New York City is famous for a lot of things – the nightlife, the subway system, Times Square being among them – but its food and music scenes have to rank in the best of the city's offerings. And as one of the city's famed curated music festivals, Governors Ball, prepares to take over one of the city's coveted spaces, Randall's Island Park, it's easy to get excited for the headliners like Drake and the return of Deadmau5 and Ratatat's live show after years of hiatus. But while we over here at EARMILK are a music blog, we still can't avoid the impressive offering of arts and more importantly, food, the festival has to offer. This year they've invited food bloggers Andrew Steinthal and Chris Stang, otherwise known as The Infatuation, to help curate and expand the festival's offerings.
The story behind The Infatuation's creation is one that we normally don't run into in this publication: two guys meeting while working in music, developing a branded restaurant reviews site and eventually quitting their jobs to pursue their love of food full time. But it's clear through their content and high level of interaction on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and their official site, that music hasn't left their compass. They've used their experience developing artists that reflect intent of Governors Ball – everyone from Rob Thomas to Lykki Li, Rudimental to Wiz Khalifa – to develop their own relevant brand, a brand who started off in NYC but has become so popular that it's expanded to Denver, Chicago and Los Angeles this year.
We sat down with Andrew Steinthal of The Infatuation this week to chat about his love of food and music ahead of the big Governors Ball weekend.
EARMILK: It's interesting because I normally interview people who have done the reverse from what you've done in their careers: they were working doing one thing and left it to pursue music. You guys met actually starting out in music right?
Andrew Steinthal: We actually met on the set of TRL back in the day, of all places. It was at a CMJ music convention when we were both music directors at our respective college radio stations. Chris was at KCSU at Colorado State and I was at WITB in Ithaca, New York. We both had the same call from a mutual friend who had been a guy that we both had worked with through radio. He had contacted a bunch of people who worked records and was like "I'm putting a group of my favorite music directors together, going to TRL to see Destiny's Child with a guest." It was either 2000 or 2001, pretty hilarious that we literally met on set at TRL, sat next to each other behind Carson [Daly]. They moved us because we weren't freaking out enough and weren't happy 15-year old girls. From there we proceeded to have plans to take over the business together and here we are.
EM: How did you figure out your interest in food was a common thread between you two?
AS: We became really close friends along the way, came up through the ranks together and always had plans to do something together. We had a bunch of different ideas, and we were the guys who were out at shows every night (as those in the industry all know), and that includes going to dinner before or afterward with the people who work with the label or who do press. We were always interested in the plans and it just became this thing where people would always turn to us for recommenations, including our friends who didn't work in the business who were like finance guys or worked in real estate or whatever. They would want to impress girls or figure out where to go while their parents were in town and would come to us for restaurant recommendations along with our coworkers relying on us to plan all of the things when bands would come to town. Mexican food was was always the thing, or "We've got a show at Bowery, where are we going?"
AS: As the de facto planners we realized that there was no resource for the regular people as it pertains to restaurant reviews and food content. Then even us, as people who were interested in the space and who read The New York Times reviews and paid attention to restaurant openings reading Time Out, New York and all of that, none of that stuff really connected with us in any real way. More than anything, it wasn't useful. It didn't put restaurants into perspective in the way that young people in New York City want to go about using it. You want to know about where a good restaurant is for a date, to find hot girls or guys, to take your parents to, all very specific and different things. We just thought there was an opportunity to see if we could jump on this utility, in a way, to be a useful and resourceful thing for people that is also fun and entertaining and could do well and be something that people that treat as a go-to that they find useful.
EM: It's a really good point – in music when you have these big groups of people – it's at lot of pressure to coordinate.
AS: It's a big deal. I did PR my entire life and a lot of that was like "Alright, I'm going to take a group of 12 people out to dinner before a show," and I needed to know all of the restaurants that would fit that many people where we could all talk. There were so many factors in coordinating that, that when you do that for a long period of time, you get to know these places very well. And it's information that everybody wants and needs, so we just wanted to make it something that was fun. All we have known about throughout our entire careers was how to build and nurture bands. We've worked with some small artists and some huge artists, but a lot of them we have worked with from the beginning and really, building a band is like building your own brand. So we applied everything we knew from things like grassroots marketing level of trying to get traction with people, real hand-to-hand combat style to building a restaurant reviews website. That sounds totally crazy, but it's really worked to our advantage in a big way and helped to make our work something really personal and something that people connect with. It's interesting overall.
EM: It's interesting how much of a connection there is throughout everything you've done both in music and at Infatuation.
I first found you guys through Instagram, but you obviously had a website before that. How has Instagram helped you build your readership?
AS: Instagram has been absolutely incredible. It's super visual, and people have a lot to say about the pictures as well. We've really always been early adopters on social networks, for instance, we built our brand via Twitter and used it as a way to talk and interact with our community. Even just to find new people who were talking about restaurants we liked as well, to be able to discover and connect directly with those people was a huge thing. Twitter was big for us early and as soon as Instagram came around we were on it pretty early. But with this we realized it was on a whole new level, because the level of interaction is higher with friends being able to pull friends into conversation via comments. There was a really interesting dynamic going on and we really wanted to take advantage of it as much as we possibly could. We used it as a platform to not only communicate but to also give people a voice. Obviously we started our hashtag "eats" with five e's, (#eeeeeats) almost two years ago, and we are about to cross the 1 million user mark on that, which is just insane. That's something that we created out of thin air and has caught on to become something that is bigger than us.
EM: I wanted to ask how you came up with that. It's become a really versatile, almost industry term.
AS: It's like internet speak at this point. Someone said to us the other day, "Oh, I didn't know you guys made that, I thought it was like 'brb' or 'LOL.'" I was like "holy shit." Instagram is such a great platform to communicate with people on, and we were doing all of these hashtag contests because we knew we wanted to engage the audience, give them something to participate in and repost the best photos because we've always been good curators. Prioritizing the photos and making them look good, we just knew that it would work. It started to work so we started doing one offs, like #stillsummer or #memorialdayeats, little ones that would be for a few days or a week at a time. We would repost the best photos and people got all fired up and excited, and it spread. Since it was working we thought we needed our own rallying cry hashtag that we can use all the time, that we could build upon instead of segmenting everything out. #Eeeeeats has always been sort of an inside joke, and it always just sounded like it had five e's when you sound it out loud. We thought it would work because it was super fun and just not serious, and that's ultimately what we're always trying to do with food. We don't want to take it so seriously and have fun with it, make it something that is a little more approachable for everybody.
AS: Food has this huge stigma around it, it's super snooty, people call themselves "foodies," which is so absurd and elitist. Like oh you're a foodie? No fucking way, everyone is a foodie. Who doesn't like food? Everyone likes food. The visual level of things has helped us a least on Instagram to become this known brand and therefore reaching all of these new people.
AS: The challenge is to take all of these people that follow us on Instagram and to make them aware that we are also a restaurant reviews site that will help you find the restaurants you want to try. That's the biggest challenge there, to make everyone understand that yes, we post pictures of pretty food, but, we also review restaurants and that's ultimately what we're trying to do. We are trying to convert those people who discover us on Instagram like you, and make them say, "Oh, there's a site that I can use too, perfect."
EM: There are so many people trying to do what you do with food imagery.
AS: It's gotten absurd on Instagram, people just posting insane food photos just for likes. People don't even eat that – like bagels with M&M's, peanut butter and jelly with whipped cream, the monstrosities that are like burgers that are 17-patties high – honestly, we do our share of mixing the Instagram pot, we'll post some crazy things but we're not out there to just sling all that garbage. We want to bring context to food that people eat in specific places.
EM: Let's talk about your partnership with Governors Ball – how did that come to be?
AS: Coming from the music space, we have been very intent on aligning our brand with music festivals, lifestyle stuff, the arts. We are not marketing ourselves at for instance, New York Food & Wine Festival, or Aspen Food & Wine Festival, that's not our route. We're more on the younger lifestyle tip, so music festivals has been something we've been focused on since the beginning, actually, and trying to break in there to market ourselves. We did a bunch of stuff with Coachella this year, last year we got brought on by Governors Ball to be one of their media partners, and the partnership worked well for both of us. This year, we took it one step further and they asked us to get involved to try to bring in some additional food vendors, trying to make the line up a bit more reflective of how good the food is in New York. It's a hard world out there – the competition with food festivals and music festivals is high, but they all have the same food line ups.
EM: It feels like that happened overnight.
AS: Food and music are so popular right now, people want to take pictures of cool shit when they're there and they want to eat it too probably. This is the first time we've ever done anything like this, so we're super stoked at the opportunity. We reached out to food vendors that we really thought represented New York well and that would do well at Governors Ball. It's been a really cool process to work with them, and we're psyched to see it all come to life next week.
EM: Do you have any favorites?
AS: Of course. We're really excited that Do or Dine is going to be there, started by Justin Warner who won Next Food Network Star a couple of years ago. He's just one of these dudes that is super talented, makes crazy shit taste delicious, super edgy, rolls to the beat of his own drum, he is just such a unique character and chef. We have Ramen Burger coming, people will be lining up for that for sure. Even something like Davey's Ice Cream, where Davey was a Creative Director at an agency where he worked on like, Madonna's artwork and was like "Peace! I'm gonna go make ice cream."
AS: It's about trying to find people like that, trying to find people that are super cool, super passionate and just vibe just the way Governors Ball does. We have Burger Joint doing burgers of course, which for us is really exciting considering it's one of our favorite burgers in New York and they've never done a festival like this before. 16 Handles is doing frozen yogurt which will do really well, and stuff that's returning from last year like Luke's Lobster, Momofuku Milk Bar. And more new stuff coming in this year is Mighty Quinn's BBQ which is great, Coco & Co which is coconuts that you can smash and drink out of.
EM: Working with festivals helps brings music back into your lives and onto the site. You have your #BEEEEEATs playlist, how did that come to be?
AS: We are both college radio DJs at heart, so we've forever been playlist makers. Nothing makes me happier than having a platform where I can finally put all the stuff that I love together and have people listening to it. For years I was the person making playlists and sending it to all of my friends, or trying to pull all of these mp3 files into a file that I could share with people, which was so difficult. Now the technology is there so you can post a playlist and anyone can follow it or listen to it, which is a beautiful thing.
AS: It's been a really good way to not leave the music business completely behind us. Ultimately there could be opportunities in the music space as we get bigger. Right now there's no real plan for it, but there's a need out there for curated music just like there is for restaurants. If you have good taste, you have good taste and a lot of the people who care about what they eat are going to care about what they listen to. It's an obvious extension for us to work some music into the site and to give more things to come to us for. I love making that playlist every month.
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