SFoodie admits that we're so used to the Tablehopper's e-column incognito sketch, the one with glasses and hat, that we were a little taken aback last week when we met her in person at Arlequin Cafe, where she'd agreed to meet for a chat about her column's first five years and her recently launched reader forum, Deep Dishing. And though the Tablehopper's real name is Marcia Gagliardi, she's no ordinary Marcia, Marcia, Marcia! She pronounces it Mar-see-a, rhymes with Cherry Gar-ci-a.
Some background: The idea for Tablehopper germinated in 2003, at a time when the Chronicle's weekly Inside Scoop column was the only source for restaurant news in town, and no one was covering bars or eateries at the low end. Gagliardi had a business and advertising background, and was always the oracle for friends with queries about where to eat out. She combined both strengths and voila: Tablehopper launched in February 2006.
Whenever anyone says that she has the best job in the world, Gagliardi responds, "I know, that's why I made it." Still, she works her ass off. Besides the writing and editing, she answers more than 200 e-mails a day, does tech support, conducts interviews, works on design and mailing lists, and takes care of ad sales. Gagliardi only now has a part-time assistant, and just hired an intern for the launch of Deep Dishing. It went live last Tuesday, Tablehopper's fifth anniversary.
Gagliardi describes Deep Dishing as a "forum for positivity," less about where to go and more about what to order. She likes the community aspect of a forum, a way to have a larger conversation via technology. sort of a more upbeat ― dare we say mature ― voice to add to the Yelp and Chowhound mix. Gagliardi's eventual goal is to launch Deep Dishing as an app. While there may be a limit to the number of chefs in this town, there seems to be no limit to the number of opinionated conversations San Franciscans are willing to have about food.
SFoodie: How did you make yourself into a major player in local food media?
Tablehopper: It's hard to not have financial backing and support. I knew I wanted to write about food and I knew $150 per article wouldn't work. I had the entrepreneurial urge. I didn't want to do a blog, so why not a newsletter? Aha, that was what was missing.
Since we know how you feel about anniversaries, how does it feel exactly one year after publication of your book, The Tablehopper's Guide to Dining and Drinking in San Francisco?
It was my way to finally get to stop personal recommendations. Or, if people want, they can pay for my time!
What was your inspiration for Deep Dishing?
Technology was made available to me. This past summer, I was at Heidi [Swanson]'s house and she mentioned she was working on cool software for cookbooks and said that I should meet these [Phile] guys. I was, like, 'Holy shit, this is what I've been looking for!'"
What do you say to critics who say only mentioning the good is an easy route?
It's a different voice. I have always tried to accentuate the positive; this is just an extension of that. Energetically, I'd rather focus on good people and good food.