A New Foodie Web
A Houston restaurant owner creates a Yelp alternative, countering dubious reviews with insider knowledge
Open-forum websites like Yelp have become something of a scourge of restaurateurs and bar owners, and while food critics serve as an important voice in the industry, from Paul Petronella's perspective, there tends to be much more to any operation's daily goings-on than an outside source would notice.
"I saw a lot of hard work that was not being recognized," says Petronella, a Houston restaurant heir, owner/operator of Paulie's and OKRA council member. That frustration led him to create a sort of industry alternative: PaulFEEDS, a project two years in the making that launched its 2.0 version in mid-April.
"At some point we decided to help each other rather than seeing each other as competitors."
The site has two components. One is a database of food industry community members' Twitter handles because, as Petronella explained to CultureMap, "In our industry, Twitter is essential. We're always on our feet, but it's easy to catch up on our phones for a few minutes during break time."
The second is a running list of featured professionals. Petronella started with Justin Vann, the former sommelier at Oxheart, and Tyler Horne, the marketing manager for Urban Harvest — innovative and hard-working people who he thought were largely overlooked. (In the months since the interview was conducted, Vann has been recognized by Food & Wine as one of the top sommeliers of 2013.)
Petronella's hope is that foodies, diners and other industry members alike will look to PaulFEEDS for more information about chefs, baristas, bartenders and more — details about their inspirations, their mentors, their equipment and preferred tools — to get a clearer picture of the overall culture. Though Houston and Texas are in tight focus during the site's infancy, he intends for it to eventually have a national reach.
"It developed because I wanted to see more professionals recognizing other professionals," says Petronella, who was encouraged in part by the strong ties within the Bayou City's young foodie generation.
"I'm not sure that anywhere else has the same community that Houston does," Petronella continues. He buys his beans from Greenway Coffee, which runs Blacksmith just down the street, and is working with the staff at Mockingbird Bistro — which outsiders might consider a rival just a handful of blocks away — set up a pasta machine.
Plus, there's OKRA, which serves as a unified voice of small business owners and gives back to Houston's nonprofits with its Charity Saloon.
"We have a lot of great stuff happening here," Petronella says. "At some point we decided to help each other rather than seeing each other as competitors."