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April 25, 2012

Can We Talk?

PHXfoodnerds.com Dominic Armato

Here's hoping this is the start of something special.

I've been in Phoenix for nearly two and a half years, now. And while there's so much exciting food stuff going on, I can't pretend that I haven't had my frustrations as well. Some of them I can't do anything about, short of, you know, moving to northern Thailand, getting into a fabulous kitchen, learning all of their secrets and returning to open up a restaurant. This is not going to happen. But there's one thing I think the food scene here desperately needs that I might actually be in a position to provide. So for at least one of my frustrations, I've decided to see if I can actually do something about it.

Phoenix is not lacking for folks who know good food. I meet them all the time. But you wouldn't know it from the state of online food discussion here. It's been a weird transition for me, coming from places where the food nerd communities are tight, and where they have a place to call home where they can really dig deep and meet up and discuss and organize and make their community even stronger. The community here, it has always seemed to me, is weirdly fragmented, strewn across multiple different sites and multiple different formats, none of which are especially well-suited to community building. Twitter's great at moving news far and fast, but you can't have a real discussion in 140 character snippets. Yelp's no good. It's all about reviews and output. With the elite and rankings and firsts and user ratings it's focused on the individual, not the community. The only area that can handle discussion is practically an afterthought. And as a corporate entity, it's designed to generate more traffic at the expense of better traffic. Chowhound is okay at times, but there's a reason its staunchly anti-community design and policies have spawned so many groups of disgruntled posters who have gone off to build their own successful community boards. Trying to strip the personality out of a community may work on a national level, but at the local level it's killing our greatest strength. It's impossible to carry on a real conversation when any post that veers even slightly off the path gets nuked or whisked away to a different board that's viewed by a completely different group of people. And when there's no sense of continuity or community, nobody's invested, discussion dies and it becomes the restaurant and ingredient want ads. Blogs are great when written by thoughtful folks, but even though a little discussion might occasionally break out in a comment section here and there, it's an inherently uneven playing field, and discussion that could be all in one place ends up scattered across a dozen locations. Plus, to say there's more food knowledge in this town than that which a handful of bloggers possess is a comically colossal understatement, so why should a few individuals drive the conversation? Though Phoenix's food nerds are scattered all across the city, we have knowledge. We have energy. We have enthusiasm. What we don't have is a home.

So as of today, I'm officially launching PHXfoodnerds.com.

My hope is that PHXfoodnerds can gather all of these folks who are throwing their thoughts into space into one virtual room so they can start throwing those thoughts at each other, having some real discussions, feeding and responding to each other's ideas, challenging and learning from each other. I hope that PHXfoodnerds will serve as a hub for people to meet each other, make plans to get out and eat with each other, and develop a stronger and stronger community. I hope that we can turn PHXfoodnerds into a megaphone, so that we can shout from the rooftops when we find people who are doing awesome things to make our food scene better. I hope that PHXfoodnerds can become *home* for people -- I've met a bunch of you and I know far more are out there -- who feel the same way about this stuff as I do.

It's a little old school. Perhaps dangerously so. I've been told that nobody actually wants to discuss things anymore. I've been told that a website won't hold people's interest without bells and whistles and badges and achievements. I've been told that social media is the very lifeblood of the universe and it's crazy to even attempt any format that was conceived in the pre-Twitter and pre-Facebook era, as though all previously good ideas simply ceased to exist when Zuckerberg and Dorsey came on the scene. But if you really want is to dig in, share information, have serious discussions, exchange news and opinions and knowledge and ideas and actually learn from each other, there's still no better format than an old school bulletin board.

I know there are food nerds out there who are more interested in substance than flash. I know there are enough people out there in Phoenix who know food well enough and who care enough to make for one heck of an online community. I know that if everybody who has told me that Phoenix desperately needs something like this threw themselves in and tried to make it work, it would blossom into something beautiful.

See? This is why I should never write passionate pleas at 2:00 in the morning.

I'll let the board say the rest. If any of this speaks to you, please, come check it out. I've watched food communities coalesce before, and if we can come together on this, it could be a really, really, REALLY good thing.

Fingers crossed.


Hoping with all my heart that we can make this work!

If you're not familiar with the concept, just check out any thread on http://lthforum.com, a Chicago food board. The discussion, education, community and discovery that it fosters is amazing. (dish thread example: http://bit.ly/lthxlb - restaurant thread example: http://bit.ly/lthbz)

Phx food folks, please take a look, sign up & participate!

For being here for two plus years, you have not realized the crux of your issue. We all live in different geographic locations. We are a collection of VERY different cities, with very different cultures. We all enjoy being separate. It's not like NYC or even Cali. Projecting a "food" culture rallying around one idea, just isn't AZ culture.

Hey Dom--I wish you luck for sure! And I love your passion. My constructive feedback: I also want you to please stop using such small white font on brown background. It kills my 33 year old eyes. And paragraphs too. Please more paragraphs.

Signed, a former editor/foodnerd

xwave21... Yeah, I know. Phoenix isn't anything like NYC. In NYC, instead of it being like a completely different city with a completely different culture every five miles, it's a completely different city with a completely different culture every five *blocks* :-)

I hear what you're saying. You're not the first person who's told me this. But not only do I not buy it, it's not my experience. You're suggesting that that gulf between me here in Arcadia and somebody down in Gilbert is a chasm so impossibly deep and wide that we can't sit down at a table and get excited about food together? You're telling me in this city of 4.2 million people, we can find a crowd that wants to discuss food in depth? I'm not saying everybody has to agree. That would be flipping boring. All they have to do is care enough to *talk* about it, intelligently and at length. I'm not trying to suggest that the whole city is going to take on a singular food identity. That doesn't happen ANYplace. What I'm saying is that I think there are a lot of people out there who feel the way I do with no outlet to express that passion. I meet more and more of them every month.

You could be right. Time will tell. It's only day one. We seem to be off to a pretty good start. But in the end, the bottom line is that if I'm wrong, I'd rather go down swinging.

Susie... thanks!

Duly noted for Skillet Doux redesign that was sidelined by this little endeavor :-)

(The photos look so nice on this background! :-)


Thanks for doing this! I grew up 3 hours south of Chicago & in my early 20's lived for 5 years in NYC. The last 15 years have been here in Phx and it is a foodie desert - literally & figuratively. There are true respites and there are mirages - utterly disappointing mirages of nothing but more hot air and nothing worth stopping for. When you are hot and parched the last thing you want is another mouthful of sand! Let's hope this brings some relief and helps us all find more great food!

The weirdest part of this post, Domenic, is that it's been 2 and 1/2 years since you moved to Phoenix. Really? Seems like you wre just getting ready to leave Chicago last week...

Aaalex... To me, it feels like a lifetime ago.

I miss home.

Funnily enough, I think I started hanging out here right around when you left Chicago.

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