Maggie Nemser launched Blackboard Eats in September 2009 with Los Angeles as the first city. Almost two years and hundreds of thousands of newsletters later, it has expanded to New York and San Francisco. Now with the anticipated app launch next week, Blackboard Eats goes mobile. In this interview, Maggie discusses what to expect from the app and if there are plans to branch into more cities.
For restaurant lovers who have been hiding under a rock, tell us about Blackboard Eats.
Blackboard Eats offers great deals and exclusive experiences to food lovers. We’re edited and written by handpicked, seasoned food editors who come from Gourmet Magazine, Food & Wine, Epicurious, Bon Appétit. And we all choose restaurants that we love and send a writer in anonymously. We don’t accept comps. And we offer exclusive deals to our subscribers.
Where are you from and how did you start up Blackboard Eats?
I grew up in Manhattan and I was always tasked with choosing the restaurant that I would have to accompany my father and his clients to dinner at. And I would scour Zagat at age 8, 9, and 10, trying to sound older, trying to make reservations at all these great restaurants. And to me it was theater, it was an escape a wonderful way to forget about a kid who teased me at school that day and be at this fabulous restaurant with chefs, and all this excitement and ambience and it all just moved me.
How did that translate to creating the company?
So I was always just passionate about it. So when I graduated from college I was a producer at MTV and spent my free time writing about restaurants for myself, wrote lists for my friends, contributed to various publications, moved to L.A. with my boyfriend who was opening a restaurant, and met Deanna Brown who believed in me. And I told her that I would be cheaper and smarter than any food editor she could hire and ended up as the editor of Yahoo Food where I worked for three years, and then became the food editor on Shine as well as the food editor on Yahoo Food.
And while doing two jobs for price of one. And I had this idea when I got all these press releases, offering all these exclusive deals from restaurants from all of these local PR reps, I noticed there was no one place for all of this content to live in a carefully curated and organized fashion. So restaurants were sort of idly sending out all these wonderful deals and exclusive dinners and there was no place for them to go. And Yahoo has a national audience so I couldn’t promote Sunday Sangria at Primitivo. And I also felt like having a national conversation would feel a little diluted sometimes. And I was excited about that local conversation where you could really speak to the excitement, the smells, flavors, and tastes of the city.
So where did you go from there?
Three things happened. And I don’t talk about this often, but I was having dinner with a girlfriend who pulled out a 30% off coupon and this was years ago. And I thought, “Wow, that's a lot of moxie to pull that out.” And I thought it was really neat. And I wondered if I would do that and if we had a schema yet where this was acceptable. And I thought what if you could get rid of that clumsy coupon element and make it sexy, make deals cool. Because ultimately we all brag about you know, “My skirt’s from a thrift store,” we all brag about that great deal we got, but how do you bring that to food and dining out without sacrificing the experiences that we love to have. And then the final thing was that I found this love of life who loved eating out but not maybe as much as I did and I wanted to be able to scale that lifestyle of going out eat all the time but keep our checkbooks in check.