Since 2009, the Infatuation has been doling out restaurant recommendations “for the people” (aka reviews without hifalutin airs). After setting up shop in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and a few other cites, the site is set to expand to Washington this summer. It hasn’t started posting content on its site yet, but there’s a very active and drool-inducing Instagram account.
Washingtonian spoke with co-founder Chris Stang and Zach Nerenberg, the site’s DC writer, about the Infatuation’s business mantra and their plans for Washington’s dining scene.
Why did you decide to expand to DC? What can readers expect from the site?
Chris Stang: DC has been raising its hand since the very beginning. A lot of young people go down to DC for college and from New York. We’ve always loved the city. Back in my music days [Stang previously worked at Atlantic Records], DC was under my territory, so I used to travel there a lot. I’ve always loved its food scene. I got in the habit of staying an extra weekend after I finished my work to check out the restaurants.
The site will have a balance of new hotspots and places that are essential. We have a “Hit List,” which is the new stuff that’s worth checking out, and then we have our “Greatest Hits List,” which is meant to be our rundown of the stuff that’s essential to the city. When I go into town, I’m always trying to hit Little Serow and Rose’s Luxury. But I also love going to Lebanese Taverna and Daikaya. The food scene is DC has really come a long way in the past five years.
How did you wind up at the Infatuation, Zach? Are you a DC native?
Zach Nerenberg: I was born and bred in DC. I grew up in Montgomery County, and I went to UMD. I live in DC now. I’ve been in the area my whole life.
Stang: That’s really important to us, too. Not that people have to grow up in a certain area, but we knew it wouldn’t work if we tried to cover new markets with someone from New York. It’s so important to us that people really know and feel connected to the city they’re reviewing and writing about.
The Infatuation puts a big emphasis on partnerships. Are there any companies you’d like to work with in DC?
Stang: That part usually comes after we get the content rolling. There are a ton of great businesses we would like to work with in DC. We’ve already done a lot with the Sweetgreen guys, and that’s a company we love. We’ll try to send Zach into the Under Armour office at some point. When we enter a new market, a lot of it has to happen naturally. We love it when the partnership opportunities com organically. That’s how we approached it in Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco.
The Infatuation’s hashtag on Instagram is #EEEEEATS. What’s the story behind that?
Stang: We launched the site in 2009, when Twitter was brand new. We would go onto Twitter and interact with people who were tweeting about restaurants. That was how we did community building. Instagram came along and it was even more appropriate for what we were trying to do, because it had photos. It also became really clear to us that if we were going to be successful in community building on the platform that we needed to make it a two-way conversation. We didn’t just want to post and hope that people would interact with our photos. #EEEEEATS just felt fun. People wouldn’t have been that excited to tag a photo with #infatuationgram. That feels so clearly like marketing. Our proposition as a brand has always been: food is fun. It shouldn’t always be so serious and so heavy. We definitely sacrificed a little bit of brand because we went about it that way. So many people use that hashtag and don’t know we started it. We’re totally fine with that. For all the people that don’t know it was us who started it, there are plenty of people that do. No rhyme or reason to the number of e’s. Once we settled on five we decided it was the gold standard.
Anything else future readers should know?
Stang: We’re super-excited to be in DC, and we love feedback. We encourage people to write us about how much they dislike Zach. Kidding. But really, going back to the idea of building a community, we love two-way conversations. There’s always an opportunity for us to learn from the audience. It’s often our best way of finding new stuff.