'Burrito-Phile' Student Co-Founds Rating Web Site
February 2, 2007 7:20 PM
Dan Johnson loves burritos so much that he once ate 14 of them over 10 days as a coping mechanism.
“I was mourning over this girl that dumped me,” said Johnson, 31, a first-year master’s student in creative writing at SF State. “I wasn’t really old enough to go to bars and drink myself away, so I just ate myself to oblivion.”
Johnson’s craving for burritos helped him and two friends create Burritophile.com, a Web site listing locations and reviews of burrito shops all over the United States. Launched in July 2005, the site contains over 1,300 user-generated reviews and has been featured in publications like Investor’s Business Daily, the San Francisco Chronicle and the television show “Bay Area Backroads.”
The Web site seems to have found a niche, welcoming between 800 and 900 users daily and tallying approximately 24,000 visits in January 2007, Johnson said.
Although there are no reviews for burrito restaurants on the SF State campus, Johnson said Ethel Mae's on Randolph Street off 19th Avenue has a great breakfast burrito.
"It's like a giant southern breakfast, but in a huge burrito with a Mexican style taste," he said. "It's nine bucks but you won't have to eat for three days."
Johnson grew up in Los Altos, Calif. and currently lives in San Francisco's Lower Haight neighborhood. But it was his time living on the East Coast, where he attended Duke University and spent time in New York, that left him burrito-deprived.
“You would think they’d get their act together,” Johnson said about New York City. “It’s a good place for bagels and pizza, but run away if someone offers you a burrito.”
The idea of Burritophile.com was conceived in 2003 while Johnson and his two friends, Cate Czerwinski and her boyfriend Aaron Best, were driving from the Midwest to live on the West Coast. Johnson suddenly found himself craving a burrito in Lincoln, Neb., but without knowledge of the city, he was left tragically burrito-less. This sparked an idea for a Web site that would allow users to track and rate burrito places regionally.
A year later, Johnson said the trio decided to launch the site because they all suddenly found the free time to do it. Johnson did most of the early content writing and generated over 100,000 words for the site. He said that he doesn’t write as much now because enough users write reviews on the forums.
“People are very emotional about their food in general,” co-founder Czerwinski, 30, said. “It’s natural for them to get fired up over their regional food source.”
Anyone can sign up and post reviews at no cost. Johnson said the Web site currently makes enough advertising revenue to cover maintenance costs.
Czerwinski is the Web site’s editorial content manager and the self-proclaimed “girl about burrito town.” She said that people usually poke fun at Burritophile.com when she mentions it, but they eventually begin to voice their opinions on what makes a decent burrito.
She said that’s when she comes out and calls them a burrito-phile.
Californians argue about their favorite burrito places on the Web site like New Yorkers would argue over pizza joints, Johnson said, and he has even sought out burritos that users highly recommended.
“To a large point you got to trust your readership,” Johnson said. “They took the time to register on the Web site, gave us their e-mail address, went out and ate a burrito and spent their time writing about it.”
Johnson and Czerwinski agree one of their favorite places in San Francisco is Cuco’s in the Lower Haight. As a vegetarian, Czerwinski said she particularly appreciates their meatless offering.
“My favorite burrito is a plantain burrito,” Czerwinski said. “It’s great because many vegetarian burritos are just burritos without meat.”
This particular burrito was featured on the “Bay Area Backroads” segment with Johnson.
“It’s more than just a burrito, it’s dinner and dessert in one. It’s hot heaven,” said Erin Fleming, 27, a fan of the plantain burrito, and Johnson’s friend.
Fleming is a second-year MBA student with an emphasis in decision sciences at SF State, who admits to eating an average of two burritos a week, often with Johnson.
“He likes to take pictures of my burrito after a few bites,” Fleming said. “He calls it ‘burrito porn.’”
While the site is mainly informational, Fleming said she is entertained by features like a banner that runs famous quotes with the word “burrito” added in. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our burritos, it’s in ourselves,” is an example of a Shakespeare quote twisted on the Web site.
And Johnson has more fun things planned for Burritophile.com. “Our eventual goal is to make the burrito the dominant food group in the universe,” Johnson said. “I would like to go to Helsinki and find a good burrito.”
His dream is to have the site go international and that he has already received requests to submit reviews from places like Mexico and Finland.
Visit www.burritophile.com for more information.
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