It's quickly growing out of its base of operations in America's Southeast.
Culling through online restaurant reviews can be enough to make your eyes glaze over. Simply seeing a five star rating next to a nearby listing doesn’t actually offer that much information anymore—everything from James Beard Award winners to a Subways have them. That’s the result of the crowd sourcing used on many review sites and apps. And while the wisdom of the crowd can be helpful in some cases, it can also easily blur the lines of what’s excellent and what’s merely passable. A new app coming out of North Carolina is trying to bring those distinctions into clearer focus though by relying on chefs, mixologists and other industry professionals to curate local lists of the places they think are the best. Want to know where 2015 Best New Chef Katie Button eats in Asheville or where FIG chef Jason Stanhope goes in Charleston? That’s what CurEat is designed to tell you.
The app functions fairly simply. Log on and you can either search for a city or use your current location . Based on the location you can choose from a list of restaurants, or what the company calls “cureaters”—chefs and other professionals chosen for their expertise, who make recommendations. The app has been online for about nine months and in that time, founder Steve Mangano, a North Carolina resident has grown an impressive network including the likes of Boston’s Barbara Lynch, Houston’s Chris Shepherd and New York’s Sam Ross.
Mangano says he wants to be the “anti-Yelp.” The most obvious way he’s trying to do this is by ditching crowd sourced recommendations, but the other way is by eliminating any kind of ranking—no five star reviews, no one star reviews. In fact, no reviews at all. Mangano says he intends CurEat to consist strictly of positive recommendations. Either a restaurant is good enough to make a chef’s list or it isn’t.
CurEat is not the first attempt to circumvent the groupthink-based review systems (and the somewhat questionable practices that come with them). But one thing that makes it different than many of the rest is that it doesn’t come out of the expected, and at times, over-exposed food scenes in places like New York and San Francisco. Mangano, coming out of North Carolina, focused first on the Southeast. He began with some of Raleigh’s best-known chefs, Ashley Christensen and Scott Crawford, along with Vivian Howard from nearby Kinston, North Carolina, and quickly expanded to other Southeast food hot spots—to places like Charleston, Asheville and Atlanta. With a local base of support intact he sounds optimistic that more chefs will come on board and more have been signing on regularly.
Toppling a behemoth like Yelp is not something easily done and CurEat may not do it—there are currently 145 million Yelp users every month. But in a world where the mountain of online reviews can feel never ending and sometimes capriciously written, it’ll be nice to have a little expertise back in the system.