I have enjoyed reading Cedar Hill Eats for some time now, as it is about the restaurants in my area. This topic is a natural, because we are an oasis in the middle of a restaurant desert.
We are some 20 miles south of downtown Dallas. The southern half of the city is somewhat neglected by the rest of the city in every way, and The Dallas Morning News won a Pulitzer for a continuing series on this inequity. And the imbalance includes restaurants, except for Cedar Hill (mostly) and a few blocks just south of downtown called the Bishop Arts district.
But Cedar Hill Eats isn’t about any of this. It concerns itself with everything about Cedar Hill restaurants — what’s opening and closing, menus and reader reviews.
I asked the founder of Cedar Hill Eats, Jill Clark, to explain how she got started and how the site is working:
How would you describe Cedar Hill Eats?
Cedar Hill Eats is a community service: free and user-friendly. It’s a place where local diners can review Cedar Hill restaurants, visitors to Cedar Hill can glean that information before they visit, and people in the local restaurant business can find feedback and often free advertising.
When did you start it?
The website went “live” at the end of August 2009.
What did you start with — i.e., a blog, a presence on Facebook or some other medium? Why?
The website came first: Twitter followed closely behind and then came the Facebook page, months later. (Those were set up as a way to get more readers/reviewers to the site.) Because of the restaurant database and other administrative gadgets, I’ve always thought of CedarHillEats.com as more than just a blog. There are many options in the administrative menu that I never got around to playing with.
What gave you the idea for the site/Facebook fan page?
Chris Wilcox of McKinney gave me the idea for the site. He had already started McKinneyEats.com earlier in the year and my husband and I saw a story about his project on the local NBC affiliate. (See http://www.nbcdfw.com/the-scene/food-drink/Diners-Dish-on-McKinney-Gastronomy.html.
I gave it some thought and later contacted Chris, who was already toying with the idea of franchising his Eats concept. Chris was using the McKinneyEats project as a way to not only promote his community but to make a few coins with advertising on the site.
After a short time I decided not to go after ads. I’m not a “Type A” personality, so I wasn’t comfortable approaching people to buy space on the site. What confirmed that for me was when Corky Brown, who is with the City of Cedar Hill, asked if they might link my project to the city’s official website and use it as the dining guide for visitors.
After that I felt it best to not clutter it up with ads and do my best to keep things as correct and current as possible.
How did you grow the site/Facebook page?
After photographing and putting in the data on about 80 eateries in Cedar Hill, I periodically drove around town looking for new ones or businesses I might have overlooked. I started an e-newsletter, which was sent out monthly for the first year or more. I chose some locally owned restaurants to feature on the front page and arranged to interview the owners/managers and get photos.
I designed flyers and business cards and handed them out when it seemed appropriate. Chris Wilcox was already conducting a poll on his site, so I decided to incorporate that idea.
The result was that a bunch of Cedar Hill restaurants received strictly-nonscientific-just-for-fun certificates stating they’d been voted the “Best” at something. I thought this was a fun way to get them acquainted with CedarHillEats, and some of them instructed their regulars to go to the site and review their restaurants.
Every month, I gave away a prize package (worth about $25) to a randomly chosen reviewer from the past month. This may have encouraged some word-of-mouth advertising as well as more reviews!
I also wrote short articles on sites like NeighborsGo to advertise the site.
Presently there are about 100 restaurants in the database.
How much time did you put into the project?
After it got off the ground, I probably averaged about 10 hours a month. The first of the month necessitated at least a couple hours work of updating the site, closing out the old poll, drawing a winner’s name for the prize package, etc. It’s really hard to say because sometimes when I went out to eat, I was ultimately putting time into the project!
What kind of feedback have you received?
I’ve received mostly positive feedback. I met some wonderful people in the restaurant business in Cedar Hill, for example. They appreciated what I was doing, and I was happy to promote their business in some way. Occasionally I’d receive a complaint or two, but sometimes it was constructive criticism. (Maybe I overlooked a donut shop or failed to report on a closure.)
Can you give us an idea of what kind of readership you have?
There are close to 200 followers on Twitter, 234 who “like” CedarHillEats on Facebook, and during the month of February the website had 4,230 hits.
Not everyone lives or works in Cedar Hill. Several past prize package winners, for example, live in other cities in the area.
Facebook shows a variety of faces and all ages as friends of CedarHillEats, but women outnumber men, and they tend toward middle age.
What do you see as a next step for the project?
I hope that CedarHillEats.com will continue to grow as the city grows and be a positive reflection of not just the city’s dining environment, but of the city and residents itself. There is always the potential for it to expand and be BestSouthwestEats but that would be a full-time job for someone who’s a real “go-getter!”
I’d say Jill Clark has recognized a coming blogging market. Although she chose not to sell ads, it could be done.
What do you think? Can you think of any additional topics for hyper-local coverage? What would you like to see or do yourself?