Walnut Cafe owner, Dana Derichsweiler, was barely 24 years old when she borrowed $24,000 from her parents and took over the original Walnut Cafe.
From installing one of Boulder’s first espresso machines to staying current with what people are eating, including vegetarian, gluten free, and Paleo dishes, Walnut Cafe has stood the test of time.
Today the café is in three locations, the result of Derichsweiler’s partnerships with other talented women and her management style.
“I learned early on that mentoring and empowering employees is one of the most important investments I’ve ever made. You need to give them the freedom to succeed and guidance not to fail – it’s a balancing act.”Dana Derichsweiler, Owner
Striking a balance with food evolution, growth strategies and employee ambitions have allowed this neighborly, breakfast-and-lunch venue to celebrate an anniversary that many restaurateurs dream of.
In a nutshell, this local favorite has seen 30-plus years of success, and joy. Derichsweiler sat down with us to share her words of wisdom.
You’ve shown a talent for assessing and reinventing. A detail or two?
Dana Derichsweiler: I actually was open for breakfast, lunch and dinner for almost five years at the original location. Dinner was an entirely different deal. It never lost money, but it was a lot of work and I didn’t want to add booze.
It was my first lesson in knowing when to admit I was wrong. The two other locations were different motivation. A young woman working with me, Julia Buonanno, really wanted her own place and made it her mission to learn everything about how I did things at the Walnut.
In mentoring her, I discovered I knew a lot about running a small business and had really created a philosophy about working with and managing people. And she showed me new, creative ways. The South Side location was born in 2005, with her as a partner. The Super Mini Walnut Cafe was based on the same model.
The original Walnut is “The Funkiest Place in Town” according to your website. Why?
DD: My philosophy has always been that we’re in the people business.
“The food had better be good or just get out. But, that age-old saying that customers are going to remember how they feel – that’s who we are.”
We welcome everyone, and we give you “real” service, no name tags or uniforms here. We recognize that people have lots of great choices in where they can spend their money and their time and they choose us! Guess what, we choose them right back. We are all about sharing the love.
Talk a bit about your customer base, and your menus between the three locations.
DD: The menus are barely different; we think we’re onto something after 30-plus years. We just added a couple signature dishes that were popular as specials – stuff the customers chose, really.
Our most popular item is Eggs Marcos, a deliciously over-indulgent dish that doesn’t stop anyone from eating it! Bacon, cream cheese and cheddar… Big Dill Eggs are kind of our nod to Eggs Benedict. We make it with fresh dill and people put that creamy dill sauce on everything and then there is the pie – do I need to say more?
Of course, the photos on the menus are different for the different neighborhoods, but we do have regular customers who go to all three Nuts. We cater to everyone, including Boulder’s elite athletes, so we have to have some carbs in here.
We love just being in and a part of the community. Xanthe Thomassen, my wife, continues to make all kinds of process improvements and I think has held every baby in Boulder as we work the front of the house on Sundays.
“The outside option is extremely important.” How do you make it work?
DD: South-facing sunshine at all three locations, especially for breakfast. Even when it’s still cool out, if it’s not wet or windy you know we are full outside; it’s Colorado and we love that crisp, cool air. We keep improving our space, from sail shades to heaters.
How about the handy “Grab It and Go” items?
DD: This came about with Southside restaurant and we are at the end of town – Boulder is an active city and we knew people would be leaving for the mountains, and this is a quick grab.
Can you outline how your marketing strategy has changed?
DD: Currently, 99% is word of mouth; we don’t really advertise traditionally but this is after 30-plus years. Now, everything is instant and we’re always expanding our social media presence – it’s so important to be current.
As for platforms like Yelp, I go by the motto if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. I respond privately to almost every review I receive thanking clients for the shout-out. I choose not to respond to mean-spirited reviews. Oh, and social media! Did I mention how it has blown up?
You trust Shamrock Foods – our people, products and an enthusiasm that matches your own.
DD: Jeff Krueger and Aidy Hanna [Sales Representative; District Sales Manager] and I have a partnership, and they know I am not going to nickel and dime them on every case, and they’re going to give me a fair competitive price always.
“[Sales Representative] Jeff especially goes above and beyond to help our daily operations run smoothly.”
An example: Jeff one time went in the evening to a truck selling peaches on the side of the road because he knew we had to have peaches right away for pie day.
So Shamrock Foods gets you what you need?
DD: Shamrock Farms we use for everything we can; it’s quality dairy products and competitive prices. Markon® produce is always fresh and we have a consistent menu that uses seasonal, fresh and local produce
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