he did two or three of them for me. A few years later I was in Atlanta at a Starbucks and Richard was there and I talked to him. And these girls were walking up and going, 'Richard, Richard!!' And I was like, “Well, you certainly have a lot of fans.”

RR: He's a rock star. He's a rock star chef right now.

TS: And he said, “Terrell, I'm on a TV show right now. You ever heard of Top Chef?”
I said, “Yeah.”
He said, “I'm in the top three right.”
That was the first year he was on it. I was like, 'I didn't know! Sorry! I don't really watch much television.'
Then I had Hector Santiago, who's got Pura Vida. Richard's got HD1 hotdogs in Virginia Highlands. They're basically next door neighbors and they were both on Top Chef!

** After we ordered another round of drinks we began to talk about Macon.**

RR: I think Macon is turning a corner. We've seen in the last five years, a lot of things change so much in Macon. With consolidation coming up on us and more people getting involved and doing things, I think we're looking at a period where Macon can take a really good turn. It's an opportunity for us to do really good for ourselves and make a really good showing.

TS: Obviously I'm a believer in the city. I'm a believer in downtown. I've been downtown since 2005 at the SoChi Gallery. I've seen a lot of cool new places open and few have closed really. It just takes time to get the local folks to come down here. What I think it's going to take to come downtown, it's going to be event driven.

RR: I agree. It's definitely something we see when Cherry Blossom happens, we're bust. Bragg Jam, we're busy. We just did the beer festival, it's something that drew people into downtown. Everybody benefited from it. I want to see the businesses do more about about working together to help each other. If there's something going on at one place, everybody promotes it because it brings people into downtown.

TS: That is one of Macon's failings. The lack of synergy. We have all these little groups that are doing their own thing. Why aren't they all working together? Everybody's got the same end goal but they aren't joining forces to make it happen. And I don't know how to make it happen.

Because if one of us wins, we all win. Not everybody can come and eat at The Rookery. It's not everybody's cup of tea. Or it may be your cup of tea today but not tomorrow. If there's options for people then it will become a destination. If they just come down for a Rookery burger and that's all they ever do downtown, then eventually they'll stop coming downtown. So we need to promote each other and support each other.

**Stay tuned for part two for my dinner conversation with Terrell Sandefur where we talk in depth about the Macon Film Festival and how it came to be.

The Macon Film Festival is coming up, Feb. 14-17, 2013. If you purchase and All Access pass before December 31st, you can get a discounted rate of $75 per pass. It includes access to all screenings, early seating to special screenings, and access to all officially sponsored after parties.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad you did this one! I was working at Tic Toc Room at banquet manager when we did the Peach themed dinner at Henderson Village- I really miss that event. I met so many cool people from all over. I really think it should happen again :)