Lulu Green is a café at 246 W. Broadway in Boston selling soups, smoothies, juices, dinners and everything in between. But they’re not your normal café.
The brain-child of two sisters Mary and Nada, their philosophy is based on promoting health and wellness with a nutritional foundation. ‘We make eating healthy food easy so you don't to have to think about it. We want you to know that any choice with us is a good one. That’s why eating with Lulu Green is always a good idea’ says Mary.
Take a look at their website and you’ll see what she means:
- Everything is made from scratch daily using the finest ingredients.
- All of the food minimizes the use of refined sugars and oils.
- They don’t fry anything, ever.
- Their food is liked by vegans, vegetarians, and carnivores alike.
- Every detail is thought about (eco-friendly cleaners and hand soap in our bathrooms, sustainable, carbon-neutral packaging, real plates and silverware for those dining in, compost and recycle for takeout, and energy efficient appliances and lighting).
The trigger to launch
The sisters grew up eating a predominantly Middle Eastern, mostly plant-based diet comprised of fresh fruits and vegetables from their parents’ garden. ‘Home cooked meals that my mother made’, says Nada, ‘inspired us to start a restaurant of our own’. But a café is a leap of faith in any town, and you need a core sustainable demand for success. ‘We think people have an increasing desire to eat nutritional food’, says Mary, ‘and we wanted to change how people view plant-based food. So we launched Lulu Green as an extension of our own table in the belief that customers would embrace our approach. And they have’.
Their biggest inspiration has been their parents who immigrated in 1979 from Beirut during the civil war. Risk, focus, determination, hard work, perseverance and grit to achieve your goals were the key lessons, which were put to the test when they opened the restaurant in late January 2020, just in time for COVID-19 six weeks later!
Surviving the pandemic
Lulu Green stayed open during the pandemic. ‘We felt that we should be there to provide healthy food and drink during a time when we all needed it most’ says Nada. Apart from the strict safety standards, they also have had to face:
- Reduced indoor seating capacity to allow for social distancing.
- Price increases for raw materials, packaging, cleaning supplies etc.
- An increase in takeout packaging as their business moved online.
- Difficulty attracting great staff.
A key strategy during this time like most food outlets were online orders, which currently accounts for over 40% of sales, though the 33% commission to some delivery partners hurts, especially when margins are so small to start with. Recently the Massachusetts legislature implemented 15% fee caps during the pandemic for online delivery providers. ‘This has helped’, said Mary, ‘but it’s always better if customers order from us directly off our website. It bypasses delivery errors made by the app’s, and we can ensure what you get is what you ordered, on time. It’s our reputation on the line after all’.
Future growth and new customer
Both sisters think the organic juice line has tremendous growth potential. Their juices are like no other, infused with herbs, adaptogens, and superfoods which are synergistically blended for maximum flavor and health benefit. The café has also been a great place to test the juices, obtain customer feedback, and gain insights.
The next steps are to ship their juices direct to consumers nationally by ordering online, as well as selling them wholesale to retailers and distributers.
It’s always interesting to ask business owners the lessons along the way. For Mary and Nada they learned:
- To hire a manager sooner to focus on the day-to-day operations.
- It’s useful to open with shorter hours in the beginning to test, learn and ease the stress of a full-scale launch from day one.
- Definitely go on vacation before you start! You may not get another chance for a while.
- Hire a great team of passionate, dedicated, hardworking team members.
- To be successful, you have to be there.
Lulu Green also invested in technology, adding online ordering directly from the website for pick up or delivery, scheduling and reporting software. The return on technology comes in the form of saving time and energy, making the spend well worth it.
Getting and keeping customers
Often, it’s said that word of mouth is the best form of advertising, and that’s true with Lulu Green. ‘Our favorite way of attracting new customers is a recommendation’ says Mary, ‘where they’ve been told about a dish or a drink that is a must-try’. Social media is also huge for them with over 9,000 Instagram followers driving traffic to their website, plus great online reviews (Yelp, Google, Facebook, Happy Cow, etc.).
Of course once a customer has experienced their amazing food, they come back again and again. ‘Our customers are everything to us, and we treat them as such’ says Nada. ‘We opened Lulu Green as an inclusive gathering place for the community, our team is passionate, genuine and truly cares. We remember our customers’ names as well as their ordering preferences. It’s the little things that make the biggest impact. Many of our guests have become more than customers; they have become friends’.
Advice for other business owners
Mary and Nada recommend to focus on:
- Surrounding yourself with great people. They are often hard to find, but when you find them, hold on to them.
- Be present and aware of the ins and outs of the day-to-day operations and learn every role.
- Talk to other people in your industry for advice and sometimes just to vent. Running a business is one of the hardest things you will ever do and at the same time, it is one of the most gratifying things.
- Take time to decompress and destress whenever you can. It can be very difficult to find the time, but well worth it. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, you can’t take care of others, including your family, your team, and your business. Make the most important things and people the priority.
- Days go by fast, and you can’t go back, only forward. It takes a dreamer and a risk taker to be a successful business maker.
We certainly agree and wish them all the very best for the future.
Lulu Green Cafe wins HarborOne's 2020 Small Business Pitch Contest.
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