Zane Caplansky was born to own a deli. Now one of Canada’s most successful and well-known restaurateurs, Zane’s path to smoked-meat success was a haphazard one. With jobs along the way that included acting as a political assistant, becoming a business consultant, and owning an e-learning dot com, it was his insatiable craving for the perfect sandwich that finally saw him shifting his course to realize a dream he wasn’t completely aware he even had. Sharing his inspiring story of how he found and followed his passion, Zane helps audiences ignite the spark of success in their own lives. In this column for The Globe and Mail, Zane explains how he’s garnered media attention since opening his first restaurant:
As the owner of a small chain of Jewish deli restaurants, I’ve somehow managed to get an awful lot of media attention. It wasn’t all part of a conscious strategy, but I have learned a lot about what catches the media’s interest. Here are some tips if you want to get your company noticed.
Do something interesting, different or new. My adventure with food and media began in 2008 in the upstairs room of a dank saloon in Toronto’s Little Italy. Back then, media attention was never a consideration. Being unable to afford a conventional restaurant, I just needed an affordable place to sell my homemade smoked-meat sandwiches. Media? Who was ever going to find me up there on the second floor inside an old “dive bar?”
That “deli-in-a-dive-bar” is considered by many to be Toronto’s first pop-up restaurant. Before I opened, Save the Deli author David Sax wrote about it for this newspaper. “Jewish food comes back downtown,” the headline read. Thanks to him, I ran out of food.
Before long, New York Times writer Adam Sachs wrote about me being part of the new wave of artisanal meat purveyors in Toronto. The penultimate issue of Gourmet included a profile of my efforts to bring smoked meat to downtown Toronto. As a former subscriber I never imagined I’d see my name, let alone my photograph, in those pages. USA Today, Details and many others wrote about the deli. It became almost obnoxious.
Reporters need stuff to write about. If you’re doing something interesting, don’t be shy: Tell people. And if it really is interesting, word will get around. Storytelling is a bit of a skill but look for examples of what other people do and tell stories about. Take food trucks, for example.
Not every food-truck owner got the kind of press attention that mine got. But by being the first modern food truck in Toronto, I got lots of media interest. Since launching “Thunderin’ Thelma’s” in 2011 I’ve had four years of news stories about fighting city hall, battling the restaurant lobby and starting a food-truck revolution. Clearly, being the first modern food truck in the city provided an opportunity to tell a great story. It also gave me a reason to go on CBC’s Dragons’ Den.
Be controversial. The event that stirred the most media controversy was, despite what many people suspect, not a cheap attempt to gain media attention. But sponsoring the Toronto Palestine Film Festival gained global attention.
Social media certainly played a role. After seeing all the anger between the warring sides of the Middle East conflict posting on Facebook I decided to post a simple status update. “Caplansky’s Deli is sponsoring the Toronto Palestinian Film Festival.” A reporter friend on Facebook saw that, notified his editor and the following day I was interviewed on the phone. I truly never expected the reaction that story got.
Media outlets sought interviews as far away as London and Jerusalem. Yet the sponsorship offer was made in February, long before violence erupted in Israel. It really just seemed like a nice thing to do.
Go on Dragons’ Den. It doesn’t have to be Dragons’ Den. There are all kinds of television, radio and print shows that are looking for people to pitch, compete or show audiences something interesting. But Dragons’ Den really did change my life. In fact, I doubt anyone would be interested in buying franchises of Caplansky’s Deli if not for the attention gained from that show.
Although unsuccessful in getting a deal, my first appearance led to three more. With an average viewership over one million people, the marketing power alone is almost priceless. Beyond audience awareness, the Den also brought me to the attention of Food Network Canada.
After judging four seasons of two different shows on Food Network Canada and being a guest on at least a half dozen more plus the Dragons’ Den exposure, I’m often recognized even when I travel far from Toronto.