DiRienzo’s

“Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa

 

One of my favorite sandwich joints in the world is in my own town, a little Italian corner store called DiRienzo’s. When people come to town, I bring them there and often we walk across the street to the park to sit at a picnic table and watch bicycle polo. Bicycle polo is a thing where I live.

The store itself is not remarkable. It has some groceries and candy and a sandwich counter. You pick your own bun, wait in line and tell them what you want. They have a menu on the wall, but you can also make your own. DiRienzo’s is always packed; there is always a line-up but nobody cares and the line moves quickly. There are plenty of alternatives close by, but people wait anyway. Happily.

So what’s the secret? Why is it worth a trip to Little Italy and a wait in line?

No specific reason. The brothers, Gerry and Paul, are a riot and that is certainly part of it. “Hey … HOWUDOIN’?” Paul will ask me whenever I’m there. Laura, Gerry’s daughter, is there to marshal everyone around, and watching someone who might be 5 feet tall push a bunch of guys around is fun, I’ll admit.

This is what I think … I think that what makes DiRienzo’s DiRienzo’s is the hand-fitted gestalt of hundreds or thousands of little decisions made by caring owners who want to make a difference. They know they are not selling sandwiches; they are creating community and connection. You don’t go to get a sandwich, you go to get reminded that you belong, that there is a community you are a part of. The sandwich, as we say in the Experience Economy, is really just memorabilia.

Usually, when a business gets bigger, when the lineup gets longer, it will start making small compromises. The accountants collide with the mystical, and the place loses something. It loses authenticity and becomes boring. “Why do we need ten different cheeses, when we could get by with five?” or “Maybe we should stop giving away pastries at the cash, we should sell them, we’d make more money” or “Don’t be so generous with the items, we could increase our profit margins.”

You could copy DiRienzo’s, and you’d be half right (or wrong) if you thought you could copy one or two of maybe three competitive advantages and unique remarkable attributes of the business that Gerry and Paul have built. This would be the strategy of just about everyone who wants to pen a successful sandwich enterprise. Find something you like, and rip it off.

Here is the problem.

It’s going to be nearly impossible to recreate the magic of countless little decisions that have been made over the years to make DiRienzo’s DiRienzo’s. The scarcity, the magic, happens because so many businesses don’t care enough or are too scared to invest the energy in so many seemingly meaningless little bits of being extraordinary.

That idea you have, break it down into really small steps. Do each of them with as much love as you can muster.

 

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