TaChelle Lawson is founder of FIG Brand Strategy Firm, which helps businesses develop or enhance their brand. A self-confessed foodie with a passion for Las Vegas’ culinary scene, Lawson had the opportunity last Valentine’s Day to take four chefs to cook at the James Beard House in New York. She’s also worked with clients such as Louis Vuitton, Lexus and Red Bull.
What prompted you to launch your own firm?
I started FIG because I’ve spent my entire career in hospitality and I know that having a partner who understands not only the marketing and public relations side, but the operational side is crucial. This is what I love doing, I love this city and I am excited for what’s ahead.
At what age did you know you wanted a career in food and beverage?
At 19, I catered my first party, wrote and designed the menus, picked the linen and china, and was surprised at how easily I handled it all. The feedback was so much more than I’d expected and I was hooked. I come from a family of chefs and caterers, so hospitality comes very naturally to me.
How has the local culinary scene evolved in the past 10 years?
For starters, guests are more involved than ever. Everyday palates have become adventurous and sophisticated; people want to experience something different and they’re vocal about it.
Secondly, the culinary community is listening. There was a time when a chef would put a menu together and that was that. It was his or her creation and it didn’t change until it was time to change the menu for the season. Now, chefs and restaurateurs are on social media, communicating with their guests, giving them an inside look into a world that’s always had more intrigue than entry, allowing them to have a personal experience and, more importantly, taking their feedback and suggestions seriously. This is huge.
Lastly, it’s become far more competitive. For quite some time, the celebrity chefs ruled, but we’re seeing a major surge in phenomenal talent popping up in local neighborhoods, such as startup food truck or catering businesses.
What are some tips for restaurant branding and/or expansion?
A restaurant is a brand like any other business, and the brand extends far beyond the company logo or tagline. Building brand loyalty is key. We see this a lot with brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Apple or even laundry detergent, like Tide. They did that over a period, very strategically, and they did that through marketing. They keep their brand in our faces and I encourage restaurants to do the same. Keep marketing. It is a mistake to assume that because your restaurant is doing well or because your social media profile has a great following that you should no longer spend time or money marketing.
Offer a killer product with the service to match, be consistent, listen to your guests and adjust as needed, but do not stop pushing your brand. Every restaurant should have a marketing budget.
What’s the most important lesson you learned from growing up in Las vegas?
I’ve learned two very distinctive things growing up here. One is stimulation. The second is experience. Big flashy signs, catchy taglines, enticing food, beautiful men and women everywhere — “This could be you” or “You could be enjoying this right now” — is what we’re saying, and people buy into it. That’s the stimulation.
Then comes the experience. It applies to everything — great dining, Cirque shows, cab drivers, etc. Were you greeted at the door? Was the service prompt? Did anyone make recommendations? Those little details add up to a big bill in the end. Stimulation plus experience: This is the recipe this city was built on, and it works.
What is the best business advice you’ve received?
Don’t try to please everyone by trying to be good at everything. Instead, pick a few things and be great at those.
What’s the biggest issue facing Southern Nevada?
Health care is a big concern. It’s something that has personally affected me, my family and many others I know. When a family must choose between one of them having a necessary surgery or being able to feed their family because the out-of-pocket expense for that surgery is $8,000, there’s a problem.
What’s your favorite spot for a business meeting or power lunch?
I like Le Thai or Flock & Fowl. Both are simple, and just good food and quick service.
If you could have dinner with any three people, who would you choose?
Eric Ripert, Steve Wynn and Madonna. Eric because he’s such an incredibly talented chef with a humble spirit. Steve because he was changing Vegas as I was growing up and his style shaped so many of my business practices as I entered hospitality. And Madonna because she’s a badass. She came from nothing, has been unapologetically herself, the subject of so much controversy, continued to push the envelope and has had an unbelievable career. I have a lot of respect for her.
Whom do you admire?
I admire risk-takers, entrepreneurs, the individual who gets up at 4 a.m. and catches three buses to get to work because he or she has a family to provide for — people who weren’t given anything and created a life for themselves that they’re happy with.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
Excuses. I have zero tolerance for excuses. It shows a lack of ownership, which happens to be my second pet peeve.
If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?
It’s going to sound cliché, but right now I think I live in one of the best cities in the world and when I feel like I need to be somewhere else, I visit the Strip. Fifteen years from now, I may feel differently and then I would say, Italy. I love the shopping dining and weather.
What is something that people might not know about you?
I’m a boxer. I box two to three times a week and have for the past three years. I love it. Some people run to clear their heads or get their creative juices flowing. I hit a heavy bag.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I’d like to have made a positive impact on the businesses that trust FIG enough to hire us. I’m big on development and growth, so I’d like the team currently working for me to increase and I’d like to see them all move up several steps in their careers, with or without FIG.