If we can collectively do something together, if we can organize ourselves, we can make a difference.
Our interview with Olga at Piroshky Piroshky covered so many good points that we broke it into two articles. You can check out the article on Piroshky Piroshky here. Olga Sagan has owned Piroshky Piroshky for the past few years but has involved with the business for far longer. Famous for their location inside Pike Place Market, the company has quickly found success and acceptance as they’ve grown throughout the downtown core. However, that concentration in downtown has also left them vulnerable in the COVID era. Through a series of innovations, Piroshky Piroshky is now finding new grounding and purpose. And they are now the launchpad for Sagan’s newest venture: Catch22Market, which launched in March 2020 to organize restaurants to retain more of their sales and profit, at the time when they need it most.
Location: All over Seattle, and the country!
Interview with: Olga Sagan
What’s incredible about your story is that, in the midst of the chaos of the past few months and in working tirelessly to keep several Piroshki Piroshki locations open, you also started another business. Catch22Market connects customers directly to restaurants for delivery, to ensure that more of the sale and revenues stays with the restaurants and to ensure that the restaurant delivers on the complete customer experience. Was this something you’ve been considering for a long time or was there a distinct moment when it clicked?
It was a specific moment. It was March 24th. Everything had been shut down and business had just disappeared. Third party delivery apps were still working but they just don’t work for restaurants. They don’t make money for anyone, just the app. I tell all my fellow business owners that they should track sales through those apps as an expense line, not an income line.
But, we were trying so hard to keep our people employed, so we dug into our own delivery service. We had an online store – people could just order from our site; I can put my people in the car and they can deliver it to you like - we have all the logistics in place. But customers just would not click on my web site – they are trained now to got through the third party apps – they don’t even think to go to a restaurant’s site.
Those platforms are creating so many sales but they are not creating jobs. So, I said, OK, how do I bring sales straight to my website? How do I bring people onto my website? How do I tell my customers that I have digital presence?
I went to Pike Place Fish. I went to Pike Place Chowder and I told them: come on over to my website and I’ll deliver your stuff.
Little by little, my sales went up and we had more visitors to the site. And, I realized how much power there was in collectiveness, in doing this together.
So I decided to create a website that tells customers which restaurants have their own websites and their own delivery option. So if the consumer is willing to do a little bit of extra legwork, they can save the restaurant 30-40% in fees - especially when they do pickup. And, it keeps the sales in the business’ hands. Hopefully this is a first step to educate customers, but also small business owners – I want them to see that we now we have two doors. We have a front door, that is currently empty because of the shutdown, with we also have a digital door and we have to take that door back. Whoever took that door away from us - we have to take it back. This is our door. This is our store. This is our restaurant. We own it. We make the food. And, our people should realize the profit. That’s my hope.
And, this vision of connectivity is clearly catching on – you have a lot of restaurants on your site now.
225. In Seattle alone.
How were you able to get this off the ground so quickly?
We are working with a group of students, most of whom are from the UW (check out the impressive cohort of students working on this project here!). They have been working on it so hard for the past 4 months and they’re actually about to launch a reboot of the site in the next couple weeks. It’s going to be beautiful and very user friendly. We’re working so hard and it’s really costing a lot, but we want it to look professional, so that it drives more customers to this new front door.
If you think it, every single person in this world has either a mom or an aunt or a friend who is a small business owner, a restaurant owner, an immigrant, and who has problems with technology. So we can relate to everyone. And this new generation, they're so passionate about technology and they're so passionate about helping others understand how to use it. Which is where we as a small business owners need help.
That was the gap that the third party apps were filling but we can fill that gap for ourselves.
And, how has it been going?
We are delivering. My drivers are happy because they make so much in tips and they make good wages. And then I have the happiest customers in the world because my delivery drivers are not just delivery drivers – they are our Piroshky Piroshky brand ambassadors. Our customers have direct access back to us.
And you know what? When customers are not happy, they can call me and we can do something about it and take good care of them. So the customer is happy too.
And I'm happy as a business. We have taken those three pieces: the customer, the business and the driver and made them happy.
You’re running Piroshky Piroshky, through a difficult time. And, then you’ve launched a new business. How are you doing this? Both financially and personally?
I have been funding Catch22 personally. I’m lucky that we’ve run our business conservatively so we had reserve funds. And, I have an amazing team. My management team is the most talented people you have ever imagined.
And let me tell you, if you know how to develop and create talent and careers in the food industry, you can do it anywhere because people who work in food industry are the most hard working people you could ever find. Somehow the food industry gets this bad rap - it's considered to be a prestigious career.
But, the team that I have, I will go to war with them. They have helped me build my technology company, they've been driving, they've been doing accounting and everything in between. I have bakers who got in the car and were delivery drivers. My production person became my accountant.
It’s been a process in recognizing that we all have passions, we all have so many talents. And, I have worked so hard to keep my team, to not lose them.
What do you wish government understood about what’s happening to your business and about what change you are trying to push forward?
I'm going to be the devil's advocate here - it may not be a popular opinion, but I think we all have to be responsible. We like to complain, but we need to do things. If you want your voice to be heard, you need to do something about it.
I have found that the government is willing to listen. They might not change anything. But, they’re usually willing to listen, so if it’s not just me, but there’s another 500 or 1000 people asking for something, then we can make a movement. Go. Vote. Lobby. Ask. Act. Not just be mad. Volunteer your time. Educate yourself.
I still believe that this country can offer change and opportunity. We’ve seen it firsthand, a month ago, on Capitol Hill, where there was this coming together, to make a difference.
Catch22 is a part of this collectiveness. If we collectively can do something together, if we can organize ourselves, we can make a difference. We can we can get things done in this country. That's what's so great.
At minimum, support your small local micro economy, support the business next door to you, whatever that business is, because the money is going to stay there. And, take that extra step, go to Catch22, directly support businesses.
Hey, Seattle, here's how you can help!
Use Catch22Market the next time you want take-out or delivery, to support other businesses across the city
Connect Catch22Market to businesses in other cities who may be able to host pop-up's!