Aligning Brand Evolution with Tradition
When you’re short-staffed, it’s easy to want to hire the first applicant. But holding out for the right candidate pays off—not just in quality of work, but in the contribution to your culture. Employees are your best brand ambassadors; they spread the mission and values, and they play a role in creating a great place to work. Join celebrated winery Cakebread Cellars in this episode to learn about developing workplace culture, hiring practices, and implementing team values in business.
On the Yelp Blog: Read more about Cakebread’s four customer service tips to not only meet, but surpass expectations.
EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Every episode I pick one review on Yelp and talk to the entrepreneur and the reviewer about the story and business lessons behind it. This week we’re featuring Cakebread Cellars. One of many Napa Valley wineries, but it stood out to reviewer Jamee and is still to this day a favorite brand of hers. Not all winery visits are able to transform someone from a one-time client to a loyal customer, but Jamee’s visit marked the beginning of a steadfast relationship with Cakebread. After her five-star experience, she began to seek out Cakebread wine both through online orders and via retailers closer to home. Let’s hear Jamee’s review.
JAMEE: We received lovely customer service and they have a lovely outdoor seating area for wine club members. Our wine server was very knowledgeable, professional and friendly. She was very passionate about her job and I loved hearing the history of Cakebread and how the owners purchased the land and started many years ago.
COVID procedures are in place. They took our temps before we entered and masks are required. Staff wore gloves and masks. Then we were given a wine list and each wine was introduced and given a little bit of background before pouring. I love that we were also given small bites with our tasting.
Our wine glasses came with our tasting, our server wrapped each glass and bagged them for us and also gave us some chocolates to take home. What a lovely experience.
EMILY: Jamee highlighted Cakebread’s superior customer service —in an experience that is so reliant on those personal, tailored interactions, the sommeliers and servers play a central role in ensuring guests are satisfied with their experience.
JAMEE: She knew exactly when to come in. And when to stop talking and give us time to enjoy our company with our guests or our guests, us being guests. Like I had mentioned in my review, I liked that she didn’t just say the name of the wine and tell us a little about the wine and then poured and left.
What I liked is that she gave us a history about the wine, what types of grapes they used, or if they mixed it with a different type of grape for this certain wine. So before she poured, she would give us a little bit of history. And then as she’s pouring, she’s talking a little bit more about the owners or a little bit about the winery, and then we tasted and then she’ll ask, oh, how did you like that? This is my favorite, or, you know, just asking, how do you feel about this wine that you’re trying? And then she’ll politely and professionally just say, okay, now I’ll be back. I’m going to get the other wine ready for you.
And, she leaves for a good … she just gives us enough time. And I think she’s very observant that she watches to see, you know, the level of our glasses and then she swoops right in, but it’s just comparing it to other wineries where I’ve been. It’s like an art. She’s just so amazingly perfect. The timing is just impeccable. She just comes in and she knows exactly how to introduce the next wine without us. You know, sometimes when you have a waiter, how is everything, but you just put a bite in your mouth and then you can’t speak. So she just knew exactly when to walk in and when to exit. It was really good.
EMILY: Customer service extends beyond the one on one interactions customers have with their server—it’s the feeling they get when they walk onto the grounds, and the summation of every conversation they have with each staff member along the way. It all comes together to create a very specific environment.
JAMEE: So I’ve been to enough wineries, whether it’s something that’s more family friendly, and others that are more, you know, adults only – and the tasting price is more on the high side. Because there are some places where it’s free, but you know that everyone goes there, everyone buys wine there.
But Cakebread in comparison to other wineries that I’ve been to – more upscale wineries, they do feel welcoming and warm. They were not stuffy. They were not snooty. It felt like they wanted you to feel like, even though we have an upscale reputation, we’re still approachable.
The way they talk to you – I mean, knowing that we’re not wine club members and what I liked is that they didn’t push you to be a wine club member. And that’s very important because I feel like if you know that you have great wine, you don’t need to push your membership on your customers. So that was nice. I liked feeling that I could just sit here and enjoy tasting your wines and I’m going to buy a bottle or two, and perhaps I will join if I feel like I’m ready to join, versus having them hovering, here’s our, you know, these are your prices if you’re a wine club member, I mean, there was none of that at all. And other places they almost turned their nose on you if you’re not a wine club member, and I didn’t get that feeling at all with Cakebread.
EMILY: Prioritizing creating a welcoming and approachable space is a value that runs deep in Cakebread’s culture. Brian, the team’s culinary director says it best:
BRIAN: Cakebread cellars is a family owned business located in Rutherford, in the heart of the Napa Valley and started by Jack and Dolores Cakebread. Very first vintage is 1973. Next year we’ll be celebrating our 50th anniversary. That’s something exciting for us.
The Cakebread family is originally from the East Bay. Jack Cakebread had a business in Oakland. This was a second career for him and then his two sons who now own the winery, Bruce and Dennis they spend their whole careers at the winery.
So Bruce was our second wine maker. We’ve only had four winemakers in our entire history, which is, I think, something that speaks volumes about our business and continuity. And then Dennis Cakebread came from an accounting background and did sales and marketing, for most of the history of the winery.
Very much a family business. I think one of the ways that they run the business is that they take and take a lot of pride in it. They are very hands-on owners and make world-class wines, but also to be just as well known for their hospitality. The Napa Valley is sort of based on that, so that you visit a winery – it’s very much about, you know, tasting the wines, but it’s also the experiences that you have there and the hospitality that the winery provides and the interactions you have with the hosts. And so that’s always been a very important part of how they viewed their business and how we want our guests to feel welcome and valued.
EMILY: Balancing a high-end experience with comfort and making sure customers, especially non-members, feel welcome can be tricky. The answer may lie in going back to the basics of hospitality.
BRIAN: So anybody who comes to the Napa Valley, it’s obviously a special occasion, right? So, you know, wine tasting is something that people look forward to. Maybe you’ve been saving up or have been traveling from different parts of the country.
So expectations are very high. And each winery is sort of a reflection of the owner and their property and the Cakebreads are very, I mean, when you meet the family, they’re very approachable. Very welcoming, down to earth. Nothing makes them happier than sharing the winery with their guests.
And that’s really our approach to how we treat hospitality. Pretty down to earth people, you know, it doesn’t feel like you’re going to a French chateau. I mean, there’s other wineries in the valley and that’s the experience. And I love that experience. But coming to Cakebread is much, much more welcoming and friendly. And I think those people feel comfortable at their beautiful grounds. They take a lot of pride in the winery and the architecture of the building. There’s sort of a classic California like feel to our architecture. Delores Cakebread is a master gardener who took great pride in our grounds and our gardens. And then, you know, just the family’s approach in general to hospitality is to be welcoming and friendly.
There’s a phrase we use a lot: friendly yet professional. So it’s friendly like you’re hanging out with your friends on your back patio. And, but that might be a little bit too casual at work. So there’s a way you project yourself and conduct yourself, that is approachable and friendly, but you’re still professional.
I mean, our guests eat in nice restaurants. They stay in nice hotels. So their expectations are pretty high. But I think we want to come a little bit closer to feel like you’re being invited to their home.
EMILY: And that welcoming, family vibe is what deepened the relationship Jamee felt she had with the brand long after her visit.
JAMEE: I don’t live very close, going to Sonoma county or Napa is more of a treat. So my husband and I will go there maybe four times a year. But when we do shop for wine, we already know which brands we like and which type of wine that we like, and we’ll just, it’s like easy, oh, Cakebread. We’ll just remember, we really liked that cab from this one year. Yeah. I wish that we lived close enough that we could be wine members. It’s just hard. Especially with kids. It’s hard to pull ourselves away.
Because every weekend is a sports weekend. So maybe when we’re older and our kids are old we’ll remember the experience at Cakebread and say, ‘remember that was really fun. Now we can be wine members.’ But we do use the experiences that we had; whether it’s at a restaurant or even when we look at the wine list at a restaurant, if we see Cakebread we say, oh, this was a good one. Remember this one, we really liked this one. And so we’ll order that.
Or we do have a couple of bottles at home that are ready, especially because we have our glasses and people know like, oh, I mean, Cakebread has a reputation. And so when we have friends over at our house and they see that we’re pouring them Cakebread in the wine glasses, they say, whoa, you guys went to Cakebread? So fancy!
I’m like, yes, I know we’re almost, we’re almost wine club members. But yeah, we have this great experience with them, so we’re sharing that with our friends. And so if they do end up going they’ll just say, oh, Jamie S really loves this wine. And they had a great experience at the winery, so that’s one that we need to hit the next time.
EMILY: One aspect of the Cakebread experience that goes back to the brand’s early days is its unique food offerings—Brian and his team of chefs curate a rotating menu to feature the seasonal offerings that the estate harvests.
BRIAN: There’s a lot of wine food programs in the valley. Jack and Dolores when they first started, it really had the mindset that wine is meant to be enjoyed with food. And that’s how we promote ourselves. So we have a variety of different programs that we do that Jamie was fortunate enough to be invited to spend some time on the wine club patio with her friends who are wine club members. And so obviously those are very important customers.
You love it when people become wine club members, because then your relationship with them is direct. When they’re buying your wine on a regular basis, But you’re also developing that relationship, then they become ambassadors, ideally, which it seems like Jamie’s friends are ambassadors for us because they’d bring their friends here and then all of a sudden we know we’ve got more ambassadors.
So for wine club members, when they come to the winery, there’s a separate area for them. That’s patio, that’s a seated tasting and a selection of wines that are primarily focused on wines for the wine club. And when the guests first are seated, we give them a little amuse. And so it’s typically a little crostini with spread – most often goat cheese. And then Josh and myself changed the toppings throughout the year to reflect what comes out of our garden. So when the Cakebreads first bought the property, one of the first things they did was put in a vegetable garden. And I think one of the joys of being a chef here is that’s what drives our menus.
We think about what wine we want to showcase, but then what can we cook off of the property that we’ll showcase the wine. And so the day that Jamie was here and it was interesting cause when I listened to her, she said she was here for Valentine’s day, weekend, and then she said, I had crostini with tomatoes on it and we’re very seasonal. So I was like cherry tomatoes. And I looked at the photo. The photo is goat cheese with these heirloom carrots. So our gardener plants and she’ll do it in one bed, where she’ll plant a variety of different carrots. So it’s almost as colorful as cherry tomatoes that come in a variety of colors.
Cause like there’s no way we would have served cherry tomatoes in February. But you know, we had these carrots from our garden and they’re there with your yellow ones and orange ones and, you know, purple haze.
But then we drizzle it with a little bit of our honey, because we have hives on the property. So just accentuate the sweetness a little bit, maybe it mimics a cherry tomato. And then we sprinkled a little bit of Duco, which is a Middle Eastern spice blend. And that sort of makes flavors.
And typically that would be put down on a plate just as like we’re pouring them a glass of sauvignon blanc, and that sort of wakes your taste buds up. And it’s a little surprise and delight, and it’s, you know, as I said, everybody comes here with high expectations and you want to meet those expectations, but really want to surpass them.
And so that’s just something that they’re not expecting. And it’s some sort of a gift placed on the plate to welcome them and start their tasting as part of the wine club.
And we have other tastings. If you came and signed up for a tasting and you aren’t fortunate enough to come with Jamie’s wine members and you do it. There’s a variety of different tastings we have. And so we also have wine – food experiences. And that’s an opportunity for our guests for bites. No, we’re not a restaurant. That’s really not the purpose of our food program. At the wineries operate as a restaurant, but for us to do experiences where people get to try our wine with the food.
And so we change this menu throughout the year, but again, it’s a reflection of what’s coming off the property with four bites. And it’s an opportunity for our guests to see with the creativity of Josh and myself, but also how they perceive flavors and how wine and food interact. So that’s another experience.
We’re actually getting ready for a cooking class tomorrow. Josh is leading a class on a spring vegetable garden. So it’s a way for us to showcase the garden and sort of the cooking that we do this time of year with a selection of wines. We have a lot of fun with that.
All the cooking classes we do are hands-on. And so what we found over the years, we did demo classes, but what people more often than not, would like to get in the kitchen and cook with the chefs. And so basically they make their own meals. So it’s interactive, it’s a full day experience. We have a lot of fun with it and our guests, they really enjoy it. It’s a different experience that you can’t do at too many other wineries.
EMILY: Brian and his team honor the estate’s culinary tradition—serving produce grown on-site—with the bites they create. With Cakebread’s family background being such an important part of its values, recruitment of new team members follows on the same tack. It takes a special candidate passing a rigorous recruitment process to earn a place on Brian’s culinary team.
BRIAN: In the culinary department, we work very closely together. It’s actually a very small team. In many ways that’s one of the things I really like because we have great respect and communication for one another. We do work together and support one another. I don’t think anybody feels too proud to help in whatever way, whatever needs to be done.
I think it speaks a lot to the recruiting process. Our HR department is pretty thorough. It’s good experience and I think it speaks to the fact that we want to have a really good fit. You know, we don’t want to waste an employee’s time if it’s not a good fit for them. And obviously it’s a detraction from the company if it’s not a good fit. So we really try to take our time.
I think we have a fabulous HR department that really puts in the work as far as making sure it’s a good fit. And then also the onboarding process when employees do come on board, that they really get what our culture is about and our history and, and how we want to be viewed and how we want to project ourselves to our customers.
EMILY: Speaking of projecting Cakebread’s culture and history—these factors heavily play into how the team displays their products. Aesthetically-pleasing beverages and food pairings make for an enticing photo op! Jamee included three photos in her review of Cakebread—she showed one of the small plates, her wine glass, and the branded chocolate she had been given.
JAMEE: I’m a photographer on the side, so I always take pictures. If I like something, if something attracts the eye, I’ll take a picture of it. Usually when we walk in, if there’s flowers like beautiful, fresh flowers, or if there’s something with their name on it, or, for example, if there’s, if there’s a sign on the door that’s beautiful or the doorknob looks amazing. I take that. With every wine, even though it looks the same, For anyone who’s not there. I will take a picture of every wine that comes out in the glass. And then, this friend of mine. My best friend who is there, we are always taking pictures. Ooh, let’s boomerang that, so that, you know, this is the wine going in and out and it’s for every wine. We do that for everyone, all the whites, all the reds. And we’ll take video, we’ll take pictures.
If the scenery looks great, then, then I want to promote that for the business. Especially for other Yelpers to see. Wow! What a gorgeous sight. Wow! What artistic features do they have at the site? Ooh, look at the food and I think that’s what attracts people to come to the businesses. Because they’re seeing your experience, you’re sharing their experience and they want to see in comparison to another winery. Why should we go to Cakebread?
Oh, look at this. They have chocolates. I want the Yelpers to see my experience and know why, why should I go to Cakebread.
EMILY: The impact of reviews affects both future customers and the business itself—posted reviews influence peoples’ decisions about whether they want to visit Cakebread, and they play an important role in making sure every customer has the best experience possible. To close out, let’s hear about how the Cakebread team thinks about and leverages feedback to improve their business.
BRIAN: After events that have a culinary aspect to them, we send out a survey. And that is an opportunity for us to see if we’re doing a good job. If we exceeded their expectations. And if there was an issue, it’s an opportunity for us to learn. So that’s how I view it. And honestly I know our founder, Jack Cakebread passed away last week. He was 92 years old. Lived a wonderful life. And I think of different things I learned from him or that he used to say. One of the things he said is that it’s always easier to keep a customer than to get a new one, and obviously we want new customers, but we want to keep the customers that we have.
We value the feedback we get from our customers. If they do give us negative feedback, you know, I think we thank them. We’re very appreciative that they took the time to share that with us, because if they don’t, it doesn’t give us an opportunity to learn from it.
And they did tell you, more often than not, you’re going to reach out to them. I know I’ve been in that role where you know it, I did get that feedback and more often than not I want to talk to them. It’s like, wow, I’m sorry we didn’t meet your expectations and we’ve made note of it. So we don’t necessarily look at it like, oh, you, you messed up, you screwed up. It’s just for us all to be aware, you know? And especially in the hospitality industry, because I mean, someone could show up at your property that’s already in a bad mood, and if you’re good at your job and you take hospitality seriously, it’s picking up on cues. So that if you sort of pick up on that, I was like, Ooh, I’ve got to, I got to make sure I get a glass of wine in their hand, or, you know, a little bite to eat or whatever.
You can turn that, as opposed to letting it fester until it’s too late. We’re all human, our goal is for everybody to leave here happy and tell their friends.