By Rob Bradfield
Baylor students no longer have to fear venturing beyond the fast food block across Interstate 35 when searching for a place to eat.
To the casual Baylor eater, Waco’s restaurant scene can seem fairly sparse. A small row of downtown restaurants and the typical highway fast food chains are all that many visitors ever get to see. But the founders of Wacofork.com, Waco natives Chad Conine and Cory Webb, are trying to change that. Wacofork.com is a locally operated restaurant review site that gives students and residents an outlet to voice their opinions of Waco restaurants. The website launched in April and already has more than 400 restaurants in its directory.
“Wacofork is something that Waco has needed for a long time… It’s helped me find some cool new restaurants that I never would have known about,” Chicago senior Ryan Donahue said.
After a quick and free application process, patrons can add reviews and ratings to their favorite eating spots. The website operates much like the national websites Yelp.com or Urbanspoon, but the designers and reviewers have focused on local restaurants, Conine said.
“Restaurants aren’t going to get the same attention from Urbanspoon that they’re going to get from us, in the same way that the high school football team down the road isn’t going to get on ESPN,” Conine said.
Reviews from the Baylor and Waco communities are part of Wacofork’s “hyperlocal” philosophy. Conine said most reviewers on Wacofork are repeat customers at the restaurants they talk about and are less likely to write off a restaurant after one bad experience. Wacofork also gives attention to local restaurants that aren’t well known and that casual visitors to Waco might not visit. Conine and Webb said they hope that eventually everyone in Waco will use their site to the benefit of local restaurants and local eaters.
“The user should not have to think twice about coming to us,” Conine said.
Conine and Webb have grown their coverage of Waco restaurants in eight months to a website with more than 600 reviews, a daily food blog, Twitter account and a free iPhone application. In the works are an Android app, an online coupon system and similar websites for everything from local jobs to wedding services and contractors. The iPhone app, which has been online for two weeks, has already gained some popularity among Baylor students.
“I like having reviews about Waco restaurants by Waco people, and it works really well with the map app,” said Geoff Davidson, a Truett Seminary Master of Divinity student from Dothen, Ala.
One of Wacofork’s goals is increased awareness and participation in the Baylor community. Wacofork has had an active tent at Baylor football tailgating events this season and Conine’s food blog has featured on-campus eateries but the reaction from the student body has been slow, the founders said.
“Baylor students need to realize that a 10- or 15-minute drive will get them to a lot of places that they’ll be glad they went to,” Conine said.