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Joe's Food Emporium, Wolfville Nova Scotia

Member Since: 
January, 1996

Wolfville's Joe's Food Emporium Features Large Menu of Options. 

Joe's Food Emporium Pub & Eatery, located in Wolfville, Nova Scotia's historic downtown Main Street, offers a very wide range of menu items to suit every food taste and palate. 

The "Joe" in the eatery's Food Emporium restaurant name is Joe Rafih. A veteran foodservice operator he leads a family management team, along with a core group of employees, who make eating and drinking a memorable dining experience at Joe's. 

"We have something on the menu for everyone. We offer a big menu selection because in a small town market you have to have something to offer to match everyone's different taste in food choice. In a bigger city market, you can specialize," says Joe.

We have the youthful student appetite and budget, as well as those more senior community members to cater to with our menu selection. We have a variety on the menu because each customer group may have a different food preference entirely. We make sure our food portion size is generous. Young people don't want to stop at another food location on their way home from your place, so we make sure to give them value for their money," says Joe

"Our Pizzas are big sellers for us and prepared from a homemade recipe pizza with lots of extra cheese over what you might get in a more traditional chain restaurant. Our customers rave about our pizzas. We know what makes a great pizza, and it is lots of top quality cheese.  We put a lot of tasty ingredients into our pizzas. For this reason, our original Joe's recipe pizzas remain among our best sellers".

"Since our menu is so large in selection, we can position some items on the menu as a loss leader. This builds repeat customer visits because they appreciate the value in our menu pricing," says Joe.

“We developed our unique Potato Skins recipe,
and branded the menu item as Scott Skins”, Joe Rafih

"We are creative with our menu items offerings too. We developed our unique Potato Skins recipe and branded the menu item as Scott Skins. This special menu item is very popular with our customers. Customers’ come in from everywhere in the Nova Scotia Valley region as well as many parts of the Maritimes to have an order of Scott Skins, and are often ordered to go.

I have had customers tell me they were purchasing a Scott Skins order to go. Customers will say that they are going to share them with more distant friends in other regions of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and even over on the Island( PEI). Scott Skins is one of our more popular menu items for all ages."

Another great menu performer for us is our fish and chips. We use a special beer batter on the fish. We buy only top quality fish for our fried fish, and this is one of our more popular items ordered, especially by seniors," says Joe.

Joe's Emporium operates a 180 seat interior restaurant area, which bumps up to 250 during the summer months with a front and rear patio seating area. 

"Our patio tables  are a signature offering with us. We spend a lot of money investing in colorful seasonal flowers positioned all around our two patio decks. Customers frequently tell us that they appreciate the beauty of our patio locations".  

Joe says that operators have to make their location a special draw and go that extra effort so that customers will notice. Every season, we enjoy a great base of repeat customers who keep coming back again and again. They comment on the flower arrangements each year."

Joe’s Food Emporium Success Formula: 
Menu Variety, Customer Focus

If Joe has a formula for success, it is built around a few core business principles including treating customers well. 

"We are always reasonable with our customers, and we are careful in how we price our specials. We know we create goodwill with customers with our generous servings. We know it because our customers will mention it to the wait staff.

We employ a lot of students on our wait-staff. Students are great goodwill ambassadors for us on campus too. I focus on a full-time cook staff because we want the taste of our food offerings to be consistent year in and year out".

Joe is generous with his time in the community, serving on local Boards and community groups that promote the community as a drive-to-visit location. A large part of Wolfville's visitor traffic is the presence of Acadia University, and Joe spends time participating on committees. 

"I invest a lot of personal time on civic committees, and I attend events that foster continuing communication and goodwill between the town, and its biggest economic engine and community asset."

"We employ a large number of students as customer table servers.  Students have a lot of flex time, which allows us to scale up during busy periods and run a leaner staff during the low season when there is a reduced volume of customers. We maintain a full-time staff of 50 with a focus on our permanent cooking staff".

"Again this goes to keeping customers happy with consistency in the presentation and taste of our menu items. Every line cook and chef has different spices they like and often have a different take on how a dish should be prepared. To keep our menu consistent we work with our long-term staff to keep our look and feel, as well as taste consistent in our menu items", says Joe.

Joe has overcome some life and business challenges to get to a rewarding position in the community life of operating a successful food service business. Joe and his wife, Rauda, are now working together with their adult sons Hassan and Hussein as a family management team. The goal is to keep Joe's Food Emporium variety in menu tastes and dining options consistent with quality expectations, and deliver positive customer satisfaction every day.

One of the sons is mastering online website life by maintaining active Facebook, Foursquare, and Twitter accounts for their food emporium, which is critical now for holding the interest of younger (student) customers.

Joe grew up in Calgary as the son of hard working recent immigrants who came to Western Canada with very little to start with, in moving to a new country.  The original Rafih family worked in the restaurant business and eventually prospered through persistence and hard work, says Joe. For Joe, as a young person working with his father, he first mastered dishwashing as an introductory training course in running a successful food service operation.

In 1974, he accompanied his parents to Truro and helped the family launch Damascus Donair & Pizza as a family owned enterprise. Then, in 1977, he migrated to Wolfville and operated Elmer's Pizza. Joe continued to experiment with different food offerings, including a deli operation. Competition and changing tastes in customer food preferences encouraged Joe to adapt to the changing market conditions and popular menu tastes in his adopted community of Wolfville.

Developing Today’s Joe’s Food Emporium 
Unique Menu Offerings, Promotions

I always have been looking for ways to grow. No sports bar, then I added a sports bar, he says.

Joe says his lifelong ambition, as a restaurant owner was to make Wolfville a central dining and drinking location serving the larger Annapolis Valley region. There are a number of small towns and villages that compete for the attention of the residential population in one of Nova Scotia's primary agricultural industry areas surrounding the university town.

During his early Wolfville years, Joe opened Casablanca as a bistro style-diner in a location next door to Elmer's Pizza. Over time, he was able to merge the two smaller food operations into what is Wolfville’s today premiere eat, drink and be merry location as Joe's Food Emporium. His customer success formula resembles his food menu; there is something for everyone to like.

"We have 14 large screen TV monitors on the walls in the Emporium for those that want to consume their entertainment in a sports bar atmosphere. There is no sports bar in Wolfville, so we made one. For a different customer experience, you can also find a quiet corner for a more intimate meal. There is something here for everybody." 

Joe spent years lobbying to relax local civic ordinances around entertaining, and extending business hours, as well as what could be offered late into the night. Today, Joe's Food Emporium is open until midnight on weeknights, and until 2:00 am on weekends. For the early riser, there is a full breakfast menu available at 9:00 am on any day.

To accommodate those that are entertaining at home, or in a university residence, Joe's offers an online ordering option with prompt delivery right up to closing time. Their website makes online ordering easy to complete, and they take remote electronic payments as a convenience to customers. 

"We only charge a dollar for delivery and that goes to the driver along with the customer's tip. Delivery is important to us because it is important to our customers.  We do not do any catering beyond our delivery of any menu item, which community groups will use for their meetings. The university has a large kitchen and dining hall area where a lot of weddings and special events are held, so we stick to convenient delivery of our menu items. 

UNIPCO’s Price Management Program is a 
Big Part of Joe’s Emporium Success Story 

Joe says that another key ingredient in his family's success in the food business has been the cost control of buying menu ingredients through UNIPCO. 

Joe's Food Emporium was among the first restaurants in the Valley region to join UNIPCO in the 90's. Joe says he is proud of the fact that he called UNIPCO at the time, rather than UNIPCO calling him to join.

The reason for joining UNIPCO was simple. It was his personal focus on purchase pricing control and buying products to his financial advantage, and not for the advantage of the distributors. 

"I am a good negotiator on prices, and I was constantly being careful to know exactly what the price of my product purchases was at the time. I had to pay constant attention to keep up with the many sleight of hand tricks that distributors were using to conceal the actual cost of most of my purchases in the 80's. I call this time BU for my business. BU, he explains is Before UNIPCO (BU).  

Joe says that UNIPCO has changed everything for the restaurant operator.  "Everything that is being offered today in terms of Loyalty Programs and cost reduction programs from the major food distributors are designed to entice customers to stay with the Big Two. These attractive incentives and reward programs being offered today are as a direct result of UNIPCO's leadership on transparent pricing (to members)", says Joe.

"Unfortunately, people appear today in the industry to forget how it used to be. You would have a distributor's representative come in and tell you to pick your ten top best seller ingredients and you would negotiate their best price on these items. You had a deal. You thought you had a deal, but as soon as you were busy doing something else, the price of your largest purchases would drift up. Always up, never down."  

"At the time, I would call them about the change in my prices, and they would offer apologies, plus throw in a free case of fries to make everything good in their minds."

“UNIPCO has been great for the independents 
here in the Maritimes, and great for me,” Joe Rafih

"That worked until the next time. You fall asleep, and your prices go up. UNIPCO came in and put a stop to that kind of business practice. UNIPCO has been great for the independents here in the Maritimes, and great for me. I have to keep reminding my staff and others of what it was like in BU; Before UNIPCO. People's memories are too short", says Joe.

"Today, almost every week, I am told that UNIPCO is going away. My staff is being told that UNIPCO is going to go away, and when it does that our prices will go way up. These sales representatives are convincing that I should come over and sign up with a certain distributor now, for protection. They argue that I should lock in my prices before it is too late. I ignore it because I like having the fixed prices that UNIPCO negotiates for my advantage. Price control is nice to have, but it must be protected. UNIPCO must protect itself.

"People in our industry need to remember that all these loyalty programs and special offers that we are being offered so we can be cherry pickers on product prices, are only happening because of UNIPCO. UNIPCO is here and is keeping everyone honest. Take away UNIPCO, and it will go back to the bad old days when no one knew what they were paying for their product orders. Before UNIPCO, the control over our business rested with the distributors."

I tell you these big companies hate UNIPCO. They are smart too. They tell my sons and others to make them their secondary supplier after UNIPCO because they want to cherry pick the best offers and erode UNIPCO's appeal to us as food operators. I say that once they get their teeth in, they will eventually bite.

The Challenge Ahead for Foodservice Industry
is Keeping Up With Customers’ Taste, and Marketing Changes 

Joe says UNIPCO needs to keep telling its story of financial value to retain members and to attract more new members. 

"We need to keep training our staff on the latest, and best products that can help our business to grow." Every operator needs help in growing their business," says Joe. 

Also helping Joe's Food Emporium right now to grow and adapt to change is the next Rafih generation. Joe and Ruanda’s two sons, Hassan and Hussein, are taking on the responsibility for customer marketing promotions on the Joe's Food Emporium website and are using social media postings.

Their sons are mastering social promotions and postings on Facebook pages, Foursquare check-ins, as well as using Twitter to promote specials and community events.  A Joe’s customer newsletter is under development attracting sign ups. The new newsletter program already has a number of sign-ups for customers that are interested in being reminded of upcoming menu specials, as well as important community events. 

Joe says that the challenge for the Rafih family business is like that of all of his colleagues in the food business. "We all have to keep up with the marketplace changes, and we need to take advantage of what is new to us. Keeping up is the challenge," says Joe.

Joe's Food Emporium Pub & Eatery
434 Main St, Wolfville, NS B4P 1E2

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