Most of us know Nick Brune as both a valued member who serves on the board currently and as a sponsor whose food and venues we all enjoy. What you may not know is that when we surveyed the chapter on growth, a few members stood out as the fastest growing in our chapter and Nick Brune was one of those people. So we took a moment to speak with Nick about his growth at Eco Caters.
Learn about how Nick over doubles Eco Caters every year.
Member Bio: Chef Nicholas Brune was born and raised in the heart of “flavor country” Baton Rouge, Louisiana where he began cooking and experimenting with food at a very young age. This hobby grew to be an obsession when he moved to New Orleans and began working at Mr. B’s Bistro. After working for the Brennen Family for two years, Chef Brune became infatuated with the flavor and design of food.
Nick moved to Los Angeles and worked as head chef at some of the top catering companies in the city, where he had full responsibility for coordinating all aspects of the kitchen for some of the biggest events in Los Angeles. It was during this time that he nurtured a passion for organic farming, local ingredients, and sustainable seafood. Chef Brune introduced his conscious-cooking philosophy to a wide array of clientele, including celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez and Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park. He founded Eco Caters in 2007 to bring fresh, seasonal, organic food to the tables of events throughout Southern California.
This following is a transcript from a conversation with Nick Brune and Drew Goodmanson. (edited for brevity and clarity)
Drew: Nick, tell me a little bit about yourself and your company.
Nick:. I'm originally from Louisiana, born and raised in Baton Rouge. I moved out to California 15 years ago from New Orleans to Los Angeles. I've been basically cooking my entire life since I was 14 years old. I actually went to architecture school at LSU, but ended up leaving architecture school three years in to move to New Orleans to learn more about cooking. When I moved to Los Angeles, I landed a big catering, a head chef role at a catering company. And through that, and various other gigs, just landed really high-level personal chef clientele. You know, the JLo and the Mike Shinoda that we've talked about. And that led to them having me take care of their events. And then, the people that came to those events started hiring me for other events and that led to me starting a catering business.
Drew: What is one thing that you think most people in EO San Diego wouldn't know about you that you'd wanna share?
Nick: I've always been an entrepreneur. I used to produce events in Louisiana, like, bigger rock shows and festival-like events and raves. I used to produce events back in the day before I started cooking, while I was building all this. And that's why I moved to Los Angeles managing a band as well. And a lot of catering has to do with producing events that has to do with connection to music, and it's all because my background is kind of just production of events in general.
Drew: Your company is growing over 100% year-over-year. What's driving growth?
Nick: Well, not to be that guy but, I mean, to be honest, I'm a chef...I was a chef trying to figure out how to be a CEO. I think I've always been following the same strategy I've put into place but until I joined EO, I just didn't know really how to grow this thing, and that's been the biggest change. Ever since I joined EO, I have direct business from EO, but also how to run my business, valuable knowledge and learning. Since I've joined EO I've been able to grow in a way that I've never done before.
I also took over 100% of my business at that point. I brought some other partners on board. But, they're very low-percentage partners compared to when I was 50/50 with another guy. So once I took it over 100%, it gave me this boost, this thing that I've got to do. It's my business now and I finally get to go grow it and follow the strategy that I've wanted to put into place.
And then on top of that, I've added Simply Lunch. Like I said, through learning through EO, I'm trying to create ways to identify and create monthly recurring revenue. Simply Lunch has morphed into like this beast, and that's given me huge growth and focus.
Drew: Tell me more about Simply Lunch and it's relationship to Eco Catering.
Nick: The whole idea basically for Eco Caters is we are a sustainable hospitality group. We are here to serve events of all sizes, corporate events, private events, weddings. Our whole mission is to help people eat differently and live better. And then, within Eco Caters, we developed Simply Lunch, which delivers all preservative-free organic lunches to corporations of 50 or more. Our mission there is to help people eat different and work better. So, that's kind of the simple pitch there. The idea that the real deal is the whole social aspect, the whole connection to sustainability, connection directly to farms and being able to say that, "We make every ounce of this food and that there's no preservatives in it," that's our big mission moving forward.
Drew: What are the things that you're doing that are creating this growth? What resources or tools are you using to achieve that kind of stellar growth?
Nick: So, right off the bat, I mean, you know, we've always had pretty good web presence. Power Digital gave us a nice boost there to get us SEO and branding, that kind of connection and being that number one guy, that was a good first move, especially for some of our venues. But the biggest thing has been just the installation of strategy because all of these things support one another. So we started opening our own venues, which in turn gives my catering company 120 events a year when I used to maybe do 120 events a year. So now each exclusivity that I set up or every venue that I own, that adds 80 to 120 events a year, which is more than what I was doing. So that model coming into play has helped me because I'm fighting a battle that's a little bit less because there's less venues in our catering company. And then as far as Simply Lunch, I would say it's been relationships. Relationship marketing is everything, and that's what I'm pulling up to here right now. I'm at TechWorks, about to walk into TechBrew to go meet a bunch of biotech people. So relationship marketing is key on a Simply Lunch level because I'm selling, you know, $500,000, $250,000, $1 million-plus contract. So, you have got to develop that relationship. And we've never had outbound sales until recently, so all of that coming together is what's up.
Drew: Some of the things you talked about in the survey was about identifying marketing channels and having that sales process dialed in from starting outbound and everything else. It seems from your responses that's driving your growth and is coming from being laser-focused on that. What are your thoughts on that?
Nick: A hundred percent. It's definitely focused on outbound and actually building a sales force up. I'm building an entire sales program. I mean, from pitches to closes. I know if it's going to be a two, three-month process, and take them out to dinner and not even talk about business and develop relationships. All of those things are being put into place. 100% of my focus has shifted to outbound and humans rather than the digital level. Even though I do love my digital marketing, relationships are everything.
Drew: What advice or recommendations would you have for other EO members. What could implement and learn from your explosive growth?
Nick: I think to become part of a community, install a sales strategy and a code of conduct or core values or UVP, whatever you want to call it, that turns your whole team into sales people. Everyone believes in something, it's on of our big change as well. Everyone at our company believes in our whole pitch and our whole everything. It's within our culture and it's starting to spread, so every one of our people has become sales people so I think that is kind of a big deal. It goes back to relationships. A lot of high-level deals, probably about 70% of them close just because of relationships.
Drew: And some of those leads are coming from your employees and people who are kind of mobilized?
Nick: Yeah. I mean, when I say that about my employees, I mean every person becomes a salesperson, I feel like, everyone's bought in. I've got my specific sales people for sure, but how we all communicate with people, that creates follow-up leads, and creates people contacting us from other events, and that word of mouth starts to build.
Drew: Are there any other resources or books or things that you've read or seen that have been helpful to you?
Nick: Well, I'd say there's two things. One of them is once the system gets in place we'll have something to continue to perfect. But this guy, Marx Acosta-Rubio, he's a sales trainer and also a business coach. He's done some pretty good stuff for me and I've got about a month and a half left of finishing off my whole sales platform as well as installing our sales director that's going to run and manage the whole thing moving forward. He's been a pretty, pretty big help. He's out of Austin, Texas. And we started working on this lead funnel generation activity where we're basically programming in all of these leads, and showing our scorecard as our sales funnel, and it has the numbers throughout and it shows where we've got leaks in our bucket. And that tool has allowed us to say, things like, "The last few months, we got 178 leads for Eco Caters. And, you know, after the first phone call, we only got to speak to 28 of them," right? And that's showing me one of two things. Number one, I don't follow up fast enough. Even though my follow-up time is not fast enough by what I want it to be, I'm still faster in our industry standards than most people in San Diego, which we've tested and going through. So we don't really think it's fast because partially that we're still gonna speed it up. But number two, is probably because I'm just getting really shitty leads on some levels, right? So, it's just kind of showing me exactly where I'm losing throughout my funnel. And further down, if I'm losing because of my tasting, I'll be able to start to see that so what I'm going to do, adjust my tasters and make them better, a better experience, or that my chefs sucks. So those things where I can start to identify where marketing channels are actually...what marketing channels are winning on the digital level, on the inbound level, that's been a major tool.
I'd also recommend Ron Harrell who we brought in to implement EOS for us which has been a huge help.
Drew: And is that tool that you're talking about like a CRM?
Nick: Well, it's basically connected to my website, it's called ProGo, I believe, ProGo.
Drew: Okay. Yeah. And that's something that manages the funnel that other, your members go to take a look at as something to help them if they're interested?
Nick: Yeah, I can show it to you guys. Basically, my VA, every day, uploads leads. And so daily, we can see what's going on, and we can break down the sales flow and see where we're breaking, see if we can go fix it, watch that hopefully change, and then fix the next hole.
Drew: Nice. Well, you said you're gonna double this year. What's your plan for next year?
Nick: I hope to do the same again. I hope to maybe even go a little bit more. We're gonna do just probably $4.8 million. We did $2.2 million last year. I think we're gonna do $4.6 million to $4.8 million this year. And I'm looking to do like $10 million to maybe $12 million next year.
Drew: And what do you think you need to do to guarantee that happens?
Nick: Well, I've gotta land four of these large businesses and finish up all of the venues that I have in line. All my exclusivities come into play next year fully for most of them. So we'll get to see all those fully come to fruition as well as all my corporate connections. A lot of the corporations we added this year, the bigger ones, already had their holiday parties booked because it was...we closed the months of February or March. So next year, we're gonna see all of that fully come into play. All of our corporations are fully gonna be booking events with us. And then plus we're going to be expanding into New Orleans and into Boston, and then probably swallowing up D.C. So the swallowing up of D.C will add $2 million of revenue instantly. And then we're probably gonna be following similar to what you and I talked about, actually, I appreciate it very much, in the idea of the one-year pilot presence.
Drew: I love it. Kind of give people a chance to take on a market and scale your business, using them to grow the business.
Nick: You got it.
Drew: What are the most important leading indicators you track kind of to manage your growth?
Nick: I would say I'd have to probably split that up, like, between Simply Lunch and Eco Caters, right, because they're kind of two different ideas.
So for Simply Lunch, it is just an amount of meals per month. And, you know, like I said, we did 57, 263, I can say, I can check it in front of me, 57, 263 meals last quarter, third quarter, right? And so our goal this month, this quarter, is gonna be 65,000. So, the meals per day. And I average out all of our meals throughout the five days. So meals per day is basically my leading indicator for Simply Lunch. And I guess as far as leads that comes through, you know, I guess that's something that I'm not necessarily tracking, and I probably need to work on that. I'm just doing my thing and my outbound team is doing their own. Like, they got that 20 phone call a day thing going and all of that, and I just do my thing as far as networking.
Drew: Got it. All right, let's switch gears and throw you some curveballs. Number one, if you had to trade places with any other EO San Diego member and run their company, who would it be and why?
Nick: I'd say Jon Schoeneck or Doug Constantine at Societe Brewing. Jon makes badass fish tanks for a living for like, three worlds. That's just awesome, and I love that. I love architecture and I love landscape and I love all that. So that sounds like a really fun gig. And Doug brews beers for living. That sounds like a really good.
Drew: Very cool. What practices, habits, or things kind of keep you performing at the highest level?
Nick: I'm just hard headed as fuck, I think. Man, I don't know. I've just got this drive. I don't know. I would say my family drives me and, you know, being successful drives me, competition drives me, you know, and that's pretty much about it.
Drew: With some of the things that happened this year, as a chapter we've talked about people and their superpower, what do you see as your own superpower that makes you, you?
Nick: For some reason people listen to me. I don't know. I love communicating with people. I love sharing food with people, and I love connecting. I used to think my superpower was memorizing recipes because I can't remember anything else in this world except for lyrics and recipes. I don't know what my problem is. I have trouble with people's names, but I can still rap a 1998 Master P song to you, which makes no damn sense. But now I would say, yeah, just the connection, my superpower is just networking and connecting other people and building a networking community.
Drew: Awesome. Well, man, I love it. Any last things you'd wanna share with EO San Diego, you know, about your experience with the chapter or just some thoughts or free flow?
Nick: I'd say everybody needs to probably have the conversation with Drew Goodmanson about their business. Those are the things that I would suggest.
Drew: Awesome, brother. Well, we love and respect you. You're a man that many look to and have identified as a rock star. So thank you for taking some time to share your thoughts with the whole chapter.
Nick: I really appreciate it, man. Good talking to you.
You can connect with Nick Brune on LinkedIn or in person.
Look out for a bunch more Member Spotlights coming in the weeks ahead! Several of the fastest growing EO companies and the most requested EO'ers will be sharing nuggets of wisdom for us all. Feel free to reach out to me if you have questions or members you want to hear from!
EO Member since 2009