In 2010, there were approximately 4,000 restaurants open in the Washington, D.C. metro area. That also happens to be the year that sisters Meaghan and Caitlin Murphy opened Capital City Cheesecake in the Takoma Park neighborhood, just outside the District. Nearly six years later, the business is still going strong and has become a part of the local community.

We were delighted to talk with Meaghan about their business’ secret ingredient for success in the crowded restaurant market in this area. In the interview below, you’ll find out how the business came to be, Meaghan’s thoughts on their most effective marketing strategies, and how important a business plan is – even for a well-established brand. 

Tell us a little about yourself, the story behind Capital City Cheesecake.
My sister, Caitlin, was a pre-school teacher for about 10 years prior to starting Capital City Cheesecake, and I had just graduated with my undergraduate degree in Business Management from Trinity University.

My sister’s plans were to continue teaching and start an art program for kids for the summertime.  My plans were to receive my Master’s Degree in teaching and to teach high school business elective classes and pick up adjunct business courses at various colleges in the evenings.

However, in 2009, my sister experienced some slight health problems and needed a job that would be more flexible and allow her to work from home.  We started to explore different ideas but nothing jumped out.  To help pass time, my sister started baking cheesecakes for friends and decided to sell them during the holiday season.

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She recruited me to help her bake cheesecakes, and before you know it, we decided to explore doing this full-time.  After finding out all the requirements, we opened our bakery in May 2010.

What motivates you to get up early each day and get baking?
Commitment is what motivated us to get up every morning and bake.  We committed to ourselves, to each other, and to the community to put 100% into our business each and every day until we decided to start a new career in our lives.

We hear so many stories about restaurants failing in the first year. What has been the key to your success?
Commitment is also what has been our key to success.  We committed to always growing and evolving our concept.  Whether it was committing to something as simple as returning e-mails every day or as complex as creating a new recipe, we committed ourselves to the process and all that comes with it.

You have a great following on social media – tell us about your strategy and what works best for you.
Social media has always been difficult for us to manage.  Outside our business, neither of us really post to Facebook, Twitter, etc.  However, I know that social media is crucial in staying connected with your customers, instantly giving updates on new products, gaining new fans, and the list goes on.

My strategy to building a fan base through social media comes down to lots of research.  I research companies I love and what they post and I also research my competitors.  For example, if Starbucks starts posting holiday promos, we begin to post our holiday promos.  Whether or not I’m personally big into social media, I understand the importance and add it to my to-do list every day.

What kinds of promotions do you find most successful for your business?
The most successful marketing to date is word of mouth.  We put a lot of focus on the customer’s overall experience.  Every time they visit, I want them to walk away with a story they can share.

In regards to advertising, we find Living Social and Groupon a great way to boost foot traffic in a short period time.  We also partnered with Valuepak to target local surrounding neighborhoods to create more regular customers who will visit us daily.

Tell us about some of your current goals for Capital City Cheesecake.
Our current goals for Capital City Cheesecake is to expand our miniature menu of pastries and desserts.  We want to offer more miniature cheesecake daily flavors, allow customers to mix and match our miniature desserts by the dozen, expand our catering menu, and become a great place to grab-and-go a coffee, sandwich, or dessert.

Give us some insights about how you’ve used Pagemodo to support your goals.
Pagemodo is a one-stop shop to make a powerful social media presence.  It has been a great help in showing me how creative you can get when it comes to using social media to retain and attract fans.  From providing great cover photos for your Facebook Page to allowing you to schedule your posts a head of time, Pagemodo has been vital in increasing my social media presence in the last few months.

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Capital City Cheesecake’s Facebook cover photo

What do you feel are your biggest challenges as a small business owner?
One of my biggest challenges as a small business owner was and still is creating systems and protocol that will allow my sister and I to focus on being the entrepreneur of the business and not the technician.  In the small business world, it is very easy to get lost in working all the positions in your company.  When that happens you begin to focus on maintaining your business versus growing it.  You always feel like you’re just trying to survive the day.

By focusing on systems and protocols for you and your staff to follow, you begin to hire for the right positions, become more efficient, reduce mistakes, and increase productivity.  All of a sudden you stop owning a surviving business and begin to own a thriving one.

Another challenge is being vulnerable.  Everyday I wake up and prepare myself for daily feedback.  From family members and friends to customers and colleges, everybody weighs in on every decision you make.  Although I welcome advice, and my business has grown over the years from concrete suggestions, it definitely can have an impact on my confidence and make me question my decision to pursue being a small business owner.

From time to time I glance at my Yelp account and find myself taking a deep breath before I read the reviews.  A lot of the times they are positive, but from time to time, I get a review that is hard to digest.  Whether the review is accurate or not, it is hard reading anything negative in reference to something you pour your heart and soul into each and every day.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first opened your business?
It is ok to say no.  When we first opened we wanted to make everyone happy and quickly became the shop that did everything.  However, over time, it became very difficult to streamline our business.  We began to feel overwhelmed with inventory, creating systems to ensure product quality, and keeping up with the demands.

At this point, I definitely understand the importance of business streamlining.  It is the best thing you can do in order to keep costs as low as possible and maintain the highest productivity.  We have scaled back our product offerings and focus on offering a quality versus quantity.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who is about to start or has recently opened a business?
Have a really good business plan.  I know that advice sounds cliché but we opened without one and it definitely crippled us as business owners.  A business plan is like a road map and helps keep you on track.  The first couple of years we were all over the place and felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel.

Six years in and we’re finally making one for the next four years.  We’re excited to look at different options our business can take to reach our financial goals and we’re designing a plan in case we fall short of our goals within the time frame we set.

We’d like to thank Meaghan for taking the time to tell us her small business story, and share her advice for other entrepreneurs. If you live in the area, stop by Capital City Cheesecake in Takoma Park! You can also find them on the web, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

If you’re a Pagemodo user with a great small business story to tell, let us know in the comments below – we’d love to hear about it!

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