Social network changing dining conversation

If you're looking for the best Thai food in La Mesa or a National City taqueria with a dog-friendly patio, you can find expert advice on a new crowdsourced foodie forum that's creating a dining revolution in San Diego.

Eating and Drinking in San Diego, a year-old Facebook group page that's closing in on 7,500 members, has become a go-to spot for social-media-savvy restaurant lovers who want to share dining suggestions, post their favorite meal photos, rave about great dishes or rant about bad service.

For some followers, like San Diego resident Jo-Ann McMunn, it's been a revelation. She's discovered several new places she loves thanks to suggestions from her fellow EDSD members. But for others who've been stung by the sarcastic and sometimes bullying comments from other members, EDSD is not ready for prime time.

Eating and Drinking in San Diego was started early last year by Edwin Real of Talmadge. Real, 42, gave up his job as a computer IT tech specialist in 2004 to open a pastry shop, Eduard-A Taste of Europe, in Otay Ranch, which supplied many restaurants around town. The recession led Real to close his shop in 2008, but he leveraged his deep industry connections to become a consultant, building websites and doing promotions and special-event planning for restaurants, bars and brewers.

Then in January 2015, he created the EDSD group page. He describes it as a cross between the news and gossip found on websites like Eater and Chowhound with the detail, reviews, photos and micro-coverage of Yelp.

"Changing the way people discuss food is what I am trying to do. I call it 'food in real time,'" Real said. "Instead of just listing who has the best taco, I create conversations that are subtly changing perceptions of San Diego through educated and open eyes."

Within its first month EDSD had 200 members, and it has grown quickly ever since. Real said he wakes up every morning to 200 or more post notifications and emails.

Real has also launched and Eating and Drinking in Baja page on Facebook and plans more for metro markets around the country. Eventually he plans to create websites that harvest and promote the material contributed by members in each city.

Because he has a master plan, Real admits he can be "dictatorial" about what can and cannot appear on the pages. Pointless arguments, baseless rumor-mongering and cruel personal attacks can get a member banned. And woe to those who post unattractive snapshots of their food.

"People were posting photos of half-eaten doughnuts and I went after them," he said. "I asked 'who are we serving by posting these ugly photos?' They do nobody any good."

Real is the page's sole moderator, a challenging task when online arguments turn ugly, like a profanity-filled, hourslong debate that erupted over the New Year's holiday after a woman complained about bad service at a La Jolla steakhouse.

"I have so much fun with the page, but some people are flat-out obnoxious," said member Rebecca Zearing, who owns Rebecca's coffeehouse in South Park. "I don't get it. Why rain on my parade?"

Each month, Real organizes an EDSD members event, where local chefs, brewers and bartenders collaborate on a prix fixe meal. In December, it was a tamale throwdown at San Diego Brew Project in Hillcrest, where McMunn and Zearing were among a couple dozen EDSD ticket-buyers in attendance.

Tom Miller, Brew Project's executive chef, said these events have helped promote up-and-coming chefs and new venues and they inspire connections between foodies and food providers.

"Edwin has become the San Diego County food ambassador," Miller said. "He's helping us look at food in a different way."

Source: DiscoverSD

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