Sunday, January 10, 2010

How Do You Wake Up A Sleeping City? Yelp!

It's not like I'm constantly thinking about how St Louis can improve, but I do think about it a lot. Case in point: As you know, one of the most important discussions you can have at work (besides the validity of Mark Wahlberg as an "actor") is what is everyone having for lunch. During a one those deep discussions last week a co-worker was wondering what he can get in the downtown vicinity fast. Then it hit me. I sat back in my seat in complete and utter shock. My jaw figuratively fell to the floor. My brows literally furrowed in a way that makes my forehead wrinkle so strangely that it can only be compared weird-wise to the likes of my Weird Beard. Yes, I'm exaggerating. Well, not about the forehead.
Anyway, you're likely asking why you're still reading about me describing my shock. Relax, I'm trying to build drama. Here comes the payoff... While my co-worker wondered where he can pick up food quick, I realized that there isn't a McDonald's downtown! How is that possible? They're everywhere! I think there was one in my basement when I was a kid. Actually, I should clarify that there *are* McDonald's in "downtown" St Louis. There's one pretty far south on Jefferson and Google maps (The Mickey D's listed on there are incorrect) tells me there's one on Tucker a few blocks north of Washington Ave, but I wouldn't count either of those walkable to the everyday downtown worker. Not that this is a bad thing.
It's not like not having a McDonald's is a huge loss. I, personally, don't even eat fast food. It's just weird to imagine a major downtown area without one! Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago it's hard not to find two McDonald's within a mile of each other. And in downtown Chicago, if it's not McDonald's it's something else. No matter which way you swing a love handle there will likely be a fast food restaurant begging you to try their new "premium" something. Try that in downtown St Louis and you'll quickly notice that your stomach will be pointing at almost anything other than a fast food joint.
And that's where it gets even weirder. There really isn't a lot of chain restaurants downtown. Going even further, there aren't very main chains of anything! There are very few stores you'll recognize when traveling in the core of the business district. Where am I going with all this? Well, what you *will* see is a downtown stocked with locally owned small businesses.
Yes! Another thing that makes downtown St Louis awesome! It hasn't been destroyed by Walmart-like corporate invasion. I realize some of this wouldn't hurt. Hell, I'd be crazy excited for a downtown Apple store. What we have now, though, is a local business heaven and we need to preserve it.
It's no secret many downtown restaurants are struggling. There's just not enough people here to fill all of them all the time. But it's getting there. I foresee a time not so far away where every empty storefront is bustling with customers... Where it will be difficult to get a table on a Tuesday night at Jade... Where El Borracho will need to kick a full bar of people out at closing... Where we'll all be driving flying cars... Here's the cool part. I'm not the only one.
Perhaps the most telling sign that downtown St Louis is about to explode is that the local business-centric website, Yelp, has begun investing in making a presence here. Yelp is huge in most of the major US cities and they've recently installed a St Louis Community Manager (the person in charge of sponsorships and organizing Yelpers) who'll be expanding their operations in the coming months. What this means for local businesses is that they'll be getting support not only from a large online community, but free promotion. That is, if they want it. Too often small businesses ignore what people are saying about them online. A smart business owner will take advantage of what Yelp brings them - direct discussion with their customers that potential customers will very likely see. This city is on gigantic opportunity and we need to take advantage of any help others are willing to give us.
So there. We don't need McDonald's if we've already got great local businesses that offer good food fast. Oh, you don't know where to go or if you'll like it? Hmm... Try Yelp. And feel free to contribute. We'll only get out of it what we put in it. I think I'll end this with a Yelp review I wrote for the aforementioned Jade. Too bad Yelp doesn't accept reviews of Mark Wahlberg... It wouldn't be pretty.
Jade Restaurant and Lounge
910 Olive St.
St Louis, MO 63101

The first thing you'll notice about Jade is exactly what you won't notice... A large, well placed sign. It's a bit hard to find - especially on a dark rainy night.

The great news is that everything else about it is delightful! From the decor, to the cleanliness, to the excellent and accommodating staff, I was pleasantly surprised on my visit to Jade Restaurant and Lounge.

The food? Another win. If you judge your asian food on the deliciousness of the crab rangoon like so many St Louisans do, you'll be very happy you chose to dine there. It's hand made, crisp and not too greasy. Pretty much everything you want in a rangoon.

I, however, judge almost solely on the spicy tuna roll. And let me tell you... it was the best I've had in St Louis. That's no joke. Perhaps it was just a good night for the Sushi chef, but I haven't had better here. The tuna was fresh, the rice perfectly cooked and the spiciness was just right. I'll be a patron of Jade again sometime soon just to make sure it's as good as I had the first time. Until then, 4 stars!

One caveat - when I was there it was mostly empty similar to other reviews here. Being a new restaurant I hope people give it a chance. If the problem is that you can't find it, just go to the corner that Culinaria is on and walk west. When you smell crab rangoon take a left and enter the door. You're either in an Asian restaurant at that point or somebody's apartment building. If you're in an Asian restaurant, you're probably at Jade! Sit down and order some saki. If you're in an apartment building, look at the resident listing like you're pretending to visit someone. Then feign a cell phone call and say out loud, "Oh, you're at Jade? I'll be right there!" This saves embarrassment. Now leave and start over from Culinaria.
P.S. Since this review was written Jade's business has considerably picked up. I'm happy to say you'll now find it much busier! Also, here's some of my other reviews to peruse.


Meg Gartland said...

I love the blog! I love that the city has very few MASSIVE chains and has sooo many local owned biznesses!!!! Great job pointing that all out!

Courtney S. said...

My one beef with Yelp is the owner's access. I am trying to get access to Metro's account (it wants to give a generic customer service access) to answer questions, but its a waiting process. Not sure of the timeline, but they made it sound like it could be a while.

I've seen other owners abuse the privilege and get aggressive with reviewers, but its not a very open process from the owner's point of view. Otherwise, I love Yelp. I wonder how many business owners are paying attention to their online reviews? It's a real make-or-break moment for me when I'm looking for a restaurant, coffee house, bar...

Courtney S. said...

Oh, and I think local businesses are key to sustainable development for a community. Places that are crashing the hardest now where places of large, big-box development. They build in a hurry, and pull out quickly when the line bottoms out. Local businesses invest more, are more grounded and slow-growing, and I think help protect regions from boom-and-bust patterns.

Abby Schwarz said...

Thanks for nod, Jim! Yes, it's true. St. Louis yelpers have been pretty active for awhile, but with a CM (moi) we hope that more businesses will claim their page - a multi-step process, but FREE for them to use! In addition, St. Louis yelpers will be encouraged to go out and support local businesses. That's what Yelp is all about :)

For more information on Yelp here in STL, visit our website. Look for me, Abby S, for any questions you might have as a reviewer OR a business owner!

Anonymous said...

This comment is an overall, capital 'K', Kudos for the blog. I've often believed that St. Louis is a gem of a city and very few have a clue. I felt like a proud mama to see a non-native with such affection for the history, industry and beauty of St. Louis. Thank you.

Although I do not currently live in St. Louis (I reside in Chicago actually.) it's my home town and one of my favorite things about the city is the lack of Starbucks, McDonald's etc.

I would also to 'second'a two other notions about StL food culture. You can most certainly determine the quality of Asian cuisine by the rangoon... the rangoon is key. (not too sweet, not too many green things on the interior). AND...St. Louis style pizza is a bit tragic. It was always a sad day to win an Imo's pizza party at school.

Keep up the fantastic, sporadic blogging :)

Jim Barnthouse said...

Thanks for the awesome comment, anonymous! The blogging will only be as sporadic as my facial hair growth. :)

Unknown said...

Just FYI, there used to be a McDonald's on the Tom Sawyer steamboat that used to reside on the ole' Miss, downtown. I enjoyed many a happy meal there while on school field trips.

Fast forward to my recent jury duty obligations... I was a very satisfied lunchtime patron of Jade! My $12 dollars took me quite far on their menu.

Jim Barnthouse said...

I've heard of that McDonalds! Hard to drive through I bet. Ha!