This new weekly series explores the customer aspect of small businesses, both from the first person and business owner's perspective. If you have a small business you'd like to share, please email me.
Today, we take a look at a specialty restaurant that caters to a widespread, loyal clientele and has withstood the test of time.
: Michael DeMatos, 26, a New Jersey resident who works in real estate.
: Rutt's Hut, a roadside hot dog stop in Clifton, N.J.
How did it hook you?
: Sentiment. ... I used to go there often as a kid. It's a well-known landmark in Jersey.
However, most importantly, they make awesome hot dogs. No one really even comes close. One cannot ignore
the great hot dogs and homemade relish. I think this uniqueness of flavor and the old-time diner feel of the place offer an experience rare in this day of chain, quasi-fast food restaurants a la Friday's, Applebee's, Chevys.
What image does Rutt's Hut evoke?
The old-time American roadside food stand, complete with small chilled glasses of draught beer and a bartender who calls out the orders in "diner talk," a ... diner dialect unbeknownst to most patrons.
What do you value in the small businesses you patronize?
Quality, results, customer service and pride.
We know what you like; so what do you avoid?
A food mill masquerading as authentic. For example, Olive Garden commercials where they
give the impression that the chefs are trained in Italy. ... The Olive Garden's food, while tasty, is by no means authentic.
After that glowing recommendation, I chatted with Kostis Chrisafinis, partial owner of Rutt's Hut, which has been featured in
and on the Martha Stewart show.
Chrisafinis' family bought the restaurant from the original owner, Abe Rutt, who opened Rutt's in 1927. Nobody recalls the exact start-up costs, but Chrisafinis says Rutt's makes approximately $1.5 million from the business each year.
So how do you keep the customers coming?
: Through word-of-mouth and generation to generation. That's how we've done our business. Families bringing their kids. ... People grew up on Rutt's.
Plus, I think you can't get a comparable hot dog. Our thing here is we deep-fry the hot dog. Not a lot of places that do that. That's the way original owner did it.
And the prices are beyond reasonable. A regular hot dog is $1.80 plus tax.
Does your location help?
Honestly, our location is not what would be considered an 'A' location ... but people
still come from all walks of life and far and wide. People drive up from Michigan.
We're 15 minutes from the Newark airport. Some people won't even go to see their family
when they arrive -- they stop here first. We are also five minutes from Giants Stadium and Continental Arena
so we do big business with basketball
How do you think your customers see you?
We're a family-style restaurant with fast food.
What are your plans for the future?
I'm the youngest one out of four partners ...
the senior partners don't want to take any risks. I see opportunity. We should be everywhere. Unfortunately, I only own 25% of the pie.
What is the best advice you can give to any small business?
Consistency is key ... and word of mouth. That's what draws the people back. They know if they come here they're gonna get what they've been getting through the years.
Plus, we have no managers. There is a partner here at all times. Nobody is going to watch the place the way you are.
You boast of a star-studded clientele of athletes and actors, including regular Yankees coach Roy White. Why does your business have such wide appeal?
I'm too young to know, but I heard that
Babe Ruth used to come here back in the day. He was a big fan of hot dogs. The beauty of the hot dog business is you can be a blue-collar worker standing next to a millionaire. Everybody eats hot dogs.