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LAist Interview: Stephy S. From Yelp

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Last Friday night at Bordello, Elite Yelpers gathered for drinks and music to wish Stephy S, Community Manager of Yelp.com for Los Angeles (she's like Tom of MySpace, but goddess style), a farewell adieu as she takes on a larger responsibility for the website up at its San Francisco HQ (sister site SFist should feel so lucky). Since May 2006, Stephy has been leading the way for Yelp.com, bringing in the energy for a site that had nothing to a site that now has everything. Today, we spoke to Stephy about food, drink, some other stuff, and... food. After all, when it's your job included writing over 1500 food reviews (1575 to be exact as of this publishing), you're going to have great foodie suggestions.

You've been with Yelp for two years now, building the Los Angeles community. Where was it back then and where is it now?

I like to think of LA Yelp back then as Tumbleweed City. You'd write a review and hear crickets. You'd post a talk thread about who has the yummiest pizza and 18 hours later, you'd thank your lucky stars for getting a response. We'd do festivals like Sunset Junction to promote Yelp and it was like speaking a foreign internet language. "What on Earth is a...Yelp?" Slowly but surely though, it caught on and now it's just all kinds of ridiculous how popular it's getting and the little website that could is now THE BEST LA resource for shared opinions of local businesses and the local community that supports them.

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What Los Angeles food trends do you see.

Korean BBQ or KBBQ for those in the know, was definitely a big one on Yelp, along with all of the fro-yo pop ups in '07, but the main trend we continually see on Yelp is the support of local mom and pops and the deelish little hole in the wall joints around town. Sure Mozza got the mainstream critics vote and caught the eye of many a yelper, but the love for places like Folliero Pizza & Italian Food in Highland Park or Bollini's Pizzeria Napolitana is what makes Yelp such a great resource. We're keepin it real yo, with real reviews by real people!

Have there been waves in those trends?

I think the main one we saw yelpers going nuts over for awhile was Scoops. And can you really blame them, I mean, ice cream with bacon. Yes, please.

In your new position as the National Director of Marketing, you have to travel often to all the major metropolitan American cities and have been doing so in transition for the past couple of months. In talking food, what's special to LA?

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I think what makes LA so awesome food-wise is that we don't just do one food well, we do a lot of food really well. LA's such a cultural melting pot and on any given night you can travel to places in Little Toyko for stellar sushi or K-town for the yummiest, cheapest grilled up grub around. You can tackle the 10 and hit up Bay Cities Deli and have one of THE most amazing sammiches in the world...yeah, I said it! You can just find it all here and it's that variety and the ability to let your taste buds travel the world in one city that I'm definitely going to miss about LA. But thanks to fellow LA native Aunny D, who's taking over the Community Manager ranks for us in LA, I'm sure she'll be smuggling some goodies up North for me soon enough!

What amazes and excites you in other cities?

I think the most exciting part about visiting the Community Managers in our other Yelp cities is how different their communities are, but how similiar they are at the same time. LA definitely has its own groove going that you won't find in say, Portland. But you also won't find maple bacon donuts at 4am in LA either. The one consistent thing I've discovered is that while we're all bombarded daily with corporate chain this and corporate chain that, there are still a whole hell of a lot of people that take great pride in their local communities and the small businesses and restaurants that make them up and I'm just happy that Yelp is there to tie them all together and make these big overwhelming cities a little smaller and homier.

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Even though it dominates the site, Yelp is not just about reviewing food, but all sorts of services from salons to auto shops. How are these services fairing on the site? Are there non-food places that are talked about frequently, cause drama, extremely popular, get ripped on all the time?

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Let's face it, food is a social thing, so it's no wonder that restaurants and food-related businesses got the majority of the reviews on Yelp in the early days. We find that yelpers will start off writing about their favorite restaurants and the awesome things they order there, sort of like a blog. And once they discover the strong sense of local community on Yelp, the word of mouth amplified thing kicks in and the site becomes this amazing tool and resource for sharing thoughts on day to day needs and services.

You figure if Jenny J likes your fave restaurant and your fave bar, she may also share a similiar style or life mantra so you will probably hit up that boutique she reviewed or check out her doctor or mechanic and give your own yelpy review spin on them. I also think the fact that it's so easy to communicate with other yelpers via private messaging, complimenting or the talk threads, makes the info readily available and since yelpers love to yelp about all aspects of their life, we start to see more and more variety in the types of businesses reviewed.

Best LA Yelp Forum Thread?

Wow, that's a tough one as there have been so many great ones, but if I had to pick, I guess it would be the ones around the time of the Prom. We threw a 1 Year Yelpiversary Prom Party back in August and the community got so into it. What are you gonna wear, who's getting a limo, who's gonna win Class Best, etc. There was so much energy and enthusiasm around that event that it was definitely a fun time on the threads and really brought the community together.

Your favorite review that you wrote?

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That's like asking which child is your favorite! How can I choose out of 1573 reviews?? Haha, okay, if I had to, I'd say The Woods was a fun one, along with the Diet Berry 44 review and my anti-Pinkberry rant. I also really loved the Privilege review and can't say I shed a tear when that trainwreck closed its doors to the Drakaar wearing public last year.

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What restaurants and bars are you going to miss in LA? What places are you excited to frequent in SF?

Bay Cities Deli will be the hardest to leave behind. In fact, I even tried to talk (bribe) them into setting up shop in SF, ya know, just for me, but they didn't go for it, dangit! I'm also going to miss places like Soot Bul Gui Rim since I'm a total sucker for a cheap K-town eats and I will miss Barone's in the Valley and Cafe Stella in Silver Lake. Ohh such memories! As for bars, yikes, where to even begin? I'll definitely miss Tiny's KO, Red Lion, The Prince and and and, oh just check out this list of faves as there are far too many to list on here :) As for SF, oh look out Bloody Mary bar at Elixir, the egg white cocktails at Bourbon & Branch , the fresh frutail offerings at Rye and the drunky grubfest at Rosamunde Sausage Grill. Oh yeah, Stephy's comin' ta git ya!

The craziest and most random review about something in LA?

Oh there have been some crazy ones for sure, but I think just about anything that Frank L or Cidne W writes has an unusual and guaranteed funny spin to it. And anytime someone can cast a fun and odd ball opinion on a local business, well, count me in as a fan!

Do you feel that living in the Valley gives you a better advantage to understanding LA as a whole?

Hmm, not sure if living in the Valley has anything to do with that, but I do think being hatched and brought up in the 818 has given me a true understanding and love for LA and the sum of its parts. LA is quite possibly the greatest city in the world. It's got culture, it's got style, it's got "klass with a k" and there's a reason so many transplants want to live here. Simply put: We rock, like totally.

Now that you're moving, what's your LA secret spot?

C'mon now. A lady never tells :)

...but since this one's a yelper, oh alright! Truth be told, I have given them all up to the world already. All of my secret spots, fave shopping, awesome bars and yummy restaurants are all out there to be devoured by the masses. I've tried to keep them a secret, but once you get biten by the Yelp bug, it's totally addicting to share your faves with the world. You'll see. And don't say I didn't warn ya!

Photos collected from Stephy S.'s MySpace