Puyallup city councilman George Dill was on the phone. He used to teach business at Pierce College. He wanted to know where I got the idea to write about some restaurants in downtown Puyallup.
I told him I thought up the story while brainstorming ideas that didn't involve eating deep-fried fair food but were still fair-related. The story toured Meridian Street, which leads to the fair. It highlighted restaurants, cafes, a bakery, a bar, a tea room and a taqueria in an old gas station. The story ran in the GO section on Sept. 8, the first day of the Puyallup fair, an event that draws many thousands of people through Puyallup's historic and showing-signs-of-life downtown.
Dill asked me if Puyallup's Main Street Association had contacted me. He said the association's job is to promote downtown business. It's got a marketing budget and everything, he said.
I told Dill I'd never heard of or from the Main Street Association. I wondered out loud whether the association's marketing budget covered things like telephone calls and e-mails to journalists. I wondered if I wasn't doing their job for them.
"Had they contacted you, they would have done their job," Dill said. "They're not looking at all the possibilities."
The old business professor kept going.
Dill told me about an economic consultant from Texas who's doing a survey of Puyallup next week. On a previous trip, the consultant visited a downtown coffeehouse across the street from Pioneer Park. Dill said the consultant noticed a large crowd at Pioneer Park. He noticed fewer folks at the coffeehouse.
Dill said the Texas consultant asked the coffeehouse owner if he had done anything to promote his business to all those potential customers across the street. The answer, Dill said, was, "We never thought of that."
Dill said the Texas consultant encountered more of the same throughout downtown Puyallup.
"It's a matter of getting high school kids to pass out fliers offering 10 percent off your first latte," Dill said.
My conversation with Dill gave me flashbacks to Restaurant Ray and "The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing."
Restaurant Ray is a guy in California who finances and builds restaurants. I was Restaurant Ray's intern. I thought I was going to get my own kitchen. Restaurant Ray handed me a copy of "The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing." The subtitle on the paperback edition was "Violate Them at Your Own Risk!" You can see where this is going.
I spent the next few months doing things like making fliers and printing take-out menus. I put on a suit and a smile and told every downtown secretary about our restaurant's office catering deals. I stood out front of the restaurant in chef's whites offering samples of lemonade in the summer. I put ads in the local paper.
I told Dill I hated every minute of all that marketing but that I loved Restaurant Ray for making me do it.
"I like to say it's a case of having focus," Dill said. "People are in their comfort zones with people they work with. They're not out there talking to each other, they're not reaching out to or welcoming newcomers."
Or as Restaurant Ray used ask me, "How are you making me money today, my boy?"