Food Professionals Talk About the Tech They Use at Jersey City Tech Meetup

The Jersey City Tech Meetup held its second annual meeting, called “Foodie Frenzy: Exploring the Foodie Culture of Jersey City,” in late February.

A standing-room-only crowd packed the penthouse-level Sky Lounge at Journal Squared to enjoy some delicious food (prepared by local event sponsors Execuizine, Whealth and Pancibus Chalsa) and wine.

Following the food, beverages and preliminary networking portion of the evening, a freewheeling panel discussion ensued, featuring four industry professionals — two restaurateurs, a culinary tour organizer and a leading food/experience blogger/influencer.  

The panelists were:

Alessia Aron – Founder and chief eating officer of Beyond the Plate Food Tours (Jersey City). Each tour showcases four or five of the most delicious, crowd-pleasing and unique places in a particular New Jersey town. Attendees have the opportunity to chat with chefs, owners and other industry experts, hearing their stories and gaining new insights into the local food scene. The towns currently featured include Jersey City, Princeton (“A Farmers Food Tour”), Red Bank and Somerville. Aron indicated that she will soon be crossing the Hudson to offer a New York City tour.

Michael Hauke – Owner of Tony Boloney’s, a purveyor of pizzas, subs and related fare (wings, burritos, pasta bakes, etc.), that’s now expanded beyond its original Atlantic City location to three additional outposts in Jersey City, Hoboken and Long Branch’s Pier Village. Hauke’s Tony Boloney’s is renowned for its extensive, eclectic menu, offering customers a menu packed with numerous choices —and a welcoming warning for “indecisive peeps” to beware.  

Amanda Morrison – Founder and CEO of Hoboken-based Don’t Sit Home, a popular lifestyle blog and social media experience business. Don’t Sit Home motivates its members and followers to NOT sit home by highlighting the “Best of the Best,” with listings of things to do, places to go, lifestyle tips, products, drinks, eats and activities. Morrison previously served as intellectual property coordinator for the Associated Press (AP), departing in 2014 to pursue her entrepreneurial dream.

Dave Trotta – Cofounder and chef at Whealth, a combined café, caterer, bakery and events space located on the ground floor of Journal Squared (615 Pavonia Avenue, Jersey City), a short stroll from the Journal Square PATH transportation hub. Trotta and partner Gina Cassese  emphasize and source local ingredients, updated family recipes and a welcoming and caring environment for Whealth’s loyal local customer base.

Among the numerous tech-related observations and other founder background info that came up during the panel discussion…

  • Whealth’s Trotta:
    • Started building his business following via Instagram, treating all email and text messages as equally important as a patron coming in through the door.
    • Said his high-level goal is to utilize tech tools to beat delivery services such as Uber Eats, which adds a 30 percent upcharge to delivery orders, significantly cutting profits for restaurateurs, who are typically already operating on thin margins.
    • Actively deploys Facebook pixels for ad effectiveness, tracking and targeting.
    • Believes that pixels play a very positive role in customer conversion.
    • Recommends these other recommended tech tools:
      • Squarespace for website creation.
      • Subly for handling subscriptions.
      • TikTok for video content creation (via an iPhone 11).
  • Don’t Sit Home’s Morrison…
    • Thinks that real people’s opinions carry increasingly more weight than traditional advertising.
    • Said that Instagram provides added challenges because it frequently changes its algorithms.
      • Some posts drive significant engagement, while others do not, and it’s often hard to predict which is which.
      • She and others experience occasional issues with Instagram moderators, who are quick to enforce rules about disclosures regarding paid promotions.
    • Recalled that, when she first started out, there were more direct interactions with business owners; however, of late, PR people often act as intermediaries.
    • Believes that, in covering the food/restaurant sector, it is important to provide authentic, real photos of what the actual meals look like on the plate, as opposed to staged/photoshopped ones taken in a studio.
    • Prefers to provide her followers with behind-the-scenes experiences, including photos, videos and interviews with chefs, restaurant owners and other key people.
    • Finds video to be increasingly important for communications, and said that people prefer ingesting this information in small amounts (as opposed to long form).
  • Tony Boloney’s Hauke…
    • Is a serial entrepreneur, and TB is his 13th venture and the first that’s food focused.
    • Prides himself on TB’s great service and good food — deliveries must be on time and as promised/accurate.
      • Tech can mess with customer expectations about expected delivery times, especially when third-party services are used.
    • Must charge at-home customers higher prices to defray the delivery cost.
    • Refuses to cut back on the quality of his ingredients — Tony Boloney’s even makes its own yeast from scratch for pizza, and many other elements are handmade.
    • Frequently uses Google Analytics for data crunching/analysis.
    • Likes the Slice app. The founders are also in the pizza business, so they understand the challenges of being an independent/small business owner, and their fee is very reasonable versus other alternatives.
    • Is concerned that brick-and-mortar retail locations are continuing to get squeezed on margins, but having this presence could be a loss leader for other parts of the business — home delivery, catering, online, merch, etc.
      • Sells at farmers’ markets and utilizes branded food trucks for attendance at events and marketing visibility.
  •  Beyond the Plate’s Aron…
    • Grew up in Brooklyn, where food was a huge part of her upbringing.
      • Moved to New Jersey for college — knew only one person in Jersey City, so had to build her own community from scratch.
      • Went out of her way to befriend restaurant owners.
      • Learned about what makes a good tour by attending other people’s versions during her extensive personal travels.
      • Believes that she’s the only full-time food tour operator in New Jersey.
    • Has many restaurant partners connected with various tours — approximately 65 and counting — that she regularly interfaces with.
    • Uses Peak Pro tech for automated tour booking on her website, which also helps streamline customer user experience.
    • Frequently uses Mailchimp to interface with patrons and manage regular communications with them.

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