Marketing with a mission

Liberty's Kitchen

Liberty’s Kitchen trainee Shayne Conner hones his barista skills behind the front counter.

At first glance, Liberty’s Kitchen looks like most neighborhood cafes, serving up a menu of coffee, pastries, sandwiches and blue plate specials from its storefront in the ReFresh Project development on Broad Street. But what casual customers might not know is that with every order, they’re helping to transform lives.

Liberty’s Kitchen is a nonprofit dedicated to providing at-risk youth with life skills and workforce training. By providing program participants with professional culinary skills, including preparing food and serving customers at the cafe, the organization hopes to empower them to break the cycle of poverty and crime.

Unfortunately, many people — even those who visit the ReFresh Project on a regular basis — are unfamiliar with Liberty’s Kitchen. To help the cafe expand its awareness among potential customers and donors, Liberty’s Kitchen turned to the Freeman School’s Lepage Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and MBA students in Janet Schwartz’s Marketing Analytics and Research Course, who spent a semester conducting two major marketing research projects on behalf of the cafe.

“From a teaching perspective, Liberty’s Kitchen was really wonderful because they gave us so much access to being able to collect data and work with data,” Schwartz says. “They were really hands-on with the students. Any time the students had any questions, they really gave us a lot of feedback.”

The students worked in two groups, each focused on a different marketing challenge. One team looked into helping the cafe attract new customers while the other investigated ways to improve its fundraising efforts.

Grace Cammack (MBA ’16), who worked with the first team, says their primary focus was to take better advantage of the traffic generated by Whole Foods Market, which is located next door to Liberty’s Kitchen in the ReFresh Project. Cammack and her team interviewed more than 100 customers who entered the development, including those who visited the cafe and those who headed to Whole Foods. She says many simply weren’t aware of Liberty’s Kitchen or its mission. Some mistook the cafe, which sells Starbucks brand coffee, for a Starbucks location.

Cammack’s team recommended a loyalty card program to help drive business, and they also encouraged Liberty’s Kitchen to take better advantage of its location.

“Our biggest recommendation was to use their space,” Cammack says. “They have this open space between Liberty’s Kitchen and Whole Foods. Everyone we surveyed enjoyed talking to the kids, so our recommendation was to get them out there with a coffee cart, handing out samples of food and drink. We thought that would be a great way to bring people in.”

Ryan Hildebrand (MBA/MPH ’17), whose team conducted an email survey of 3,500 donors, says that in addition to suggesting ways for Liberty’s Kitchen to improve its direct marketing efforts, his team recommended incorporating a solicitation at the point of sale.

“Not everyone is aware of everything they do,” says Hildebrand. “One of our recommendations was to incorporate that at the point for sale, for instance, ‘Would you like to donate today to help at risk youth in New Orleans?’”

Since receiving the teams’ final presentations at the end of the semester, Liberty’s Kitchen Director of Development Jorie Kirchbaum says the organization has already launched a loyalty card program, and they’re currently in the process of implementing a number of other recommendations.

“We were really impressed by the quality of work and their attention to detail,” says Kirschbaum. “I think it was useful for them to work with an outside client and to begin to understand some of the complications of working with data, but we were really impressed the end product especially.”

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