In Serious Eater (Portfolio, June), food writer and entrepreneur Levine shares his story of launching Serious Eats.
What inspired you to write the book?
I had the idea after I sold Serious Eats, in 2016, that perhaps there was a book in it. It was painful to relive some of those moments. There wasn’t a month that went by in nine years that I wasn’t hustling for money, and that adds to the drama. But the best thing for me about the book is that it’s one person’s truthful story about starting a business, with, I hope, some laughter and lots of food. When you write a book like this and it turns out to be a good yarn, that’s a surprise.
How did Serious Eats influence “foodie culture” as we know it today?
I went against the grain. The internet was all about quick bursts of information, and that’s one reason Serious Eats has affected the food culture in positive ways. We’re known as the place for deep-dive, authoritative takes, whether it’s a Korean dish or spaghetti carbonara. We give you some history, and we do it in the context of good storytelling. People tell me if they really want to know how to do something, then they Google, for example, “fried chicken serious eats.” That’s the highest praise.
A lot of the current and past staff at Serious Eats are recognized and beloved in their own right. How did the people you hired make Serious Eats what it is?
The single best thing for me about starting Serious Eats was watching young, talented people take flight. It’s a completely different website than it was when I started it. I didn’t have any money to pay writers. All I could do was find the best, smartest, most passionate people who were interested in food culture. At first, I was doing things like searching for the best fried clams in New England. Once I saw how people responded to J. Kenji López-Alt’s storytelling ability within the context of recipes and techniques, that was a pivot. And the people I hired, we shared values. That’s important in building a business.
What’s your latest favorite lunch spot in N.Y.C. that more people should know about?
I love the square and Neapolitan slices at Mama’s Too! on 106th and Broadway. Also the pizza at Corner Slice, which is a much lighter style of square slice. It’s on 45th and 11th in one of those mini food halls. For dinner, I send people to Razza in Jersey City. They’re all trying to do one small thing, and trying to do it right. Those are the places that we need to celebrate.