St. Paul’s Restaurant Resiliency Program designed to help owners that lack the expertise to build an online business.
Opening their own restaurant in January 2018 was a longtime dream come true for Jamie and Niw Rattanapamonsook. Suspending in-person dining in the spring of 2020 due to COVID-19 put that dream — and the future of their tiny Thai Street Market — in doubt.
Sure, Jamie Rattanapamonsook had heard that social media marketing could bolster takeout orders. But how to do it?
“I felt overwhelmed,” said the mother of three home-schooled children. “I’m just not a tech kind of person.”
Through the St. Paul Restaurant Resiliency Program, more than 50 small and struggling restaurants were paired with tech-savvy consultants to improve everything from marketing and online ordering to website design and networking with other restaurants. Jamie Rattanapamonsook learned how to create months of social media posts and use technology to automatically update their social media.
A number of business people have volunteered and about a dozen young people through the city’s Right Track internship program have gained real-world experience through marketing, data analytics and one-on-one interviews with owners to help assess their most pressing needs.
Ramsey County helped provide funding for the interns, said Ling Becker, director of Workforce Solutions and executive director of the Ramsey County Workforce Innovation Board. In addition, the county has added restaurant openings to it online job listing site.
“We all have to sort of roll up our sleeves and do our best in supporting these businesses right now,” said Becker, who is a member of the steering committee for Full Stack, which was launched in 2017 to promote innovation, attract tech entrepreneurs and market the city to tech-based companies. “What we do for these projects is we’re investing in people.”
Mary Rick, director of Business Development at St. Paul’s Department of Planning and Economic Development, also serves on Full Stack’s steering committee and works to connect local businesses with innovators. The decision was made soon after COVID hit that St. Paul’s small restaurant owners urgently needed just that kind of help.
“We knew when [the pandemic] started we need to do something for technology for brick-and-mortar businesses,” she said. “We had to figure out ways to support restaurants that had relied on foot traffic.”