You’re headed to a new city — so you search Yelp and post on social media for food recommendations. If only you could have them on your phone, ready to go for easy access. Promoting independent restaurants and local cuisine, Raleigh, NC-based CurEat wants to help you find the best local gems by using their curatorial app. Chefs, local influencers, and foodies set up curated lists of independent restaurants (no chains here!) to eat at while you’re in town. After your visit, you can create your own and share with others. Their reach already expands across the country with recommendations in hundreds of destinations.
What makes CurEat truly unique, aside from the highly-curated independent restaurant lists, is the fact that there are no ratings involved. No ratings, no feedback — just a listing of the restaurant with contact information and hours.
“To be honest, I would challenge you to look at reviews and tell me how many are actually useful to you,” says CEO Steve Mangano. “Our general philosophy is less can be more and so if we can focus on you to say, ‘how many people that you know or respect, or might be interested in, like these places?’ That can help funnel your search into a direction. But if you are trying to sort out ratings and reviews? It’s a tough time to figure it out.”
Hype sat down with Mangano at DIG SOUTH to talk about their unique approach to reviews, what inspired the app, and CurEat’s expansion to the Atlanta market. We’re hungry already!
How did you discover the gap in the industry and create CurEat?
I had a specific experience where I went to a city and came back and was talking to someone like oh, did you eat at such and such place? I didn’t. Then I looked it up and it was two blocks from where I was staying. I don’t need to know every restaurant in town. What I need to know is: what are the select few that are doing something that I might be interested in.
Cutting through the clutter is the problem we are trying to solve. We wanted to create lists and have the ability to share those lists amongst friends and family.
Why did you decide to go the no-reviews route?
When you start looking at ratings and reviews, it doesn’t make sense the way we’ve now been trained, as consumers, to rate places.
There’s a mom and pop place that was in Raleigh that someone rated a five-star. There’s a really pretty prominent chef that I think produces great food and the same person rated them a four-star. I get why they did that. They were saying relative to the quality and type of that restaurant, that’s four-star. And the other place relative to the quality, type, and price point of that restaurant, that was five-star. Everyone is not using the same scale and even an individual person is scaling things differently.
When will you be expanding to Atlanta?
Georgia as a whole will be our third state after North Carolina and South Carolina. We have CurEaters in major cities and some in smaller markets. We’ll launch Atlanta and Savannah together. As far as Atlanta, we’ll announce them in conjunction with the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival in June.
What’s your revenue model?
There will eventually be an advertising component of it, but we’re going to try to minimize that. What we want to do and stay true to our core is provide the connection point between the users and these great restaurants and chefs and make sure that the experience continues to be fostered and enriched and both sides are feeling good about it.
How did you validate your idea?
We did a series of focus groups. We brought it to chefs and general end users at meetings. We got everybody in a room and went through the prototype. All we had were the mock-ups and what we intended to do.
We got feedback and made changes off of that. After a few more tests, we put out a broader beta release and started getting people in there and by that time, with those changes, we were then ready for the full release. This worked because it got users engaged and invested in the app. We had chefs in there early and people that were willing to contribute. It was as if they were part of the founding team. I think that, if you do it the right way, you’re getting your early adopters to embracing it.
Any lessons you’ve learned as a serial entrepreneur that may help others?
Ask. Ask. Ask. You don’t know anything even when you think you do know everything. My thing is how do you learn that business that you’re in or an aspect of a business that you’re already in? The more people you can talk to. You should never say, “No,” to a coffee, a chat, or whatever. You never know where that’s going to lead to. I’ve had people approach me that I thought okay this isn’t going to go anywhere, but there might be one part of that conversation that leads to an idea that wasn’t there before.
Just constantly learn and ask and meet and talk and stay and with all that said — have your strategy, have your vision.
What are your thoughts on the state of the Southeast’s tech scene?
It’s the yin and yang of things. It’s more great than it’s not great. We’re a consumer-facing app in a very limited VC world. That’s limited to begin with and further limited since we’re a B2C app. The positive of that is it gives you some level of discipline. You have to be thinking about that and figuring it out early on. That is a challenge we knew about going into it and we’re willing to face. In the Southeast, you have an environment where everyone is really willing to help you and connect you. They go out of their way to make those connections, particularly in the chef community and in the tech community. That’s outstanding.
What would you like to see as the app grows?
I think it’s a really useful tool and it’s more useful when you’re making lists and getting your friends on there — really bringing that aggregation together. That’s what we want people to understand. I think initially people got in the app because they wanted to see where the chefs were eating.
That’s great, but it’s even more great if you activate you’re friends. Now you’ve got these two great data points to fulfill your thing and as the app grows, the way we’ve designed the searches and the features, is that you and I can be sitting next to each other pulling up the app and it will give us different results based on our networks.