SALT LAKE CITY — Covering Salt Lake’s food scene isn’t Stuart Melling’s full-time gig. (He does marketing for a company in the U.K.) Still, he estimates that Gastronomic SLC, the online food magazine he launched in 2007, occupies his time for a few hours every day.
In the 12 years since its launch, Gastronomic SLC has become a fixture in Utah’s food scene. The site regularly posts a variety of local food content, and Melling estimates its monthly page views are usually between 40,000 and 50,000. Then there’s SLC Menu, an online hub for local restaurant menus that Melling also launched. That site does even better — Melling said it hit 80,000 monthly page views earlier this year.
“It definitely took me by surprise,” he told the Deseret News during a recent phone interview. “Gastronomic is a huge amount of time and effort and brainpower. And SLC Menu is just putting a menu on the internet. It’s not very hard. But people seem to find it useful.”
Melling told us about the two websites, how Salt Lake’s food scene has changed since he moved here from England and some of the misconceptions people have about his eating habits.
How Salt Lake food has changed
Growing up in England, Melling met his wife, Wendi, in an internet forum for British rock band The Verve. Wendi lived in Utah, and Melling moved here five years later once they got married. In the years since, Melling has watched Salt Lake’s food scene go through numerous changes.
“What we have seen a lot less of, interestingly, is fine dining. Less fancy white tablecloths,” he said. “I don’t really know if it’s that, or if fine dining is making itself in a new image. I think millennial culture is driving a slightly more casual attitude, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less intelligent or sophisticated an experience.”
When (and where) he eats out
“I limit myself these days to about once a week, if that, because I like to cook at home,” Melling said. “Because when you get barraged with requests, it kind of becomes too much.”
Melling wasn’t always this way. He did freelance food coverage for the Salt Lake Tribune for years, but “there’s only so many times you can write about a hamburger, or a Thai restaurant,” he said. Gastronomic focuses more on local food news — events, which restaurants are opening/closing, etc. — than actual reviews.
“I don’t go out anywhere near as much as people think,” he continued. “So when I do go out, I like to just be relaxed, cool, casual. More often than not, you’ll find me having a gyro from Mad Greek, or curry from Saffron Valley. I don’t want to go out and critique every dish for four hours. I like casual and easy and simple.”
What started Gastronomic’s sister site, SLC Menu
When Melling began putting local menus online about a decade ago, the reason was simple: he’d find menus that just didn’t exist on the internet — “Normally, kind of mom-and-pop places, it’s all they can do to struggle to keep the restaurant open. They don’t feel they have time to do a website,” he said.
From there, people started sending him menus, and the web traffic quickly increased. Melling said SLC Menu now features more than 450 menus.
“It’s like Pokemon, I’m trying to catch ’em all,” he joked.
Why SLC Menu has been so successful
With a website like Yelp, Melling explained, users get bombarded with ads. Additionally, Yelp’s search tool is pretty flawed — “You’ll search for Thai restaurants, and then a bunch of Chinese restaurants come up.” By comparison, the ads on SLC Menu are pretty minimal, and the site uses a few handy search filters (price, location, food type, etc.) to help users find exactly what they’re looking for.
The site’s landing page also shows its most-searched menus from the last seven days. Cupbop and Takashi usually occupy the top two spots, since the popular eateries don’t have online menus elsewhere.
“And food trucks can have quite the blips, because they may turn up at a huge event — a thousand people are trying to get this food truck, and they’re all standing in line trying to figure out what’s on the menu before they get to the front of the line,” Melling explained.
Why he welcomes other food writers1 comment on this story
Every month, Melling publishes a roundup on Gastronomic, which features links to all the new local food coverage he’s seen that month. It includes a variety of sources — everything from more established publications to smaller food blogs. Melling doesn’t view these food writers as competition. In his mind, a rising tide lifts all ships.
“As I look at it, the more people who are excited and interested in the food scene, then fantastic. It’s not a zero-sum game. If I read your reviews, I’m not going to stop, I’m going to read more.”