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Behind the Salt of the Earth Website

Written by China Millman on .

Jay Fanelli is a Pittsburgh-area web designer, co-founder, along with Nate Peretic of Full Stop Interactive. They started the web design and development company last fall, and they  recently launched their first completed project. So why is a food and restaurant focused blog interested in web site design? Their first project just happens to be the website for Salt Of The Earth, Kevin Sousa’s highly anticipated restaurant that will open in Garfield in June. In the next few days, Full Stop Interactive will also launch a redesigned web site for Tazza D’Oro Cafe and Espresso Bar in Highland Park.

The internet has changed the way almost everyone does business, and restaurants are no different. Today, many people’s first experience with a restaurant will be on that restaurant’s website, so I sat down with Fanelli to get some behind the scenes perspective. You can read Jay Fanelli's story of the Salt Of The Earth website on his blog.

Note: interview has been condensed and edited

China: How did you connect with Kevin Sousa?
Jay: I sent him some corny e-mail about how I wanted to work for him, and I became this spotty volunteer line cook. Over a few months we became friends. This website is the result of iterations of many other websites that we designed for him along the way. We first started talking about the Red Room website. I have designs on my computer for a Red Room website. I have designs for a Kevin Sousa website.

China: How long have you been working on this project?
Jay: This is probably the third salt of the earth design. We wanted to be involved in this entire process from the very, very beginning. The original timeline of this . . .we first talked about this at the Hot House event in 2008. We thought this would only be four months, get something quick and dirty up. . . one thing lead to another, its April 2010 and we’re still a couple of months away [from the restaurant opening].

China: Will Full Stop Interactive specialize in restaurant and cafe web sites?
Jay: It only takes a few jobs to be labeled a specialist and of our first three jobs two are sort of food/café related. We see ourselves as the company for local businesses, non-profits, start-ups, restaurants – people who can’t afford to go after some big agency and don’t want to trust just some hack freelancer.

China: What should a restaurant web site try to accomplish?
Jay: Part of this is . ..  it’s like the what’s wrong with restaurant websites. In most cases restaurants are obsessed with creating an experience. I think to a fault restaurants extend that . . . to the website. To a point they are right. It has to accurately reflect the identity of a restaurant. But when patrons come to a restaurant they’re expecting that experience. When they come to a website, they’re expecting content, they’re expecting information. And more often than not they don’t get that.

China: Why are so many restaurant websites so bad?
Jay: They don’t have a lot of money. Restaurants are pretty low margin and they’re usually picking from the bottom of the barrel in terms of experience and ability. When you go after a freelancer, which is typically who does these sites, [they] usually reach for flash. When you combine those two things, reaching from the bottom of the barrel and this really easy-to-create animation, typically what you end up with is a really distasteful experience. You get the music and you get the animation and you get the intro that you have to skip. Even some of the greatest restaurants in the world have terrible web sites.

China: What’s different about designing a web site for a café?
Jay: I think a café is more of a community than a restaurant is. At the end of the day you go to a restaurant to eat. There are other things that are around it. . . but at the end of the day it’s all about eating the food on the plate. A café is about a lot more than that, particularly with Tazza D’Oro. It’s about bicycle culture and the Highland Park community. And it’s seriously about the coffee as well of course.

China: If a business can’t afford a web designer’s services, what can they do to avoid some of the most common mistakes of do-it-yourself website design?
Jay: There are zillions of ways to self-publish on the internet for free or for almost nothing. Even if you start a free blog at wordpress.com or blogger.com and use it to post your menus and use it to post your hours, that in almost every case will be more useful to a potential restaurant patron than either doing nothing or spending a couple of thousands dollars to have someone hack together some website for you when they might not know what they’re doing.

If you have limited means on the internet, and you don’t have the money or the desire to put a lot of money towards a Web presence, Facebook is a decent option for you. You can build a community, people can comment on things, add pictures add video. It’s going to at least look usable and professional.

China: What about mobile users?
Jay: Everybody has an iPhone or access to the internet. The mobile user’s experience is compromised already, but they also have different needs. They don’t want to read the blog, a lot of the times they don’t even want to read the menu. They want to be able to easily find that information (phone number, hours), so we wanted at the very least for the site to be accessible to mobile users. There’s a chance that in the future we’ll develop a mobile site that will strip some of the information out.

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