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Jill Epstein
Founder of Where to Eat

As Interviewed by Scott Kathan

November 5-18, 2002

Food and dining has really become evening entertainment to many people – they don't go out after dinner, the dinner is the focus.
The celebrity-chef movement is strange, but i think it's really good that Boston is so supportive of their chefs, and not only the celebrities, but also the husband-wife teams that run the neighborhood restaurants. It is a chef-driven culture. We do have all the chains, but people really care about supporting their local chefs.

Where to Eat is an upscale, coffee-table-style guide to about 200 restaurants and caterers in the Greater Boston area. Each restaurant or caterer has a full page, and it's not a review, but rather an overview. It shows you their menu, photos of the restaurant, and really makes it personal so the reader can make their own decision as to where to go. We also cross-reference by categories like cuisine, weekend brunch, private dining rooms, take-out, by neighborhood, and others so that readers can use Where to Eat as a quick guide when they're looking for something specific. It's great because it is for both residents and tourists.

We offer so much more information than Zagat. What can be difficult with them is that there are so many reader quotes that are taken out of context, so you don't necessarily get the whole picture. I do think that for what it is, Zagat is a good reference – they do reviews, we don't. And we reference them in our copy; we will mention if a place was in the Zagat Top 10. Some people tell us that they use the two publications in a complementary fashion, because they'll look in Zagat for the ratings, but then they'll turn to Where to Eat to see a larger, more informed picture. I don't see us as competitors, per se.
I'm 30 – and that's it. I'm going to be 30 for a while.

I've always been into restaurants. My mom didn't cook much – my parents are still in town dining out all the time. Sometimes they hit the hot new restaurnats before i do. Twenty years ago, when i was a kid, they would leave me with a babysitter and come into the city to eat at Icarus.
Being able to dine in all of these restaurants is pretty nice, but more than that, it is knowing the people who make it work, and being friends with them, that feels really nice.

The restaurant community is incredibly hospitable; i do often get the "press treatment," and yes, as you know, it can be pretty nice.
We think about growth all the time. The Cape and Islands Where to Eat is in the works – it will be out in the spring. In terms of expanding to other cities, I change my mind all the time. Sometimes i think that New York would be the best one to tackle next, then the next day I'll think Chicago. We were all set to do San Francisco – we had hired someone to go out there to sell it – but that was Lisa Frost, who we lost in the September 11 tragedy. It was horrible, and we miss Lisa a lot. That changed our plans, and we decided to stay closer to home for the time being.

But then there's Where to Shop, Where to Sleep, etc.
I was working at a small design firm, and the principal – my boss, Tracy Roberts – went looking for a book like Where to Eat, and she looked all over and couldn't fine one. She was asking a particular bookstore employee who finally told her that they wished they did have something like she was describing . So the idea began there.
I had absolutely no sales or marketing experience, and so, yes, there was a huge learning curve for me.

It's a strange question, but i guess I'm comfortable with the way i look. Eventually you get to a place where everything is in perspective, and you learn to be happy with yourself and what you do.

I do eat breakfast. I don't exercise that much, mostly because of my busy schedule, but i guess i have a pretty good metabolism. I do cook a lot at home, and i like to make very simple, healthy, whole foods. I'm not out at high end restaurants every night. But i do love dessert...

My cocktail of choice is Lillet on the rocks with an orange wedge. I love it. I am also a fan of simple, classic drinks like a Bombay Sapphire martini, with lots of olives.

I would never get into the restaurant business, because they work way too hard [laughs]. It's nuts. The hours are brutal. And it can be very hard on a relationship if your partner is not in the business.

I like routine. I think that's part of my graphic-design background. And i think that shows in the book – it's very detail-oriented and organized.

I could definitely be more assertive. I doesn't always work so well in today's business world, but something i learned from my family was to be very honest, to be conscientious of other people, and to take people at their word. My grandfater and my father were the same way – they could be nice to a fault. I guess it's not so bad, but i do wish i could be a little meaner [laughs].

Mushrooms have been my favorite food since i was six years old. I was a weird kid in that way. When i was little, i remember ordering Clams Casino in front of my parents – they were like, "Jill, what do you know about Clams Casino?" think i had tried them at a friend's house. I've always really loved food.

Where to Eat has a huge following in the trade. We hear from journalists that they use it all the time as a resource, and all the chefs read it because they want to see what their peers are doing.

From day one, i think it's important to instill in a child a sense that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to. If they're watching a TV show about world hunger, then you can teach them that they can help out if they want. If you can sustain that mindset your whole life, you just have a huge advatage – there are more possibilities. My parents were very good at instilling that mindset in me, and I'm not sure I could have started Where to Eat without it.
French fries and chocolate chip cookies are two foods i couldn't live without.

My marriage works really well because my husband and i are best friends, but we also have very independent lives. He rarely goes to food events with me, and i rarely go golfing with him [laughs]. We have interest outside of each other.

I don't eat red meat or pork. I grew up in a kosher home, but that doesn't really have anything to do with it – we cheated a lot. Twelve years ago, i just started to get very health-conscious, and that part of it has stayed with me.

I know it sounds cliché, but if you really believe in what you're doing, then you can make it happen. I know that sounds cheesy – "Reach for the stars..." – but i really believe it. I never would have seen myself publishing a magazine at 25 years old, but when the opportunity came up, i was ready, and i was committed.

A lot of chefs are, obviously, entrepreneurs. I think that when i first came to sell Where to Eat, they could see the spark and enthusiasm. In the early days, I would look at my watch and realize that it was 5:30, and realize that i hadn't eaten or even had a drink of water all day. I was very driven.

My dream retirement is to travel with my husband. See the world and relax. And i would be happy to retire early – neither Chris nor i get our sense of self from our work. That's not where we get our drive to succeed.@

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