Cooked up by a Westport mom with a fever for fine food and wine, CTbites.com is taking the Connecticut food world by storm, providing local foodies with "insider" access to celebrity chefs, interactive workshops, exclusive dinners, tips for dining in and out -- and much more.
Stephanie Webster, founder and editor-in-chief of CTbites and a mother of three girls under the age of 11, sat down with Patch recently to talk about her background, the inspiration for her now-comprehensive service and short-term plans.
"I grew up in Manhattan where you eat out all the time," 42-year-old Webster began. "Professionally, I was the photo editor for Travel Holiday magazine, then a web developer and strategist for branding agency Siegel & Gale. Then I had some kids and my husband David got recruited to Microsoft in Seattle. I went kicking and screaming, as a New Yorker who thinks New York is the only place to live."
But Seattle was an eye-opener and Webster quickly grew to love it.
"It's such a foodie city, with its proximity to incredible farms and vineyards," she said. "I couldn't help but get into the food scene. It was where I was first exposed to underground 'gypsy' dinners, too, where you get on a list and the day of an event they tell you where to meet. These were often at someone's house where a famous chef prepared the meals."
By the time she returned to the east coast, to Westport, in June 2008, she was completely smitten with the whole scene of food and chefs. But having never really lived in a suburb before, she didn't think she would find much of interest locally cuisine-wise.
"I started seeking out good food and was the person friends would always come to for restaurant recommendations," she related. "I realized I was onto something and started putting information online, as a blog. 'CTbites' was really a double entendre at the time. I'd do a posting every few days."
As time passed, Webster wanted to do more, and for her blog to be not just one person's view.
"People started coming to me," Webster said and she enlisted the help of friends who were good writers. "When we do a restaurant review, it's collaborative, with four to six people in the group, trying everything."
Today, the site is still structurally a blog, but because of all the contributions and elements, it feels like a website, which is garnering 130,000 monthly page views from some 28,000 unique visitors.
There are several main content buckets: Eating Out offers restaurant reviews; Eating In provides recipes and home cooking tips; Ingredients is focused on products and artisans; and Kids Bites encompasses lunchbox food recommendations and family restaurant suggestions. Notably, Kids Bites content is crafted by three writers under the age of 12.
Photography on the site is key and a passion for Webster. "Food is very visual and photos are worth a thousand words," she said.
Webster's enterprise now involves ten regular contributors, with another five rotating through, plus two photographers in addition to herself.
"I try to match a writer to a story, as every writer has their own voice," she suggested. "I tell them to pretend they're sitting across the table from a friend and to just tell it like it is."
Now CTbites has taken the next leap, into live events.
"We always wanted to do meet-ups and events and finally put that into action," Webster said. "In October, with the help of Ellen Bowen, who started 'Living Social Fairfield County,' an online-based restaurant discounts resource, and Amy Kundrat, who is my executive editor covering social media and community outreach, we organized a mixology workshop and food event at BarTaco in Portchester, New York."
Webster reported that the debut was a big success and has resulted in plans for two like events a month going forward.
"There's a lot of exciting stuff cooking, stay tuned," chirped Webster.
Visit www.CTbites.com and go to Invites to purchase tickets to upcoming foodie events, and subscribe to its periodic newsletter for more news and information.
What restaurant in Stratford would you recommend Webster visit? Tell us in the comments.