PR Campaigns class helps Café Beaudelaire win Iowa’s Best Burger competition

Café Beaudelaire owner Claudio Gianello, left, and Lexi Romitti, senior in apparel, merchandising and design and public relations, show off Iowa
Café Beaudelaire owner Claudio Gianello, left, and Lexi Romitti, senior in apparel, merchandising and design and public relations, show off Iowa's Best Burger at the May 1 announcement. Photo by Carole Custer

Café Beaudelaire, a Brazilian-inspired restaurant in Ames, claimed the title of “Iowa’s Best Burger” for 2018.

The Campustown staple’s hand-made beef patty seasoned with salt, pepper and oregano wowed judges for its taste, doneness and presentation.

But to earn a spot in the competition’s top 10—and get the judges in the door—owner Claudio Gianello and his wife, Kellie, had some help from a group of students enrolled in the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication’s Advanced Public Relations Campaigns (P R 424) course.

In January, Greenlee School public relations students Lexi Romitti, Audrey Nelson, Alfred James Spaulding, Harrison LaGambina and Maddie Hocking began developing and executing a semester-long campaign to help increase student awareness about Café B, as it’s known to locals, and bring in new customers.

When the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association (ICA) and the Iowa Beef Industry Council (IBIC) began accepting nominations for best burger in February, the student group made it their mission to earn a nod for Café B through smart public relations tactics.

The designation as Iowa’s Best Burger comes after a two-phase competition. The first phase lasts a month and is based on votes from the public submitted online or by text message.

Romitti, a senior in apparel, merchandising and design and public relations, has worked at the café as a server for three years and recognized its loyal fan base as a great strength that could be galvanized for the competition.

To encourage longtime followers to vote and win over new fans, the students planned “Burger Bash” events in the restaurant. They created flyers and table tents that included the café’s logo, along with clear, concise instructions for voting.

Romitti also got her coworkers on board so they could help spread the word and answer questions customers might have throughout the month.

Even when she wasn’t working, Romitti came to the café at key times to raise awareness and encourage customers to vote if they liked what they had.

“Being there was the key to success,” Romitti said. “Our customers already liked our product, and I knew if we got top 10 we could have a chance of winning,” Romitti said.

The hard work paid off. At the end of the month, Café B was among the 10 restaurants with the most votes, thus earning a spot in the taste-testing round. Nearly 10,000 votes representing around 700 restaurants were submitted in the competition.

Since the best burger announcement was made May 1, there’s been a flurry of media attention and new customers eager to try Café B’s now-famous burger, along with the traffic Iowa State graduation week already brings. To help manage the press inquiries, Romitti has taken on a new role for the café—public relations director. She’s also working on T-shirts for the restaurant that tout the new distinction.

Students in the Public Relations Campaigns class worked with Café Beaudelaire on a campaign for Iowa
Students in the Public Relations Campaigns class worked with Café Beaudelaire on a campaign for Iowa's Best Burger. They presented their ideas in class the day before the announcement. The group (left to right) included Audrey Nelson, Alfred James Spaulding, Lexi Romitti, Harrison LaGambina and Maddie Hocking.

“This class has prepared me so well for the future,” Romitti said. “It really gives you a lot of information on just knowing and being ready for real-world experiences.”

Erin Wilgenbusch, senior lecturer in the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, structures the course as a real-time exercise so students experience and learn from the real-life successes—and the unplanned challenges—of working with peers on a hands-on campaign for a client.

Each group is expected to “win the business” by finding a client to work with throughout the semester. They then do primary and secondary research, identify objectives, develop and propose tactics and execute the campaign.

“Many campaigns classes assign a client, or simply have students write a campaign. I think it’s important for the students to find their own client and develop a relationship with them. The most learning for students comes from actually having to execute and measure their campaigns, rather than just submitting ideas on paper,” Wilgenbusch said.

Public Relations Campaigns is a required course for all Greenlee School public relations majors. It’s an integrative class that builds upon all the skills the students have learned throughout the curriculum.