Steve Mangano has seen too many food industry colleagues burned by angry reviews on Yelp and other dining apps.
"There are only so many meals you can have in your life and you want them to be good," says Mangano, who has been involved with Durham revitalization projects including Dos Perros restaurant, the former Revolution restaurant, and 21c Museum Hotel. "I don't think the review sites out there help you find them. I wanted something more helpful and positive."
The Raleigh entrepreneur's answer is the new CurEat
app. Drawing its name from curate, as in “to selectively gather,” the free app spotlights lists in user-friendly categories posted by invited culinary and community leaders.
It has been available in beta form through Apple's iTunes Store but was officially announced today; an Android version will follow.
A launch party will be held at 21c from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday. You can reserve your spot with an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Proceeds benefit the Food Bank of Eastern and Central North Carolina. Additionally, for every list that people make on the app over the weekend, CurEat will donate $1 to the Food Bank.
Eventually about forty Triangle-based CurEaters will lead the way for subscribers to post their lists of favorite places to eat. Current ranks include such influencers as chefs Ashley Christensen of Poole's Diner and Scott Crawford of Crawford & Son, Victor Lytvinenko of Raleigh Denim Workshop, and Nation Hahn of the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation.
The idea is that users will be inspired by CurEaters—without the photos and opinionated reviews common to other platforms—to patronize casual or mom-and-pop operations as well as upscale hotspots, and in turn influence others with their own endorsements. Mangano likens CurEat's lists to social media shout-outs from friends looking for great food in an unfamiliar location or those who crave a certain type of cuisine or atmosphere.
"I was in New York and saw that Rochelle Johnson from Ponysaurus and Dashi listed a ramen place [on CurEat]. I used the map feature and found it was just six blocks from where I was," he says. "I went there and it was amazing."
For now, users can connect directly with listed restaurants by phone, but Mangano plans to add a reservation platform such as OpenTable. He also offers business owners the opportunity to enter their email address to encourage unhappy customers to communicate with them directly instead of posting a public rebuke.
That feature appeals to Craig Rudewicz of Raleigh's Crude Bitters, who has vented via social media in response to mean or ill-informed Yelp comments. "I like the features and the positive spin," says Rudewicz, who is not a CurEater but is an early user of the app. "I think Yelp is terrible and a bully towards small businesses." There is no fee for restaurants to be included, and CurEaters are not compensated for their endorsements, which Mangano says has not diminished anyone's enthusiasm for participating.
"Everyone we've talked to has really embraced it. [CurEaters] are frustrated by the current sort of rating system and want an alternative," he says.
While even a basic list can reflect an inherent bias, crediting chef friends or fellow award winners, you can't fault Christensen's advice to try Arnold's Country Kitchen, a James Beard Foundation-honored meat-and-three in Nashville, Tennessee. Crawford's diverse list for Charleston includes FIG, one of the city's best-known fine dining establishments, as well as Callie's Hot Little Biscuit, a counter service shop with grab-and-go sandwiches.
Fellow CurEater Lionel Vatinet of Cary's La Farm Bakery suggests a tour of famous New York patisseries that could place a dedicated follower in a carb coma. Closer to home, baker Daniel Benjamin of Raleigh's lucettegrace offers a list of low-key family favorites, including Amedeo's in Raleigh and Bosphorus in Cary.
Through its expanding roster of CurEaters, the app will soon highlight extensive posts from Charlotte and Asheville. Charleston should be online in time for the Charleston Wine + Food festival in March. Expect about sixty Southeastern food meccas, from Richmond to Miami, to be featured.