The Lunch Room, Ann ArborPeople purchase what they value, not what we sell.  In most urban areas, there are hundreds of choices for where to eat lunch.  This is certainly true of Ann Arbor where I have my office.  So why are so many deciding to challenge the elements in early November to visit The Lunch Room?

From the outside, it appears to be just another food cart parked within a small enclave called Mark’s Carts in the shopping section of downtown.  But, it’s more than that.  Even the New York Times took notice of this humble cart in its recent “36 hours in Ann Arbor.”

Behind every food cart there is a story.  The Lunch Room is the outgrowth of its co-founders, Phillis Engelbert and Joel Panozzo, … their love of cooking and vegan cuisine.  Their early attempts at sharing their gifts were a series of low-key “pop up dinners” serving as many as 5 courses in various spots around Ann Arbor. The word spread and slots for these affairs quickly filled.  With this experience under their belts, they looked for backers on the kickstarter site.  With 196 backers, they had the funds to build their cart and this past May, they opened for business.

What comes with your lunch?  The real secret to their success is that food is actually their secondary offering.  In a world filled with fast food lunch options, they offer true engagement.  It starts with a warm welcome and then a discussion of what you might like to try (the cookies are amazing).  Anyone who has been more than a couple of times is likely to be greeted by their name and an exchange that feels closer to neighbors walking their dogs than a busy lunch scene.  Meals are served up out of the second window on a first-name basis (no numbers here) and with a good word for the rest of the day.  The food is great … but the “feel” is even better.  The Lunch Room and its neighboring carts have formed a community where everyone-knows-your-name.

Their engagement efforts will shift back to their pop-up roots with special events over the winter including help with your Thanksgiving dinner.  They will spend the cold months trying new recipes, making improvements to the cart, and visiting vegan restaurants in other cities.  They will tinker with their menu, but not the “secret sauce” that feels so right.

We have heard it before … it is not what you do, but HOW you do it that that is remembered.  The Lunch Room has figured this out.  Has your business?

  • What do your customers most remember?
  • Is “engagement” on your menu?
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