So let’s start by you telling us a little bit about yourselves. What is your background and are you based in Tunbridge Wells?
We’re old schoolmates who left The Skinners’ School quite some time ago and caught up again in Sydney in 2010, where there happened to be a thriving Tunbridge Wells ex-pat community. I moved back in 2015 and Ash moved back with his family last year. My background is in events and I’ve also worked intermittently in food and drink, having worked in a number of local restaurants and helping my sister Gaelle out when she opened the French deli Fromage & French a few years ago. Ash is a project manager and has long been interested in restaurants – he is also a qualified sommelier.
How did the idea for Eat Like A Local come about?
When lockdown restrictions eased we decided to have lunch for a long-overdue catch-up. I was freelancing and the events sector had taken a hit, Ash was keen to explore new career opportunities. Having been away for most of the past decade we were keen to try one of the more recent additions to the Tunbridge Wells dining scene, but found existing review sites clunky, out-of-date and not necessarily brimming with indisputable recommendations. What you need, wherever you go, is a trusted foodie friend you can message, to help you find those gems only locals know about. So Eat Like A Local was born, with the simple mission to recreate those trusted and quick recommendations.
When did you launch it and can you tell us a little bit about the concept of it?
Having successfully crowdfunded, we are working with a London-based agency which specialises in helping start-ups get to a Minimum Viable Product and approach any new concept from a customer-first angle. We hope to have a prototype to test and refine very soon, with a tried and tested product ready to launch in the spring.
Can you tell us a bit more about the crowdfunder you set up to get things off the ground?
The crowdfunding campaign lasted a month and ended at the beginning of November. We exceeded our target of £10,000, thanks to the generosity of friends, family and local people who we don’t know, but love our idea. The crowdfund campaign included rewards which we’re delivering and have considerable costs attached, so sadly not all of the money raised will go to our start-up. It’ll be enough to get the first part of the website and app. We’re therefore seeking more investment for the next stages.
“We’re basing our restaurant recommendations purely on places we love and would happily recommend to others”
Which restaurants and cafes are behind the idea it so far?
Of the more than 100 independent restaurants and food-led pubs in the Tunbridge Wells area, we’ve selected 30 to recommend. No money has changed hands. We’re basing our recommendations purely on places we love and would happily recommend if we were asked where to go by out-of-towners. There’s something for all tastes and budgets. We’re not looking to compete with the Michelin Guide!
Will you be running guest blog spots from chefs and restaurant owners online, and what will these aim to achieve?
We have big aspirations that the platform will become not just a recommendations site with national or even international reach (a few Sydney foodies are already interested), but evolves into a dining-focused social network. This would lead to content being generated by restaurants and diners. But we don’t want to get carried away before we’ve proved the concept.
For the first stage it would be fantastic if we achieve our aim of having trusted, unbiased recommendations in every corner of the UK. Independent restaurants have, like many other businesses, suffered greatly due to the pandemic. It would be great if the local gems could be rewarded and helped to thrive. After all, we don’t want our high-streets to look identical, offering the same average food from non-descript dining rooms.
And will you encourage local foodie diners to submit their reviews too?
We have plans to convene regular local foodie meet-ups to chat about the local dining scene and make sure our listing stays fresh and accurate.
How do you think Eat Like A Local will benefit the local foodie scene?
The site will be driven by input from foodies and in time will hopefully give them a revenue stream, but we’re some way off from this. Initially, we hope the main beneficiaries will be visitors to an area who want to eat well and of course those independent restaurants who may not always benefit from passing trade. We’ll keep the site up-to-date so locals will also benefit from new announcements about new openings or events, amongst other news.
Why do you think it’s so important to support local eateries?
The restaurant sector is tough. There are so many talented chefs and owners who just can’t compete with the marketing and rental budgets of the chains. I grew up in France and both Ash and I have travelled extensively. We both value the unique experiences you get whenever you have a great meal, which needn’t cost a lot of money. Eating great food is the highlight of any holiday. How miserable would the world be if everywhere you went was identical and the food on offer overpriced and served by people who aren’t passionate about food and their unique offering.
What are your hopes for 2022 with Eat Like A Local?
Once the first Tunbridge Wells version is ready to test we’ll ask those who were kind enough to support our Crowdfunder to test it and tell us what they think about the product and how we might be able to improve it. We’ll also build a network of like-minded foodies who want to help us scale nationally.
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