Jamie Fedele hates Yelp. Not because of any bad reviews he’s suffered, just the overall concept. His Charlotte restaurant, Soul Gastrolounge, opened in 2009 and has received accolades, acclaim and a steady stream of business in one of the hipper parts of town, Plaza Midwood. A former DJ and music business veteran, the ever-entrepreneurial Fedele has a taste for music, food, booze and image, which he’s combined seamlessly at Soul Gastrolounge.
Fedele moved to Asheville in December, and his new Web project, Lucky Fork, aims to make sites like Urbanspoon and Yelp a thing of the past.
“Lucky Fork is nothing more than a tool that answers the question ‘Where do I go to eat?'” he explains. The average traveler or tourist tends to lean on Web pages like Tripadvisor, Yelp and Urbanspoon, which rely entirely on user reviews. The great quandary of pages like these is that those customer reviews usually end up telling you more about a single bad experience or instance of mediocre service than about the restaurant’s overall quality.
“When ‘dude224′ writes a review on Yelp of a local restaurant and then turns around and reviews Hardee’s, I wonder, ‘Who are these people, and why should I trust them on where to eat?’” Where others may just complain about those sites as irritating travel guides that generate mixed results, Fedele and his business partner, Joel Tracey, took the initiative and decided to fill the void left by sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon.
To put it lightly, Fedele is not a fan of user review Web pages: “To describe Yelp and Urbanspoon as flawed is a major understatement,” he says. “They are absolutely useless tools, and even if you can weed through all the useless reviews, you’re still directed to an Olive Garden in their suggested restaurants. F**k that!” Fedele is not alone in harboring those sentiments. Many restaurateurs, chefs and bar owners have found that a customer’s misunderstanding or nitpicking over mundane details can result in low scores for otherwise popular and well-regarded venues.
In contrast, Lucky Fork chooses knowledgeable reviewers in selected cities to generate its content and compile lists of credible local eateries and watering holes. “In every city I’ve DJ’d,” says Fedele, “I got to know someone in the restaurant community. A bartender, a chef, a sommelier or a restaurateur.” Those connections act as ambassadors for the page, curating and developing lists of what’s good and where the locals go in their respective cities. “And it’s not just restaurants. Breweries, food trucks and confectioneries, wine shops: All of that can be ‘forked.’”
On top of the food guide, there’ll be a blog that will feed through the website’s home page. “Instead of being just a blog, it will be culinary features of what’s new. So when you click on Asheville or Charlotte, it will take you to a list of all the restaurants, with a brief description and a Google map with a bunch of red forks over each restaurant,” Fedele explains.
“I don’t want to miss a beat,” he continues. “I want to spend my money locally. I think the most important decision a diner can make when they go out to eat is avoiding a chain restaurant.”
That fixation on the locally and independently owned is becoming the Lucky Fork team’s guiding light. “The first level of being a human being in your community is spending your money locally,” Fedele declares. “There is no excuse to spend your money at a chain restaurant when you’ve got so many options like we do here.”
The page officially launched Jan. 20, covering Asheville and Charlotte, and Lucky Fork plans to add Denver, Savannah, New Orleans and Charleston within the next six months. Stay tuned, and get hungry. Info: luckyfork.com or jamesfedele.tumblr.com