Small Business Spotlight: Mistey Nguyen Talks Restaurant Marketing Amid COVID-19

May 29, 2020

Mistey Nguyen is the owner of MADN Agency, a full-service marketing agency for independent restaurants. She’s also our first guest on the new Small Business Spotlight series!

Andrew Gordon of Gordon Law Group talks to Mistey about how she began and developed her own business, as well as how she’s adapting to COVID-19.

Navigate the Video

  • 00:37: The current state of restaurant marketing amid the COVID-19 pandemic
  • 01:22: Bringing big-brand marketing expertise to small, independent restaurants
  • 02:34: Inexpensive marketing options for restaurants
  • 03:33: Applying for a PPP business loan (and why independent contractors and sole proprietors shouldn’t be afraid to apply!)
  • 07:07: Simple tips that restaurant owners can use now
  • 09:47: Why switching your POS system now can save restaurant owners money long-term
  • 10:28: Using social media to connect with your customers
  • 11:44: Tips for starting your own business (and why you need a marketing plan!)

Full Video Transcript

Andrew Gordon: Hi everyone. This is Andrew Gordon and I’m an attorney at Gordon Law, and this is our first video in a new series that we’re doing talking to small business owners and entrepreneurs about how they’ve grown and developed their businesses and also how they’re dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today we’ve got a great guest, Mistey Nguyen from the MADN Agency, and she’s going to talk about how the restaurant industry is dealing with this pandemic and also how she started her own business and has developed it during this time. Hi, Mistey!

Mistey Nguyen: Great to be here and talk a little bit about the restaurant industry and the restaurant marketing industry as well. It’s a little bit like the wild, wild West out there right now.

I’m fortunate that, you know, I still have a couple of restaurants on my roster that are open for takeout and just working with them, there’s something that changes every day. Something changes every single day.

And to be honest, I’m busier now than before the pandemic, because I need to be aware of all these changes every single day. I mean, so there’s no such thing as taking Saturday and Sunday off. So it’s also being extremely flexible as possible.

Andrew Gordon: Can you tell us about the MADN Agency and the work you do?

Mistey Nguyen: MADN Agency is pretty much a remote marketing agency for a lot of independent restaurants. I do work with a couple of hotels.

I do everything from developing annual marketing plans, budget. I have a background in graphic design, so I do a lot of their collateral design work. And that really started 13 years ago when I started in food and beverage, or food and beverage operations.

So the last five years of my 13-year career so far, transitioning to sales and marketing, I guess I just wanted to be able to provide this level of marketing experience that I received working at luxury restaurants, and from working at the Waldorf and the Langham, and kind of translate that into small, independent restaurants.

Andrew Gordon: Right. So it seems like you’re able to take a lot of those lessons that you learned at bigger organizations that had, perhaps, a larger marketing budget and bring those same strategies to smaller restaurants and businesses.

Mistey Nguyen: There are a lot of inexpensive marketing tools out there that small independent restaurants aren’t using.

I mean, social media is pretty much free unless you go into the social ad buy  space. But there are a lot of restaurants who aren’t really using that to its fullest capacity.

You know, obviously I follow a few… a lot of restaurants. I noticed that they haven’t really updated their delivery active button, like they haven’t turned that on yet. To make it easier for a follower, if they see something appealing, they can go straight to the profile and hit “Order Now,” or “Order Food,” I think it says. So they’re missing the mark on that.

You know, there are a lot of free things, but as a restaurant manager being on the floor, you don’t have the time to stay in the know with what’s happening with social media and all the marketing tools out there. So that’s why I started MADN Agency.

So I have to hang up on you right now because I have Chase calling about my PPP loan!

I am back. And it was probably like a 15-minute conversation with the Chase representative and pretty much it’s her saying, “I need you to fill out this PPP form.”

And I asked her and she said, hypothetically, if I get everything to her today, she’s gonna send it to SBA, and really if that goes through, the money will hit my account in three business days.

Andrew Gordon: Not too bad. Do you remember how long ago or what date you applied on?

Mistey Nguyen: Last Monday.

Andrew Gordon: Last Monday. Okay. So it’s about a week that Chase has been doing things on the back end, processing it, and then they reached back out to you today. You applied for PPP as an independent contractor, correct?

Mistey Nguyen: Yes. Originally, I didn’t apply during the first round. I mean, there was a lot of chaos during the first round. You know, financially, I’m in a situation where if my business really crumbled, I have family that I can fall back on.

Really, you pushed me to apply for it and I didn’t apply for it the first time because it’s very daunting. I didn’t really know who to ask about, okay, what if this loan, what if they make me pay it back? Like I don’t know how the whole process is, and then you start hearing all of these fraudulent cases that are coming out with the PPP loans, you know, owners paying themselves and technically, I am my own owner, right? Like how does that work?

Andrew Gordon: Yeah, so you were an independent contractor, just a 1099 recipient, and now you own an LLC, MADN Agency.

But you applied as an independent contractor and a lot of people didn’t know that they could. And it sounds like you included, right? At first, because you just pay yourself, you think, “Well, maybe this isn’t really for me.”

But in fact it is, right? The program was designed, in part, for individuals like yourself.

Mistey Nguyen: And the more that I start to openly talk about it amongst friends and peers, you know, they looked at me, they’re like, “Mistey, you are a small business. You deserve this slice of the pie as much as everyone else.”

Andrew Gordon: Absolutely. And I think there’s a lot of businesses out there like yourself that think, “Well, you know, there are people I can rely on. I’m not on the street. I’m not homeless. I shouldn’t take this away from others.”

But I think there’s a big difference between organizations like the Lakers who applied and got millions of dollars, or these public companies, vs. just sole proprietors that, you know, it may feel strange that you’re paying yourself or you’re getting a loan to pay yourself. But at the end of the day, you’re a small business and you’re entitled to do it.

Mistey Nguyen: I know. I’m making 20% of what I used to right now. You know, I’ve been dipping into savings since March. And you know, I’ve worked hard for that savings and now it’s like depleting month after month.

Andrew Gordon: Well, hopefully things are looking positive for your PPP and hopefully you’ll have good news for me that the deposit hit your bank account. And then we’ll talk about the next phase, which is forgiveness.

Mistey Nguyen: As soon as I get that alert on my phone about this gigantic deposit, I’m going to call like, “Wait, how do I properly distribute this?”

Andrew Gordon: Don’t worry. We’ll cross that bridge.

But I want to learn a little bit more about the things that you’ve been doing during this pandemic. So do you have any suggestions or tips for other businesses that may be struggling or, like yourself, unsure of where do you turn for help or what programs do you look to?

Mistey Nguyen: So, as of right now, I know there’s a lot of backlash with Grubhub, third party delivery apps, but, you know, make sure you’re on all of those apps.

Right now is the time for you to switch over your POS system. A lot of people are still using archaic systems like MICROS, Squirrel is one. They cost so much money to maintain and run.

And, you know, those companies are going to be obsolete very soon because you have more cloud-based POS systems like Toast that also have an application for online ordering directly on the website to make it look more seamless with, I believe, zero commission for online ordering. But you would have to pick it up yourself.

Upserve right now has a very generous program. If you want to do online ordering through them, it’s 0% commission for the first year. It’s month to month. There’s no monthly fee.

Andrew Gordon: So these are alternatives to using services like Uber Eats or Grubhub, which typically charge very large fees.

Mistey Nguyen: And you know, they’re taking the same commission. If you use Grubhub and you switch to pickup instead of delivery, they’re still taking commission on that.

Andrew Gordon: Is that because really they see it that they’re doing a lot of the advertising for you? I mean, they’re in some ways bringing the customers to the restaurant.

And that’s kind of where you bridge the gap with a lot of marketing too, right? Where if companies want to use some of these options that aren’t going to charge them 30% or whatever commission, well then instead we need to focus on our own internal marketing so that we can get people coming directly to us.

Mistey Nguyen: Exactly. Exactly. So in one respect, you’re using these third party delivery apps for, you know, one type of marketing. Think of it as a kind of a break-even marketing cost, but then internally using newsletters, using your own social media platform to market pickup orders. Let’s use, you know, we have our own system, try to use that.

I mean, right now you have to use almost every single avenue out there to put yourself out there.

Andrew Gordon: And you brought up another great point, too, which is for some restaurants, which may be slower during this time, it’s a great opportunity to improve your internal system. Because now is the pause, the opportunity.

Mistey Nguyen: Now is the time to do it.

I mean, switching your POS system and your reservation system, it’s so important. And really, I’ve seen some of those Open Table bills, so it’s astronomical.

Andrew Gordon: And there’s probably a lot of situations where they can save money by hiring you, or someone like you, to handle marketing, drive the traffic to their own ordering system rather than paying all these huge commissions.

Mistey Nguyen: Right.

Andrew Gordon: So what are some creative ways that either you’ve helped businesses or you seen certain restaurants get the word out there, for instance, that they’re offering meal kits or having cooking classes? How do they spread the word?

Mistey Nguyen: So right now, I mean, I’m still using social media. I am touching more now on creating videos for the restaurant clients to get it just more engaging, but also encouraging social media ad buys. I mean, that’s not that creative, but maybe a restaurant owner or manager, you know, they don’t have time to dig deep into their social media analytics. And you know, that’s where I come in and I review all of that.

But also knowing that their customer base at home, I would say some aren’t really watching their spending. They just want to feel kind of connected with these restaurants that they missed. Right?

So, you know, we’re coming up with ideas of how do we bring this one popular dish and get it engaging at home with clients? And if we have to give away some of our secrets, then so be it.

Andrew Gordon: So if someone was thinking about starting a business now, in the COVID pandemic, are there any suggestions or tips that you’d have for them or do you think now would be a good time at all to start?

Mistey Nguyen: That’s so funny that you asked that question. I’ve used this time to develop a recipe and an idea that I’ve thought about for a very long time. I’ve come up with my solid proof recipe for a certain sauce.

You know, my father’s side of the family, they own a fish sauce company in Vietnam, and I’m going to use this time, whatever little time I have to push this product, like I want this on the shelf.

So, one, yes. If you’re going to think about starting a business now, just make sure that it translates, not only—especially if you’re a restaurant—not only does it translate at the restaurant, but translate at home, because there are people who are not ready to go out and dine in the public. They want to be able to enjoy and experience that at home, as well.

But also, get your marketing plan together. I used to live very close to Rogers Park and this new restaurant opened up in the neighborhood and I stopped in for lunch. And I just simply asked her, “So, you know, are you on social media?”

And I wasn’t trying to get her as a client. I just wanted to know, you know, it’s a Vietnamese restaurant. I’m Vietnamese, and I just want to make sure that my people are in tune of what’s available for them.

She said, “Oh, I don’t have a marketing plan. We’re walking around the neighborhood and putting out flyers in mailboxes, and that’s it. And you know, it’s the neighborhood, so hopefully, you know, I’m just relying on the neighborhood to come in.” That’s not a strategy at all.

Andrew Gordon: Yeah.

Mistey Nguyen: And you know, six months later, she closed her restaurant. So have a plan. Have a business plan, but also have a marketing plan. And people don’t want to spend money on marketing, but it’s so important right now.

Andrew Gordon: Yeah. Now more than ever, right?

Mistey Nguyen: Now more than ever.

Andrew Gordon: But there’s also opportunity because now more than ever, people are at home on the internet, watching media. So there’s more eyeballs available too. So in some ways, there’s opportunity.

Mistey Nguyen: Right.

Andrew Gordon: Well, Mistey, it’s been a pleasure having you. If someone wanted to reach out to you, a small business, a restaurant, that’s interested in the MADN Agency, what’s the best way for them to get in contact?

Mistey Nguyen: They can visit my website,, and they can reach out to me there. Or my social media information is on my website as well, and they can reach out to me through Instagram or on Facebook.

Andrew Gordon: Great. Well, thank you very much, and yeah, it’s a pleasure having you.

Mistey Nguyen: Thank you for having me.

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