Taste Savant aims to offer "food discovery at your fingertips," letting users find restaurants based on an aggregate of trusted reviews from critics, chefs, bloggers, and their own friends. After launching in New York and expanding to Chicago, Taste Savant landed in Boston just a couple months ago. Founder and CEO Sonia Kapadia chatted with Eater about how things are going and how Taste Savant is different from other discovery tools in a market she admits is "really saturated."
Tell us about Taste Savant. What is it, and what about it would appeal to a demographic like the restaurant-obsessed readers of Eater?
Taste Savant is a discovery tool — and I know there are a lot of discovery tools out there; it's a really saturated market. But we are really different, and I'm not just saying that. We are unlike those other discovery tools in that we just feature the best restaurants in a city. In Boston, we feature about 350-400 restaurants. In New York, we feature 1000 restaurants. This is very different from the Yelps of the world who will feature 10,000 restaurants. We provide this curated, editorialized, whittled-down list of the best restaurants, and all our reviews are from credible and trusted sources: restaurant critics, chefs, fitness experts, bloggers. Unlike other discovery tools, you're not going to see 4,000 reviews from people you don't know. It'll be from people you've probably heard of, people who have some expertise in the restaurant space.
Also, we're a one-stop shop, so you can find a restaurant, read reviews, see a menu. We have a partnership with OpenTable, so you can make a reservation right on the site. You can order delivery right on the site.
Why did you choose Boston for one of your early cities?
We launched in New York first, then expanded to Chicago, and then next on our list was Boston and Los Angeles. We just see Boston as this really amazing pocket where there are new, innovative things happening. We could have gone to Atlanta, we could have gone to Dallas, but there was something about Boston. I actually lived there for a few years, so I was curious to see what happened as we launched there. So far, it's going quite well. Another thing we've noticed about Boston is that it's a very cohesive foodie community. A lot of people are into food, and there's a lot of sharing on Twitter and other social media channels. Boston's just really into it, so that was a main reason why we came here as our third city.
Any favorite restaurants from your Boston days?
I don't know if you've ever been to Basta Pasta in Cambridge; it's this tiny hole-in-the-wall pasta restaurant. It has about four tables, it looks like a deli, and they have the most amazing pasta. I used to get the fusilli with roasted vegetables and tomato sauce or something. I still think about that place when I want comfort food; I wish Basta Pasta were in New York. So much has changed since when I lived there; I moved out of Boston in 2007, and when I look at the Boston site, I'm I don't even know any of these restaurants that have opened since then. I also liked Rialto, which is old and established. I'm excited to make another trip out to Boston to try everything.
How are the critics and other "trusted sources" chosen?
The critics are generally well-established restaurant critics in any market, so for Boston, for example, we have the most obvious ones: the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, The Improper Bostonian; Eater's 38 and Heatmap are also included. We also have a number of chefs onboard. It's a relatively new program across all markets, and what we hear is that our users really care about where chefs are eating, so we're targeting chefs who are cool, fun, well-known. We have Frank McClelland from L'Espalier, Matthew Gaudet from West Bridge, and others, with more in the pipeline.
Also, we see that our target audience is basically a 25-40 year old professional woman, and she likes food, she likes fitness, she likes beauty — so we started exploring the fitness base a little more. We're starting to get really interesting critics onboard in fitness; Barry's Bootcamp instructors are on our site, and we're partnering with Flywheel, just to get more of that healthy point of view on restaurants.
I'm 100% focused on what our users want. I call her a woman; to be honest, we're about 60% female users and 40% male, but the users are into all sorts of things, not just food.
How does the scoring work? Looks like there are two scores here, a critic score and a user score.
Yep, that's right. We have different types of reviews — there are critics (which includes the chefs, some bloggers, etc.), and then there are friends — users can connect to see their Twitter and Facebook friends' reviews. Those get funneled into the user score. Users might come across a restaurant where there's a huge difference between what their friends say and what the critics say, which makes them want to dig a little bit deeper, and then they can make a judgment. Do they trust critics? Do they trust their friends? We thought it was very important to have that juxtaposition of the two voices. Some people hate critics, and we understand that. While we're basically focused on aggregating reviews from the critics, we know that there are some people who really value the user score.
What's next in terms of expanding to other cities?
The goal for the next few months is actually very much focused on our iPhone app, which will soon be available across all of our existing markets. People are on the go, and they want to be able to find those restaurants nearby. The app is basically everything that's great about Taste Savant, plus geolocation. After that, we're looking to expand internationally. London is basically ready to go; I could turn it on tomorrow. But we're so focused on the app that we're going to spend our time and resources and energy on that right now, and then we'll launch London probably in the early summer, and we'll continue city expansions after that.
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