By Daniella Byck
For the first year and a half of our college careers, my friends and I frequented Los Gemelos whenever our recurring craving for tacos kicked in. In the spring of our sophomore year, a single question changed the course of Taco Tuesday forever: what if we tried a new restaurant?
We typed “tacos” into the Yelp search bar, placed the neighborhood filter on “Capitol” and hit the single dollar sign to seek out the cheapest option. It was in the depth of star ratings and praise of real customers that we discovered our current go-to, A La Brasa.
The search for Madison’s best tacos marked the first time I put both faith and stomach in the hands of my most trusted local food advisors: Madison’s Yelp Elites. Our departure from restaurant status quo turned into a well researched reward, thanks to the multitude of Yelp Elite reports.
Selected for their record as active and quality analysts, Yelp Elites can be spotted by the orange “Elite ‘17” label accompanying their reviews. Yelp Elites either nominate themselves or their friends for the role and serve as culinary tour guides for a city’s visitors and natives alike.
Life as an Elite is more than just street credit on the site: the team is invited to special events and exposed to the newest local hotspots. But for Yelp Elite Beth Weinman, the biggest perk of her time as an Elite has been discovering a group of likeminded people in Madison.
“It’s given me a little bit of a sense of community in a place where I didn’t really know anyone. I can go to Elite events and see familiar faces,” Weinman said. “It’s an important part of my Madison life here.”
Weinman joined the Yelp Elite team in 2015 after Madison’s Community Manager, Stacey Lansing, reached out in encouragement of her reviews. A five time Yelp Elite, Lansing has posted over 600 reviews to the website. In her role as Community Manager, Lansing plans events, engages both new and seasoned Yelpers in the community and acts as the leader of the local Elites.
“They are passionate about Madison, they’re passionate about local business, they’re passionate about sharing their experiences and they’re passionate about Yelp,” Lansing said of the Madison crew.
Because the Yelp Elites are grouped by cities, they are on the frontline of their local food scene. In Madison, this means highlighting the smaller, often family owned businesses that depend on local farms, bringing together the freshest ingredients in creative ways. The most reviewed locations in Madison include the Dane County Farmers Market, Willy Street’s Lazy Jane’s bakery and food trucks such as Banzo.
Yelp’s Elite Squad page describes one of the highlights of being an Elite as “sharing your city’s story.” Madison’s Elites have the opportunity to not only dine at the many local businesses, but to get a sense of the personalities, stories and dedication that goes into each dish.
Lansing shared the story of her most recent event, a twenties themed speakeasy at Charlie’s on Main. At the event, Elites not only sampled the menu but met head chef Dave Heide and learned about his experience as a culinary contributor to the local landscape.
“When you get to know the people behind the business you make that personal connection and you really, really want to share that with everyone,” Lansing said. “I’ve learned just about how much people care about Madison and the food scene and the local business scene.”
For the Yelp Elites, sharing Madison’s farm to table food culture is how they celebrate it. Their frequent reviews can raise the profile of a smaller business and expose an entire city to a new favorite spot with the click of a button.
“The whole Yelp community just gets so excited about showcasing what’s here,” Weinman said of the Elite’s penchant for spreading the word on some of Madison’s best meals.
The Yelp Elite squad is a group born virtual and brought to life via events and meetups. Joined by their love for sharing local food, the group has formed a very real community in which members support each other both on and off the web.
“I think it’s fun just to see the ride people will take with me…and to just see people jump in wholeheartedly,” Lansing said of the events she plans. Weinman reflected on her first time meeting Lansing at a Yelp Elite event.
“Seeing Stacey dressed as a piece of bacon…I knew this was part of my community here,” Weinman reminisced.
Whether it be dressing as bacon or recommending the best place to eat some, the Yelp Elites know the best way to a city’s heart is through its stomach.