Essay: Katalina's owner on building a brand

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

We all know that person with no sense of self. She loves (loves!) music, but can't say who or what. Her mannerisms and interests morph into the person she's with. Poor girl. Trying so hard to be everything to everyone that she ends up being nothing, to no one.

As with people, so with restaurants.

That friend will eventually realize most of us like having a variety of friends because of their differences. Your favorite restaurants are like your motley group of friends. They're all different, and that's why you go to them for different reasons.

Some may consider my own restaurant, Katalina's, a bit different than most. But we do have a point of view, and it's called our brand. In a nutshell, a brand is the idea of what your business is about, from its culture to its product to its point of difference (what makes it unique and special).

My own brand may seem especially difficult to define. I inherited part of it, but would like to think that a lot of its success is based on giving it a point of view by refining and defining new and divergent influences, including a notable chaos of crazy combinations.

Here goes: "From dive-style diner food homemade with the freshest herbs to more highbrow classics made 'street' with Latin touches and unconventional combos from local purveyors, the food is as eclectic and comforting as the atmosphere-a 100-year-old gas station with a neighborhood, indie vibe."

That's it. More than a short paragraph and you're likely trying to be too many things to too many people. And for public consumption, a triumphant tagline ties it all up with a bow: "The little cafe with lots of local goodness."

From there, we strive to make every single thing we do-from customer interaction to the music we play to the fonts in our marketing-look, sound, read and feel like that description. Not doing so means not sending a consistent message to the customer.

The more focused your brand is, the more authority you have. If you try to be everything to everyone, offer something for everyone, then you become like that friend and spread yourself thin.

Our menu is like my wardrobe. Try as I might to keep it focused, it seems to grow over time as we try new specials that customers love. So, as with a closet, we have to make choices and refocus every so often.

Sure, when it comes to removing old favorites, resistance will be strong. But making room for the new allows the brand to evolve. Our customers are always looking for new and next-as long as we keep the best-sellers, like our famous pancake balls, that epitomize what Katalina's is all about.

Our servers are our best brand advocates. When I interview people, I care as much about their interests in food, music and books as I do in their customer-service skills because Katalina's is about having an original point of view.

Interior is an important part of the brand, too. Ours may seem like a flea market to some. Sure, it's eclectic, but it appeals to our demographic and was created to do so. I've offended a few people too, like the woman who was upset that a painting wasn't really my grandmother.

But, like I said. You can't be everything to everyone.

Kathleen Day is owner of Katalina's in Victorian Village. She also works as a brand consultant and stylist.


1105 Pennsylvania Ave., Victorian Village