Meet Your Food Blogger: Amy T. Shuster of Backyard Bite
Angelenos often drive across town for food -- say, to the San Gabriel Valley for dumplings, Artesia for samosas, East Hollywood for pad thai, Melrose Ave. for celebrity-chef creations, or Venice for burgers on the boardwalk. Amy T. Shuster says we should also frequent the restaurants close to home, wherever that may be, and support our own communities. Her determination to support local, independent businesses drives her blog, Backyard Bite. We talked with Shuster about her dining-local philosophy, blogging style, and background as a food-lover and Chicagoan-turned-Angeleno.
Evelyn J. Henriquez Amy T. Shuster Amy T. Shuster Shaky Alibi
Squid Ink: On the blog, you write you founded Backyard Bite to foster awareness of high-quality, independent restaurants and encourage readers to visit places in their neighborhoods. Why is that idea important to you?
Amy T. Shuster: I kept seeing so many "for lease" signs. I would go to my local bar or restaurant and find it suddenly shuttered. I started to wonder how many more customers it would have taken to keep places open. It seemed so unfortunate that 10 or 30 year-old businesses were forced to pack up shop. Angeli Caffé is a recent example. [The restaurant closed last week after 27 years.] I wanted to tell others about the great local business that I came to know and love, too good to stay unnoticed. I wanted to tell friends about the restaurants in their backyards that they never went to. These places represent one's community and we should get to know them! Finally, Backyard Bite grew out of the notion that people are more likely to save a friend than a stranger.
SI: How is that concept particularly important in LA?
AS: There are so many celebrity-chef and high profile restaurants that boutique restaurants and ma and pa shops are being forgotten. The independent spots can't complete when everyone wants a reservation at the latest trendy restaurant. The little guys don't have big PR firms. Often you'll find a family-owned restaurant that's been around for 80 years that simply doesn't have the knowledge or manpower to Tweet and Facebook and say "We're still here -- and we're still good!" It's up to the community to spread the word and create buzz.
SI: You call these spots "local independent foodie gems." How do you decide what qualifies?
AS: I like to write about that awesome place in some strip mall that no one notices. I think, "Here's a place in a shady back ally with a wonky looking sign... I bet it's good." Yuca's is a shack in the middle of a parking lot, for example. While I sprinkle in a few classics like Philippe's, or occasionally cover an opening, I mostly love an underdog success story.
SI: Are your posts reviews?
AS: My posts started off as reviews but aren't so much anymore. I always look for unique ways to tell a story whether through writing, pictures, video or a song. Sometimes I get journalistic, with research and information that's not so "on-the-surface." I've been doing more interviews with chefs and restaurant owners to find out how they started and learn about what makes them special.
SI: How would you describe your writing style?
AS: I'm enthusiastic about the places I write about. You're not going to find anything negative. If it's good, I write about it. If it's not, I don't. I write like I'm talking to a non-foodie. I try to be as thorough as possible without being dry. I also like to include a tip, funny tidbit or random link.