10 Years of Eat This Town!
It’s been 10 years of Eat This Town. Crazy. It seems like just yesterday that blogs were still kinda newish and exciting, and now they seem to struggle for relevance in a world of easily digestible TikToks and Instagram stories. Some of us bloggers have shifted to social media influencing and marketing, while others have moved into more formal writing careers – or even restaurant careers! – while others just kind of fizzled and popped in and out of existence.
As for me, I’ve tried on a few hats. In doing so I’ve realized that being an “influencer” isn’t for me. Quick content for mindless scrolling and phoney endorsements goes against my whole ethos. And I would rather jump in the harbour than riddle my blog with spammy ads and SEO garble at the expense of my readers. So I haven’t figured out a way to make the blog profitable without sacrificing my values. Instead, I’m focusing my efforts on other revenue streams (like print media) and keeping the blog as my passion project.
The pandemic made me take a step back and rethink all of the eating I’ve be doing, and all of the money I’ve spent on the blog without compensation for my hard work or sacrifices to my health. So I didn’t celebrate by eating a bunch of stuff or posting a bunch of stuff. If anything, I’m posting less than ever and caring more for my mental and physical well being. Even this post is three weeks late because, whatever.
And that’s kind of my take here in 2022.
Quality over quantity.
Don’t get me wrong. I might be a little cynical and jaded, especially when it comes to the paid pollyanna on social media. But blogging has been something I’ve been passionate about, and it has surrounded me with an amazing community. I’ve met so many awesome people on my food quests, and I’ve met lots of great people in the food industry. I was able to use my hobby blog as a platform to propel me into the world of professional writing. It’s been a wild ride and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Besides, after a bit of a pandemic hiatus I’m actually getting excited about food questing again. You can still expect to see nachos, pizza, burgers, fish and chips and more, as I continue to Eat This Town!
Top 10 Moments in the first 10 years of Eat This Town:
1. The Beginning
The first post ever published on Eat This Town was published on August 2, 2012, and was simply called The Beginning. It details my inspiration for the blog, which had a lot to do with travel and a lot to do with moving home.
But my first food quest was actually back in 2008. I was incredulous that Your Father’s Moustache had the best chicken wings in the city, as proclaimed in The Coast’s Best of Halifax Reader’s Poll. So I set out with my buddy Aaron (a.k.a. MGyver in my earlier posts), to systematically eat all of the chicken wings in downtown Halifax.
We had scoring sheets. We had data. But we had no idea what to do with it. Blogs hadn’t really taken off yet, and we were just two crusaders without a platform.
Soon after that, Aaron and I backpacked across Canada, hopping on and off trains and buses from Halifax to Vancouver. I eventually made my way to Calgary, where I was planning on starting a new chapter.
All of this travel made me appreciate the uniqueness of each province, especially when it came to food, and I tackled the food scene in Calgary with gusto. Burgers and pizza were a high priority for me, but my Calgary friends were more partial to dim sum, phở, izakaya, hot pot, and Korean BBQ. I was introduced to a lot of new foods, and I devoured them all!
I also discovered blogs around that time, with Wandering Chopsticks, Burnt Lumpia and Homesick Texan being favourites (only the latter is still active). At the time there was only one Halifax-based blog: With Bite, which was discontinued many years ago.
I decided to experiment with blogging, and started a stupid little blog that was a mix of recipe blogging and restaurant blogging. (Its’ subtitle was: “A Calgary-based Food Blog that Wishes it was in Halifax”). This helped me learn the ropes and figure out what kind of platform I wanted to have.
When I moved back to Halifax in 2012, I knew I wanted to start a new blog that celebrated Nova Scotian foods, food tourism, regional/road foods, as well as uncovering the best that Halifax has to offer.
If you look at the early posts on Eat This Town, they are largely a showcase of regional foods I had tried, like Unique Foods of Newfoundland, Windsor-style Pizza, Detroit Coney Island Hot Dogs, Chicago Italian Beef Sandwiches, and Tofino Fish Tacos.
But within a couple of months, I was onto my first food quest: Gourmet Burgers. The Halifax food scene was just starting to take off in 2012, and I couldn’t have moved back home at a more perfect time.
The rest is history.
2. The Pizza Quest
The Halifax Pizza Quest commenced in 2014 when I gathered some friends together, and we ordered delivery from every pizzeria on Quinpool Road. All of the pizzas showed up at roughly the same time, and we tasted and scored them.
Since we all lived on different parts of the peninsula, it was easy to take turns hosting and systematically rate all of the pizza in the North End, South End and West End.
Then, I hosted the Halifax Peninsula Pizza Finals, where 20 judges were presented with pizzas from the 7 most highly rated pizzas from the quest.
Once I decided to go off-peninsula, I had to put a call out to my social media followers to host my quests (because we required a home base in each community we would be evaluating). This was such a great experience, because I got to meet so many wonderful people, and volunteers got to experience firsthand what it was like to be on a quest.
Much thanks to everyone who opened their homes to us, and helped us eat all the pizza!
3. Burger Ambassadorship
The first Halifax Burger Fest was held in 2013, and there were only 21 participating restaurants (which made for a much better experience, tbh). The next year, The Coast introduced “Burger Ambassadors”: two people would be chosen to eat as many burgers as they could (supplied with a wad of cash) and promote their burger eating on social media.
I was two years into blogging, but already thought I was a pretty big deal. Of course it should be me! lol. After all, my very first official food quest as Eat This Town was my Burger Quest.
I was crowned Burger Ambassador that year, and got to appear on Global’s Morning Show and prance around the city wearing a sash. I took the job pretty seriously! (See: 2014 Burger Week Round-Up).
The next year, The Coast paid me to write a trio of posts for Burger Week. This was the year that Josh, from Life of Burgers, appropriately won the title of Burger Ambassador, and famously tried all 111 burgers (with a dedicated Burger Team).
After that year, I stopped caring so much. Burger Week was getting too big, and the essence of what made it a successful event was getting lost. Plus, it always seemed to coincide with my vacations out-of-province.
But in 2019, I felt compelled to write a History of Burger Week because there was so much misinformation and misunderstanding of the event floating around social media.
Then in 2021, I wrote a post about Why I No Longer Participate in Burger Week.
Oh, how the times have changed.
4. The Nacho Quest
The Nacho Quest was an idea pitched to me from one of my social media followers. It would be like the pizza quest, except the shareability of nachos would enable larger groups of people. Rather than getting a bunch of pizzas delivered to someone’s living room, the Nacho Quest was more like a bar crawl. We would order a platter of nachos from every restaurant on a given street, and score them on 11 criteria.
Whereas my Pizza Team started out as just a few of my friends, in assembling the Nacho Team I knew I would have to expand. I put a call out on my social media to enlist questers, and I met them at the gates of the Public Gardens for the first ever nacho quest: Spring Garden Road.
I didn’t know a single person who came on that quest, but they all signed up to go on the next one, and the next one, and soon I had more volunteers! This turned out to be a great way to meet people and for a group to try a bunch of restaurants around the city.
A few of these places have since closed, so the door is opening to more nacho quests in the 2020s…
5. The Lobster Roll Quest
My first print writing gig was a piece for The Coast in 2014 about the best lobster rolls in Halifax. I was so excited to be published!
But this was also a valuable lesson.
My food quests tend to be very thorough. I hesitate to announce any “best” of anything until I’ve tried a substantial quantity. So, before writing a list of the best lobster rolls in Halifax, I tried 20 recommended lobster rolls around the city. Now, The Coast paid me about $90 for this article. The average price of a lobster roll at the time was $15. The math works out to a loss of around $200. (Imagine if I did this now, with $25 lobster rolls!)
I then realized that all of those national “Best of” lists floating around the internet were all bullshit. There is simply no lucrative way to try everything, even in one city (never mind the country), for a “Best Of” list. Most writers are taking shortcuts because otherwise they’d be in the poor house.
Since then I’ve found a better balance when it comes to food writing.
On the plus side, my Best Lobster Rolls in Halifax post (originally published in 2015, after trying 30+ lobster rolls by then) continues to be one of my most popular every summer. I still occasionally try new lobster rolls and keep the post updated.
6. The Side Dish
I met The Side Dish (originally referred to as “LuShark” on my blogs posts) on a trip to Calgary in 2015, and within 5 months she had packed her bags and drove across the country to move in with me. She had always dreamed of living in Nova Scotia, and I was her ticket outta Alberta!
We got married in 2019, and honeymooned in Portugal and Spain (see: The Best Things I Ate and Drank in Portugal!). We were so lucky to enjoy our wedding and honeymoon before the pandemic.
The Side Dish has been such a boon to Eat This Town, as she came in a package deal with a car. She is now my chauffeur (because I hate driving), and I have been able to do so much more road tripping around the Maritimes, investigating regional foods and destination restaurants.
Our first road trip was to Baie Saint-Marie, which was also the first time I pitched myself to a tourism organization. Tourism Baie-Saint Marie was more than helpful, hooking us up with accommodations and telling us about local attractions. Here is the resulting post: 10 Reasons to Visit Clare, Nova Scotia.
Then there was: Southwestern Nova Scotia: Our Top 10 Tastes and Highlights.
In 2020, while I was unemployed and pandemic poor, I was fortunate to receive funding from Tourism Nova Scotia to investigate Destination Restaurants all over the province. This was a monumental opportunity, and remains an excellent guide for upscale dining destinations around the province.
In addition to being my chauffeur, The Side Dish is an excellent partner in taste and critique, my biggest cheerleader, and my harshest critic. She actually plays many roles, from stylist to graphic designer, and I don’t pay her anything! lol She is a wonderful wife and I adore her.
I can’t wait for our next adventure!
7. Best of Halifax
Considering that the Best of Halifax Readers Poll (which is open for voting now, btw) partly inspired the creation of Eat This Town, it was always a goal to get a Gold for Best Food Blogger. Which I did, in 2015.
I won Gold for Best Food Blogger for 5 years straight, thanks to my excellent readers, questers, followers and friends!
But then something happened: The Coast eliminated my category! But why!? I can only guess that their Gen Z demographic doesn’t read blogs, and that blogs have been deemed irrelevant. There is now instead a new category for Best TikTok. C’est la vie.
I won’t be joining TikTok anytime soon. Maybe I’m old school, but I like posting in-depth articles that will continue to be solid resources on the internet for years to come, as opposed to 5 seconds of whimsy for zombie scrolling.
Is The Coast even relevant anymore? I dunno. I used to be “with it” but then they changed what “it” was.
8. The Canada 150 Series
In 2017 a big deal was being made out of Canada’s 150 years of Confederation, so I decided to take my passion for Canadian food to the next level. To celebrate Canada’s 150, I partnered with food bloggers from all over Canada to make a blog series about Canadian food. For each province, I did a post about its top 10 most iconic foods.
Then on Canada Day, I posted a list of 150 Canadian Foods for Canada 150.
To this day, my iconic Canadian foods posts are my most well trafficked. My evergreen content, if you will. It’s still the biggest project I’ve ever done, and I honestly don’t even know how I pulled it off!
Regrettably, I never did get around to representing the territories. I wanted to do a top 10 for Canada’s North, but I wasn’t able to find any bloggers to partner with. Perhaps this is something I should aspire to finish.
9. Eat This Town Ottawa
In 2018, Eat This Town expanded to Ottawa with Murray Wong at the helm! I was a big a big fan of his insightful Yelp reviews and encouraged him to channel his foodie expertise into blogging. He was going to be moving to Ottawa, and when I offered him his own chapter of Eat This Town, he went to work!
Now you can find Murray’s reviews over at Eat This Town Ottawa. He is passionate about donairs, Chinese food, and food trucks, amongst many other things.
10. Book of Donair
It’s not often that one of your lofty dreams gets thrown into your lap, but that’s exactly what happened to me in 2019. I was offered a book deal by MacIntyre Purcell Publishing. It was a big year, with our wedding and honeymoon already in the works. But you can’t say no to an opportunity like this, so I added “writing a book” to my 2019 checklist, which would spill over into 2020, joined by buying a new house, and a global pandemic. Fun!
I sampled over 50 donairs in 4 provinces, scoured the internet and public records, conducted many interviews with people connected to the donair’s story, experimented with recipes, and went crazy trying to solve all of the mysteries.
Book of Donair was released in August of 2020, and it was such a big accomplishment. I got to experience firsthand how friggin’ hard it is to write a book!
Despite all of this, I have never published a post about the best donairs in Halifax. I have done the Best Vegan Donairs in Halifax, but I still have a few more donairs to eat before I’m confident stating my claims for the donair capital!
I’m looking forward to many more years of Eat This Town and I hope you are too!
If you are interested in learning more about my thoughts on Depth versus Width (and Quality vs. Quantity) when it comes to the direction of “Content Creation” in our society, this is an excellent video to watch.