Nearly three years of local dining coverage and snark came to an abrupt end this week when Eater Louisville posted for the final time.
Editor Steve Hacker surprised everyone with a blog post announcing that Eater Louisville “has left the building.”
Washington, D.C.-based Vox Media Inc. bought Eater last year and is now streamlining its properties and processes, switching to a new editing platform and dropping several Eater sites. Eater.com began in 2005 as a website covering the New York dining scene.
Hacker says the news that Louisville was being dropped was a bit of a surprise to him, as he had been training to use the new editing platform in recent weeks.
“The actual announcement really did come as a surprise,” says Hacker, who took over the editing reins late last year when original editor Zach Everson moved on. “We had been going through the transformation for the new platform. There was about a week left, and they said, ‘Oh by the way, Louisville and Toronto and Vancouver will not be part of that.’”
Hacker says Vox isn’t abandoning Louisville completely — Louisville will still be part of Eater’s national coverage. In fact, he and Eater aren’t necessarily parting ways completely, either. He plans to continue looking for stories and submitting pitches for the national site.
In addition, Hacker says he doesn’t believe his or Eater Louisville’s performance played a role in the decision, calling it part of a “corporate restructuring.” He believes competition from other media in Louisville may have weighed in on the decision, although that is only speculation on his part.
“To me, looking at the way the site was performing versus the other cities, we were really comparable,” Hacker says. “I think it was hard for Eater to establish a real media identity because there are so many other people covering the scene. Other cities, I don’t think have that advantage.”
One of the most-followed features on Eater Louisville was the Week in Reviews, when Hacker would, basically, review local restaurant reviews in a weekly roundup. This is when Hacker (and Everson before him) would often mix in humor and snark, which was not welcome to some restaurants and media people in town.
Chef Peng Looi of Asiatique is one who will not be sorry to see Eater Louisville go. He said he enjoyed reading it for a while when it first launched, but quickly tired of the concept and execution — and the snark.
“As a food writer or food critic, you should be more professional,” Looi says. “(Eater has) basically one or two writers in each city. You take the word of one person? It’s very subjective.”
Asked if he would be sorry to see Eater disappear, Looi says, “Not at all.”
Roux co-owner and Chef Dustin Staggers, however, was surprised and a bit disappointed to learn on Monday that Eater Louisville was going away.
“I always liked it,” Staggers says. “I always liked the heat map, and the roundup of all the articles that came out (every) week. It’s kind of like Urban Spoon’s Talk of the Town.”
Staggers believes what makes Louisville unique — and ultimately worth writing about by sites like Eater Louisville — is that it is a smaller city than a New York or Chicago, meaning it cannot sustain poor quality dining. The good restaurants thrive, while the bad ones die off.
“You can open 1,000 restaurants in Brooklyn, but you can’t open 1,000 restaurants here,” Staggers says.
The snark was a calling card, however, even though it was not always welcomed by the Louisville food scene — “we have yet to see if Edward Lee will successfully milk a pig,” Hacker wrote in his farewell post — and lord knows he took shots at plenty of Insider Louisville’s stories and reviews. Hacker insists it was all done in good humor.
“It’s interesting to me people thought the site was that snarky,” Hacker says. “Mostly, we were trying to put a bit of spin on headlines to make things a little more entertaining.”
But Hacker acknowledges there was plenty of “tumult” during Everson’s time as editor, from “the Lynn’s Paradise Café meltdown” to the “Blind Pig sort of public bleeding,” and suggests that perhaps there was some carryover in the site’s perception.
Given the robust nature of Louisville’s dining scene, Hacker thinks the door may be ajar for Eater Louisville’s return — a rise from the ashes, if you will.
“It was fun while it lasted,” he says. “It was really different from restaurant criticism, which was most of the writing I was doing. I would love to get Eater to come back. I will certainly do what I can.”