When Infatuation Meets Application

By Gregory Pings, February 14, 2020
A degree in television-radio led Andrew Steinthal ’02 to launch an online platform for restaurant discovery.

Andrew Steinthal ’02 offered a compendious summary of his college experience:

“I was way more focused on the radio station than I was on my classes,” he said. “WICB was just such an exciting opportunity.”

He also recalled one of those realizations that an undergraduate degree is all about:

“The one time I truly focused on a paper while at Ithaca, I wrote about the music business,” Steinthal said. “I poured myself into the project. It was my best work.”

The professor gave him a C.

“I was bummed. But through that process, I learned that I actually enjoyed writing about things I was interested in,” he said.

Steinthal’s work at WICB took him during his junior year to New York City for College Media Journal’s radio music marathon. While there he met Chris Stang, a student from Colorado State who also worked at his university’s radio station. They became fast friends and knew that someday they wanted to do something entrepreneurial together. Initially after graduation, Steinthal advanced his public relations career with Warner Bros. Records, while Stang worked his way up to vice president of marketing at Atlantic Records.

A Leap from Music to Food

“The music business is a night-time sport,” Steinthal explained. “You’re out three to four nights a week entertaining artists, managers and the press. We spent a ton of time inside bars and restaurants.”

Steinthal and Stang became adept at picking the right place depending on the people they were working with.

“Among our colleagues, we were known as the guys with all the hot restaurant intel,” Steinthal said.

“Everybody eats, but not everyone cares about the chefs or the cooking aspects of their dinners. People want to know where to take their parents who are visiting from out of town or find a decent place for a first date.”

Andrew Steinthal '02

Eventually the two came to the realization that reliable “restaurant intel” need not be limited to people with expense accounts. They also recognized that respected food reviewers often favored industry jargon that many people don’t understand.

“Everybody eats, but not everyone cares about the chefs or the cooking aspects of their dinners,” Steinthal pointed out. “People want to know where to take their parents who are visiting from out of town or find a decent place for a first date. They want honest and real recommendations that help them match the right place with the right experience. Chris and I saw that hole in the market.”

In 2009 they launched what would eventually be called The Infatuation. Steinthal is the chief revenue officer, handling partnerships with brands like American Express, Nike, and Stella Artois. Stang is the chief executive officer.

As an online platform for restaurant discovery, The Infatuation offers content about restaurants and bars in over 40 markets, with full-time operations in New York, Los Angeles, London, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Miami, and Seattle. The company also hosts over 50 events annually, including a food festival, EEEEEATSCON.

The Zagat of the 21st Century

“We’ve always believed The Infatuation was the Zagat of this generation — a dining guide that embodied trust,” Steinthal said. 

Originally established in 1979, the Zagat Survey was a collection of restaurant ratings and reviews based on survey responses from diners compiled into a pocket-sized book. Steinthal and Stang liked the idea of adding a reliable user-generated platform to complement their reviews, so they jumped at the chance to buy Zagat from Google in 2018. Flooded with requests to bring back the book, which Google had stopped printing, The Infatuation ran a survey and printed the results in the Zagat 2020 New York City Restaurants guide.

“The books are selling like crazy,” Steinthal enthused.

Moreover, Zagat has a digital future. The Infatuation will launch a user-generated online platform in June 2020.

Looking back over the past few decades, Steinthal noted the role IC played in his life:

“I moved from aspirational adult to fully functional adult,” he said. “None of this would have happened without Ithaca College.”