One night, Hollywood mogul Peter Guber stopped by the Border Grill in Los Angeles.  

What happened next surprised him.

First, he took a bite of his fish taco.  “The taste blew me away,” he writes in Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story. 

Then, his waiter noticed the look on his face and remarked, “You know, there is an adventure in that taco.”

This week we are continuing our exploration of storytelling and its power to transform business.  One challenge we all have is where to find the raw material for stories that will move our listeners to act on our call to action.

The first place to look is our own experiences.  We all face challenges and struggle to resolve them.  Transforming our experiences into stories starts with remembering not only what happened but what it meant to us.  This is prime story content.

The waiter explained that twenty years earlier, Border Grill owners Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken arrived at a seaside village in Mexico at 4 AM.  The only restaurant open was a small taco stand.  

Famished, they ordered fish tacos. Susan and Mary Sue were captivated by the taste of the tacos and the quality of the fresh ingredients – lobster, salmon, shredded cucumber, and a bottle of olive oil. They stood there for an hour with a notebook trying to figure out exactly what the cook was doing to create the mouth-watering flavors.  

The taco man brought out two more tacos and a couple of beers. They stayed until sunrise eating everything he prepared. 

The owner of the taco stand invited the women back the next day which was a Sunday.  The taco stand was closed but this time he prepared an incredible stew of beans and salsa.  

The waiter pointed to the item on the Border Grill menu.  

“Now I was hooked,” Peter writes.  He asked the waiter to bring out the stew of beans and salsa.  

“They spent the whole afternoon with this man and his family in Mexico,” said the waiter.

Peter enjoyed the food and loved the waiter’s stories.  

He was so impressed by his experience at the Border Grill he invited Susan to visit his UCLA course and share how she encourages the waiters to tell purposeful stories.

Susan and Mary Sue now own multiple restaurants in Los Angeles and Las Vegas and also have a Food Network TV show.  They have traveled all over the world to find authentic and unique flavors and colors, music and architecture to distinguish their restaurants. 

Susan believes that storytelling is a key element of their staff’s training.  The waiters are encouraged to share Susan and Mary Sue’s adventures which then become part of the experience of dining at their restaurants.  

Then, their customers go out and tell these stories to their friends.

That’s the power of storytelling.


Reflection:  What stories can I tell about my products and services? 

Action:  Incorporate these stories into training of new associates.

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1 Comment

  1. David Patrick Reply

    Great story about a story. I got to meet Susan and Mary Sue over twenty years ago in Chicago when they were part of a Food Network travelling show. It was a tour of cooking show stars who did cooking presentations in large ballrooms and sold cookbooks after. They hired tradeshow actors to be the cashiers to sell the books. I jumped at the chance to be in their show, so I got paid to watch them and then process the book sales. They were delightful and passionate about food—part of their story. I still have and use the autographed copy of their cookbook. I was waiting tables at the time at Shaw’s Crab House who also empowered us with stories to enhance our guests’ experience. good, authentic storytelling is indeed crucial to serving good, authentic food. Thank you for this post.
    David Pattick ’90

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