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Women's Business - June, 2000

Where to Eat Feeds Need to Know

by Jennifer Romolini

If you've been grocery shopping anywhere around Boston this past year, if you have stayed in a local hotel or have been to a visitor center, you have probably come across "Where to Eat". Since its premiere issue in Spring 1999, the new food guide has doubled in both size and circulation.

Leading readers though the maze of an ever-growing Boston restaurant scene, the 178 page glossy magazine features in depth restaurant profiles, sample menus, a food term glossary and even historical descriptions of the Boston neighborhoods where the eateries are located.

The guide has spawned a Web site (www.wheretoeatboston.com) where viewers can link to restaurant home pages, give feedback or win dinners for two. "Where to Eat" can be found in over 400 retailers in more than 100 towns all over Massachusetts, Cape Cod and the Islands.

All this is the brainchild of Jill Epstein, a Worcester native who has lived in Boston for the last 10 years. After graduating with a degree in graphic design from Boston University in 1995, Epstein was hired by a small design company owned by Tracy Roberts. Working side by side with Roberts as junior designer and eventually production manager, Epstein and Roberts came up with an idea in 1997.

"Clients and people visiting from out of town would always ask,'Where should I go to eat?' and Tracey and I realized we really needed something like this," Epstein says.

Epstein compiled a database of 500 Boston restaurants, took the top 50 and hit the streets. The concept was simple. Restaurants would pay a nominal fee, send a blurb about what they're doing along with a sample menu, and receive a page in the magazine. Selling it, however was difficult.

"Essentially I had this pasted up black and white book off my laser printer to show, and people were of course skeptical," Epstein says. "Restaurants are so bombarded by sales people. But I was so excited about what I was doing - I really thought it would work - and a big compliment I've gotten is that my enthusiasm was contagious."

From there it was time for production. "This was such a huge learning curve for me," Epstein says, referring to the first issue of "Where to Eat" and its nine-month, 90-hour week production schedule. "I didn't know where to start. I would be up every hour at night thinking, tomorrow I have to call so and so. Everyone kept saying it would be so much easier once I had an issue out, and it was - the second issue only took four months."

Epstein's hard work paid off. "When I was first looking at putting this together, I had researched other publications, and with the exception of Zagats, for whatever reason, they hadn't worked. But people were really blown away by this and it was so flattering when they actually saw our product. I think the restaurant community is amazing and they really embraced what I'm doing. It's also rewarding because I've had people tell me that they're using 'Where to Eat.' There's this one woman who told me she keeps it by her bed and reads it before she goes to sleep. I think that is so cool."

It its third issue, "Where to Eat" has expanded to the suburbs to include 45 restaurant profiles outside of Boston.

The guide is available at all major grocery stores and booksellers. It can also be found at more than 100 independent gourmet food shops, wine and liquor stores and houseware boutiques in and around Boston.

For the future, Epstein's plans for the concept are boundless. "I feel like there are so many directions we can go in," she says. "I love the name. I think its so great, whether we do 'Where to Sleep,' 'Where to Shop' 'Where to Play' or we just do 'Where to Eat Boston,' 'Where to Eat New York,' 'Where to Eat Chicago' and other major food cities. Do we stay in one market or expand to all different markets? I don't know. This is a very exciting time."

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