This is the most biased review I’ll have ever written on Feasting Fort Collins. How fitting that it should be my last.
When I first started Feasting Fort Collins seven years ago the community had a demand; it all came down to ethics:
- Be anonymous
- Be unbiased
- Don’t accept advertising from restaurants
I followed those rules to the nth degree until I realized they were impossible to uphold. You cannot be anonymous in a review, yet also fair to a restaurant in criticism. It’s the courage to place your identity next to a published critical review, and the balls to sit in the dining room to discuss it face-to-face with a chef, that keeps sites like Feasting Fort Collins separate and different than anonymous review sites like Yelp. That’s something I really wanted to provide our food and beverage community.
Not only that, it’s impossible to remain anonymous in Fort Collins. Sure, we’re growing and more people may start making it easier to hide – but with hosting events with readers, and that little thing called Google, protecting anonymity within these confines is asking someone to turn water into wine.
Balancing bias was easier to manage than anonymity. For a while, anyway. I did my absolute best to be fair to a restaurant and the reader. I made sure to visit at least twice; ordering a drink, appetizer, entree, and dessert each time. The 30 extra pounds I gained was the proof in that pudding (and the plethora of food porn photos!). And I was always honest in everything I wrote – five stars, three stars, one star. It didn’t matter who I pissed off with that honesty.
Despite the displeasure of readers, I made sure to focus only on the food in reviews because it was more fair to the restaurant. We don’t live in a city with many career servers, and as I mentioned in yesterday’s editorial about our economy, we don’t pay them enough to survive as career servers in Fort Collins. So, turnover is high. CSU students fill those roles. Many won’t be able to give you the service you expect. Thus, I lowered my expectations way below the Feasting Fort Collins readership standard.
However, the Fort Collins community also doesn’t pay for unbiased reviews.
Without being a reader-supported site (and that means financially), it required working with our small business community. That meant collaborating on events like the super awesome 5th Anniversary Food Truck Festival – or every anniversary dinner we held. It also meant that friendships were formed.
This is what happened with The Farmhouse.
How could I be unbiased in a review of their restaurant after I gave their chef a glowing recommendation when the owner was considering hiring them as a partner?
“YES! Joel is a fabulous chef! I distinctly remember his New Belgium beer pairing dishes when he was at Rustic Oven in Old Town. The pumpkin soup was incredible, and I loved that he had rabbit ravioli on the menu. It was a dining event that I’ll remember for years to come.”
How I can I be unbiased after sharing a drink with their general manager at Luscious Nectar in her quest to explore authentic Colorado cuisine for her own blog post, and getting into deep discussions about the origins and nostalgia that flavors our beautiful state?
How can I be unbiased after drinking wine and eating charcuterie with their events coordinator at Fox and Crow, chatting about life changes and what the future may hold?
How can I be unbiased after sharing my fears and frustrations of the medical complications my son was going through at Children’s Hospital and National Jewish while choking back tears over a beer at The Mayor, and tackling hikes and deep conversation on the trail with the owner?
This is the biggest challenge and benefit that I leave with Feasting Fort Collins. How can you connect with your community without being friendly and making friends?
If you have any experience with marketing and advertising, then you know that it’s all about demographics. The reader demographics here are a no-brainer fit for restaurant advertising. So the smartest move to pay for this site, the meals that I reviewed (which I always did pay for), and hopefully make enough to help pay for the roof over my family’s head (which never happened – it always went back into the site) was to consider restaurant advertising. With the exception of Butter Cream and Matador, both restaurant businesses that became not only huge supporters of this site, but equally friends, I held off on adding more restaurant advertisers.
This may have been my biggest mistake on running this site.
By vehemently sticking to my guns on this part of ethics – part in fear of what the readership would do in backlash, and part in total respect – I lost a lot of opportunity for income that would have really helped my family. In complete raw honesty, it stung when I rolled out reader subscriptions and it failed miserably without any interest. With the Celebrate Fort Collins Giveaway feedback of wanting more reviews, more traveling, more consistency, more of everything while simultaneously not having any interest in paying for subscriptions, it felt like I was asked to dig a hole to China with my hands tied behind my back. Coupled with the ethical restrictions of not being able to bring on restaurant advertising and trying not to form friendships with the food and beverage industry workers in Fort Collins, I slowly (and I mean slowly – it took years to get to this point and Bill will attest to how many god damn times he tried to tell me this) realized that I was trying to do the impossible. And it was killing me. It was also killing my writing here.
That’s when I started hiking more. That’s when I started healing. And that’s when I fell in love with Fresh Air Fort Collins.
This is also when I figured out a better way for a readers to support our writing other than subscriptions. Choose Your Own Fort Collins has been a year in the making, and with a lot of input from our readers in focus groups too. There’s no guarantee that it will work, but I hope it does. I’m at least willing to take the risk. Giving up Feasting Fort Collins allows me to focus on the happiness that Fresh Air brings me and the opportunity for Choose Your Own Fort Collins to be something new and fun in Fort Collins (and our writers in the network).
Just as I’ve been brutally honest with Feasting Fort Collins readers on this site, I’ve been the same with our new Feasting Fort Collins writer, Lynsey. She knows all about the ups and downs – the smear campaign, the harassment from crazy chefs, the challenges with balancing advertising and how difficult it is doing this the grassroots, bootstrapped way. She also knows how awesome it is to write food-centric stories, how it changes your life, and how you walk away from this with deeper roots in your community and life-long friends in the process.
The amazing thing is that despite being brutally honest and real about all of this, she’s still willing to take it on.
She’s going to be great. She’s going to write fabulous stories that you’ll love to read. She’s great at making you laugh. And she’s going to do awesome things for our food community in the process.
But, she’s also going to take on restaurant advertisers here. She’s also going to make friends as we do events. And I’m going to help her not make the same mistakes I did so that she can be the successful food writer that Fort Collins wants.
She’ll also be a better unbiased opinion on The Farmhouse, because at this point I can only glow about how awesome their burger is, especially on the patio at sunset with a beer, right after a hike.
See you on the trails, friends!