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Around 15 miles from Disneyland, Sunbliss Café in Anaheim, California echoes the cheery spirit of the theme park. After garnering social media buzz with its bright blue lattes and Instagrammable interior, Sunbliss has become a popular destination for coffee, tea, and healthy eats like smoothie bowls and avocado toast. Recently, Sunbliss was awarded the #6 spot on Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat, a list of the best restaurants across the U.S., with the help of votes from Yelp users.
Owner Tani Ahmed did not always see herself running her own restaurant, much less an award-winning one. While working on the corporate side of a large beverage company, she met various restaurateurs and franchise owners who inspired her to start her own café. Since Tani had no restaurant experience, the main way she learned to open a restaurant was doing research on YouTube.
“I had contemplated it for a few years, and I feel like I have entrepreneurial blood. It’s in me, and it’s something special that you have to have,” Tani said. “It’s like jumping off a cliff and building a parachute on the way down.”
When creating a menu for Sunbliss, Tani wanted to bring a unique spin to all of the drinks. Instead of a classic mocha or latte, customers can find untraditional flavors like the “Cloudy Coconut” cold brew topped with sweet blue foam. This variety is appreciated by customers like Yelp reviewer Alyssa Mae L.
“I’m a hundred percent into trying new things,” Alyssa Mae said. “I really love when coffee shops don’t just have the generic latte, cappuccino, macchiato, so I find myself gravitating towards places that have unique flavors.”
Sunbliss prides itself on offering the freshest products possible, such as sauces and syrups made in-house from locally sourced ingredients. However, a challenge to using these high-quality items is having to charge a heftier price to compensate for their cost.
Tani said it comes down to good marketing to sell the product to customers who are skeptical of Sunbliss’s prices, especially compared to a typical coffee shop or café. For Sunbliss, this means using social media marketing as an opportunity to educate customers on the health benefits of its menu items.
“We do educational-based marketing. What’s funny is that people don’t really see how important it is [to] spend more on your health,” Tani said. “They’ll hesitate to buy a juice for $9.50, but they won’t hesitate to buy a $20 drink like a cocktail. For $9.50, you’re adding good nutrients and good bacteria to your body.”
While Alyssa Mae loved the drink she ordered at Sunbliss, the welcoming customer service made her experience memorable and inspired her to leave a 5-star review. Initially, Alyssa Mae was overwhelmed by Sunbliss’s extensive menu, but the staff helped by giving her suggestions of what to order.
“They really gave me patience when navigating [the menu],” Alyssa Mae said. “It was early in the morning, and I know they were getting into the groove of a morning shift, so it was nice to receive that sort of patience and get some guiding points on what’s good.”
To ensure customers like Alyssa Mae have a memorable experience at the café, Tani emphasizes the importance of building a strong culture among her staff, which comes across to customers. This starts at the hiring process, where Tani ensures team members have not only the necessary skills but also the same values as Sunbliss.
To keep customers coming back, Tani established customer service guidelines all staff members need to follow, such as asking every customer what their name is. After being open for only a couple of years, she’s proud of the strong relationships her staff has built with customers.
“We see the same people every single day. Our employees are the reason we have that following,” Tani said. “We’re all human. We experience bad days. Anytime we come in with some sad news or just that bad day hovering over us, it feels like when you start your shift, everything turns around because there’s always someone that you recognize or know that comes in and has that self-lifting energy that rubs off on you.”
Other businesses can learn from Sunbliss’s journey to Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat, including the following tips:
- Bring creativity to your products. Don’t shy from bringing a personal, unique touch to your business’s offerings, as Tani did with Sunbliss’s colorful coffee drinks.
- Use social media as a powerful marketing tool. Outside of customer interactions, social media is a great way to connect with customers and educate them on your product offerings.
- Foster a collaborative team. A strong team spirit will come across in customer interactions. Consider creating customer service guidelines based on your core values for staff to follow.
- Make the customer experience memorable. Get to know customers on a personal level by asking them how their days are going and what their names are. Remembering your repeat customers can help turn them into regulars.
Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Tani and Alyssa Mae, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.
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