47: Being a Real and Authentic Business Owner | Karena Clinton | RT Smiths Fine Delicatessen

Be Inspired | Do Good

Interview with Karena Clinton, RT Smiths Fine Delicatessen:

Born and raised in Florida, Karena Clinton moved to Roanoke in 2004 and knew she wanted to be a part of the community. Having lived in New York for a time with her husband, they followed his parents to Roanoke and found a home. They have owned RT Smith’s Deli, in the heart of downtown Roanoke, for 2 and a half years. Karena and her husband love sharing their love of food with everyone and the deli offers classic custom sandwiches, fresh cold cuts, house-made deli salads, and desserts.

Karena and her husband have been using social media to open the doors and get the name out there for their business. They love being interactive, fun and authentic with their customers in the business, so it follows that they would take this approach to social media too. Using live videos, they’ve been able to be raw and authentic online, and are finding it really resonates with people in the Roanoke community. What you see on the videos is exactly what you will see in the store too. They love being raw and real, saying hi and getting to know the people that live and work in Roanoke. That ability to be genuinely connected and creative is what Karena loves most about owning her own business.

Authenticity is really the name of the game for Karena and her husband—not just in demeanor, but also the New York style of the deli and most importantly, the quality of the products. There are no nitrates, everything’s all natural, and customers appreciate that. That authenticity also leads to fantastic flavors, such as with the deli’s house-made roast beef. Karena loves being creative with the cooking, merging recipes and mixing flavors and has recently turned that approach to the desserts. The baked cake donuts she has been experimenting with are a huge hit. It’s little wonder, with interesting flavors like maple bacon and apple caramel!

Even more than the creative cooking, Karena loves that RT Smith’s Deli gives her an opportunity to give back to the community and make a difference. There is a large homeless population downtown, and Karena and her husband felt compelled to help in some way. They have had in their minds different ways to serve from when they bought the restaurant, such as giving homeless people a place to get out of the weather, serving coffee and hot soup, and having the coat rack available too. These days Karena has made quite a few friends who are homeless because they know they can find a place that is safe and warm and welcoming in the deli. Really making a difference in somebody’s life like that is important to Karena and her husband.

A few years in, Karena has also learned some lessons and had some advice for other prospective business owners. Her main piece of advice is to know that you really need to do the research before you start. There’s so much to owning a business and so many people involved behind the scenes. Make sure you’re in the right market first, and then that you have a great quality product, and that you’re really relatable to your customers. Have fun with your customers, get to know them and let them see who you are, too. Along those lines, the best advice Karena was ever give was to just be herself. It’s something she tries to impress upon her kids and apply in the business: do ‘you’, do ‘you’ well, and do ‘you’ well in business.

RT Smith’s Deli is all about that authentic connection, and they apply it to customer feedback too. The ‘getting to know you’ approach goes both ways and Karena is always keen to have people come in and share what they think of the business, whether there’s something missing and how they can keep improving. She loves opening up a dialogue for great honest feedback, whether on social media or in person. In this world of manufactured food and fake social media personas, it’s a refreshing approach! As Karena says, it’s about being real and having fun. That’s exactly what you get at RT Smith’s Deli—you pay for the food but the floor show is always free!


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