When Ellen Bowen launched the Southern Connecticut territory for Living Social — the website offering daily discounts to subscribers — she liked working with restaurant owners to design enticing deals.
But, she soon realized, the website got a lot better deal than the merchants.
“It brings in traffic,” she says of the discounts. “But most people were spending only the value of the coupon. And there wasn’t a lot of repeat business.”
Her now job — event curator at CTBites.com — is much more satisfying. The Westporter has helped site founder Stephanie Webster move beyond the wildly popular restaurant reviews.
Ellen and Stephanie have introduced CT Bites Invites. Each week, the website offers readers a special culinary event. Because Ellen works closely with owners and chefs, the results benefit everyone: the restaurants, those who work there, and Fairfield County’s enormous population of “foodies.”
“We get very creative,” Ellen says. For example, Bobby Q’s paired great barbecue dishes with craft beers.
“You can’t just walk in and ask for that,” she notes. “It’s insider access.”
There’s insider access to chefs too. A 10:30 cooking demonstration by DaPietro’s Pietro Scotti was followed by a special 3-course lunch.
Beyond the great food and behind-the-scenes activity, Ellen says, “It’s very social. People invite their friends. And it’s really creative.”
Since CT Bites Invites began in November (with a pairing of exotic tacos and various tequilas), every event has sold out. Some are so popular, extra dates have been added.
Feedback (ho ho) has been great. And Ellen is having a good time too.
“I’ve learned a lot about food, chefs and restaurants,” she says.
One example: Iberico, a very rare ham. It comes from special pigs in Spain. Raised only on acorns, they’re “happy and totally stress-free,” Ellen says. “Even when they’re slaughtered, there’s music playing.”
The result is “the most tender and delicious ham you can imagine.”
(Also, very expensive.)
Barcelona Restaurant paired Iberico ham with cheeses, wine and sherry. “It was very successful — and educational,” says Ellen.
On January 25, Bonda in Fairfield features an evening menu tasting with chef Jamie Cooper. Participants will give insights — and the results will help shape his next menu.
“For a foodie, learning about chefs’ training, watching them in action, talking back and forth — it’s heaven,” Ellen says.
“This goes way beyond ‘honey, where should we go for dinner tonight?'”