Monthly Archives: May 2015

#carolinaconquest: Asheville, NC

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[Fried chicken at Table in Asheville, NC.]

Wonderful things about Asheville, NC: (1) It’s the most charming little hill town in eastern North Carolina, a corner of the world I’ve never been; (2) Spring is old news here; the thought now is summer, with rhododendrons in full bloom, and temperatures floating in the 70s; (3) The Mast General Store, the place for homemade condiments and cleaning products; (4) Views to the mountains surrounding us on all sides — sublime; (5) THE EATS.

Traditionally, every spring Eater’s Amanda Kludt and I hit the road for a roadtrip designed to let us plot the the future of Eater and eat a ton of delicious things somewhere in America. Several years ago, the jaunt took us through Texas; last year, we spent a few days in Nashville before heading east across Tennessee to Blackberry Farm. This year, we’ve embarked on a #carolinaconquest, starting with two days in Asheville then moving east to Lexington and Greensboro through the first of two distinct Carolina barbecue territories that we’re going to experience on this trip before docking in Raleigh for the night tonight and continuing farther east tomorrow.

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[Pizza with house-made burrata at Cucina 24.]

The big difference this year: Amanda and I are joined on our journey by Eater’s roving national food critic, Bill Addison. Bill’s based out of Atlanta, so he knows this part of the country cold, and his knowledge is already paying off bigtime.

At the tail end of last year’s trip, a massive banks of thunderstorms up the entire East Coast trapped me unexpectedly in Knoxville, TN for the night. Knoxville was kind of cool, but Asheville — with a similar vibe of old-town main streets — is way cooler. It’s an incredible charming place awash in mountain air and, from what I can tell so far, fantastic restaurants. I’m not going to go into detail about what we’re eating, because Bill will do that in due time on Eater, but we’ve had meals at Cúrate, Nightbell, Cucina 24, Table, and Rhubarb here in town and none have disappointed. (To my mind, Cucina 24 and Table would stand apart anywhere, but let’s see what Bill has to say.)

Yesterday also took us on an hour-long drive further up the hills to the remote hamlet of Spruce Pine, NC. There, something very unexpected and wonderful happened to our little group. But that, too, is a story for another day so as not to spoil the forthcoming reveal on Eater.

Enough words for now. Back on the road. The #carolinaconquest continues.

On Media Rivalry

When the news of the death of Josh Ozersky came across Twitter on Monday night, this tweet encapsulated the place my mind went: to the pleasure of having a good rival in media. In memory and honor of Josh, some thoughts on that era, and the value our rivalry created for all of us.

At Eater, we knew Grub Street was coming long before it was called Grub Street. Or even existed. That’s because New York Magazine had signaled its intention in the space by making an offer to buy Curbed and Eater early in 2006. It was incredibly flattering but not the right fit at the time — a story for another day — but we understood that Adam Moss and his team saw the value in restaurant blogging and that they would likely pursue it regardless of whether they bought Eater. And so for Ben Leventhal and I it became a parlor game, to ferret out whatever information we could about what they were working on at NYMag.

One day Ben came up with the scoop. “They’ve hired Cutlets. Mr. Cutlets!” I didn’t know who that was, but Ben did: Mr. Cutlets was Josh Ozersky, a meat expert and sort-of-known food writer who went by that handle. We girded for battle, and then it came. Grub Street launched on September 18, 2006.

Except we didn’t refer to it as Grub Street on Eater. Ever. We called it Cutlets. Like, “Cutlets has the word that…” or “According to Cutlets…” This amused us to no end. “I remember it was very obvious that we were going to nickname it Cutlets — and would have continued calling it that long after his departure if Ben Williams didn’t make a personal appeal to us to call it Grub Street,” Ben recalled to me earlier today via GChat.

Ben also reminded me that on Grubz’ launch day, Cutlets promised posts ON THE HOUR. Given Eater’s semi-leisurely pace at this point in September 2006, this scared the shit out of us — but also gave Leventhal the fuel to do what he does so well. “BREAKING: Cutlets Misses Noon Post, 1 PM in Question,” screamed an Eater headline. “Other NYM servers appear to be stable. If anyone has info as to Cutlets’ whereabouts, and if he’s hurt in any way, please let us know and/or call the authorities.”

Man. The things rivalries drive you to do. (This still makes me laugh hysterically, btw.)

It’s often talked about how having rivals pushes you to a higher level, certainly in sports, but yes, for sure in media too. Students of Nick Denton’s memos over the years can trace the way with which he cannily sets new rivals as a way to motivate his troops. (It’s flattering that Vox Media was positioned with Buzzfeed as Gawker’s top rivals in his December 2014 “Back to Blogging” screed.)

But let’s be real: the marketplace clearly has room for Buzzfeed and Vox Media and Gawker Media, as well a bunch of other big digital media properties that have reached scale. We’re still going to fight tooth-and-nail, of course, because we are better than the next company on this list. (Fact.) But when rivalry is at its most intense is when it appears that the marketplace may not have room for more than one winner. When failure is an option, and maybe the more likely one. When it’s you or them.

Which is why Grub Street’s launch led us to up Eater’s game. I know from conversations long after the fact with Ozersky that this was probably harder on him than it was on us: Ben and I loved cranking out short hits, while Josh’s style was longer-form; getting used to the blogging grind is really hard. But for better or worse, for the next couple years, our metabolism soared as we worked liked crazy to get every scoop onto Eater as quickly as possible to beat the other guy. Every minute mattered. Hell, every second mattered.

“In that frame,” Ben continues, “I will say that 100% were it not for the arrival of Cutlets on the scene, I would have been much more lax about Eater’s pace. We needed Cutlets to, as I put it in an email to Peter Meehan, dated 12/4/06, ‘Get the blood flowing.’”

In the end, both Eater and Grub Street found their place in the ecosystem, and both thrived. But it’s a telling point about the power of rivalries that I can’t tweet a Grub Street link to this day.

The Grub Street-Eater rivalry never ended for Ozersky, either. Just a few weeks ago, after reading my interview with Lucky Peach in which I bragged about how Eater had beaten Grub Street on the opening of The Dutch in summer 2010, he couldn’t resist tweeting back at me:

Great rivalries never die. But great competitors, unfortunately, do. RIP, Josh Ozersky.

UPDATE: Here’s a great bookend to my story, on the early days of Ozersky and Grub Street as seen from the opposite trenches, by Daniel Maurer. And there you have it: I have linked to Grub Street.

Voxfronts

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[Brands on brands in the lobby of the Paley Center.]

As teased here earlier this week, yesterday Vox Media presented at newfronts (technically, upfronts; more pleasingly, Voxfronts) at the Paley Center for Media on West 52nd Street. This was Vox’s first time tackling an event of this size, which ran for about an hour and featured half a dozen members of the Vox Media team talking to an audience of several hundred brand representatives, sales people, and media about what’s next for our company. Big themes: the growth of our video program (which topped 100m cumulative monthly views in March for the first time ever), and the launch of Chorus for Advertisers.

Coverage of Vox Media and coverage of Chorus typically go hand-in-hand, and yesterday’s event proved no exception to that rule. I love this, from Capital NY reporter Jememy Barr:

CEO Jim Bankoff announced “Chorus for Advertisers,” the company’s first deal in which Chorus will be used on behalf of corporate advertisers… The crowd seemed to respond to the news, as cheers of “woo!” and “yeah!” were audible.

Man, that’s almost obnoxious. But, as Ad Age observes in its piece about the Voxfronts, “Talk of content management systems is usually boring, but Chorus is sort of famous.” Ha!

The very best part of the Voxfront might have been the food served after the event, from Andrew Carmellini, Michael Oliver, and the team at Lafayette. Know this, if you’re thinking of attending a future Voxfront: come for Chorus, stay for the Spring Lamb with Frisée.