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Behind the Review host and Yelp’s Small Business Expert, Emily Washcovick, shares a look at this week’s episode of the podcast.
At first glance, Duran Central Pharmacy in Albuquerque, New Mexico looks like your average pharmacy with over-the-counter medications and pharmacists ready to fill your prescriptions. But walk to the back of the building, and you’ll quickly find that Duran’s is much more than meets the eye. You’ll first pass through a gift shop, filled with an assortment of kitschy items curated by their staff—from vintage candy and funky kitchen gadgets to Southwestern books. Continue on, and you’ll find yourself in the third branch of the business: a distinctly New Mexican restaurant born from the pharmacy’s fountain soda machine in the early days, now a full-service restaurant that’s been delivering an iconic Southwestern menu for over 50 years.
Packing a 3-for-1 punch, Duran’s attracts both locals and tourists alike, but one of the things that keeps everyone coming back is its dedication to what works. While it’s common for restaurants to update their menus, Duran’s has become a legendary destination by making absolutely no changes to the dining menu since 1965.
“New Mexicans are very quirky. We land on a New Mexican fare that we like, and we swear by it. And whoever’s that is, that’s the ‘right’ way to make it,” said Duran’s owner Mona Ghattas, who has worked at Duran’s since she was a small child when her father ran the business.
“We have a large customer base of locals, and they never deviate from the menu. All my wait staff know the locals by what they order. Huevos rancheros over easy, green with a splash of red. Whatever it is, they know them by their order, not so much by their name.”
While the menu has stayed consistent over the years, Duran’s has evolved in other ways, focusing on things that customers would expect to be updated and new.
“When I took over, I realized that we really were falling by the wayside,” Mona said. “I wanted to keep the flavor of Duran’s. I wanted to keep the front end, but I wanted to update it and brand it. We started looking for more interesting merchandise, and we narrowed our pharmacy offerings to more apothecary, boutique-type pharmacy offerings.”
Listening to what her customers wanted helped Mona bring Duran’s into a new era of profitability. A staunch believer in supporting her community, Mona particularly felt the impact of having a tight-knit support network during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Duran’s had to pivot to takeout. Navigating this new business model proved challenging, but because Duran’s had always listened to and supported the community, including other local businesses, its customers were more than happy to reciprocate and help the restaurant survive the uncertain times.
“When you shop locally, more money stays in the community, so I think it’s very, very important to support local businesses,” Mona said. “I don’t consider other local businesses my competitors. I feel like they’re fellow collaborators, and I try to promote other local businesses as much as I can. Because if they’re strong, then I’m gonna be strong, and our communities are going to be strong.”
In terms of customers supporting businesses, we usually think about the traditional shopping process, but there is another great way customers can aid the businesses they care about. Yelp reviewer and Duran’s customer Nicole O. writes online reviews specifically to support small businesses in her community and those she travels to, citing the power and usefulness of reviews, both to the business and other customers. As an avid traveler, she relies on Yelp reviews to help navigate new cities and find the best meals for her tastes.
“We really don’t wanna be spending our money at places that are not worth it,” Nicole said. “I rely heavily on reviews specifically when I travel. If you don’t know someone, and you’re not going to a place or a state or a country or even a different side of town you’ve been to before, you’ re really just throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping it sticks.
“In a time where inflation is high and the dollar needs to stretch, you really don’t wanna leave disappointed. So whether I leave excited after an experience or disappointed after an experience, I try to leave a review. For me, reviewing is not just a service to myself or the business, but to others.”
All small business owners know the pain of a bad review, as well as the joy of a great review. Mona understands that most reviewers are sincerely trying to help a business grow, and she wants to make sure she addresses their concerns, whether replying online or communicating in person.
“I always try to look for the positive. I’m a small business owner, and I know what it’s like. We don’t get it right every time. We try really hard. But if you have a real beef about something, call the person,” Mona suggests. “Many times we’ve gotten reviews, and I’ve responded, ‘I’m sorry we didn’t meet your expectations. Give me a call. Let’s talk about it.'”
That personal touch resonates with the customers at Duran’s, including Nicole, who appreciates both the quality of the food and the special New Mexican touches on the menu. During her last pregnancy, she suffered from extreme morning sickness but found she could keep down the bean and cheese burrito from Duran’s.
“One of the things that draws you back as a New Mexican to New Mexico is our food. Our food is a huge part of our culture. It’s a part of who we are. When you walk into some place that smells familiar, it brings you back to love. It brings you back to fullness. It opens your heart. And in this case, it makes you drool. That’s what going into Duran’s is—that moment of: ‘This is what I want.’ And I know it’s gonna hit the spot, and it’s never failed me.”
Duran’s has been in business for over 80 years, an achievement made possible by:
- Integrating itself into the community. Seeing other small businesses as collaborators rather than competition can uplift the entire local community and economy. It also builds goodwill for your business in times of difficulty.
- Seeing online reviews as an advantage. Negative reviews can be a springboard to improve. Reviewers who bring attention to shortcomings they experienced at your business often care about your success. Reaching out to get clarification on their feedback can help build customer loyalty and improve the customer experience.
- Being consistent. When you hit on a good thing, don’t change it for change’s sake. Sometimes success comes from doing what people expect and love about your business.
- Evolving in ways that make sense. Preserve what makes you unique, but continue to innovate in other areas to improve the customer experience. Updating decor or supplemental offerings can allow you to move the business forward without losing your original charm.
Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Mona and Nicole, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.
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