A few minutes with Chris Olsen, host of The Pitch’s new Bite Club
Chris Olsen is one of those guys. One of those guys with the words startup and entrepreneur tattooed on his résumé. One of those guys apt to co-found something like, say, a video-marketing company called FindItKC. But even former TV-news guys with a knack for monetizing social media have to eat, and Olsen is about to do a little bit of dining with The Pitch and a few of this paper’s handpicked guests.
For the first of our series of restaurant excursions with hungry Instagram users and food-savvy bloggers, Olsen and a dozen Pitch readers, who threw their forks into the ring, are headed to Room 39. Chef-owner Ted Habiger’s restaurant has been a mainstay of The Pitch’s annual Best of Kansas City issues since it opened a decade ago, so it was an easy choice. The invited diners, whose meals are on the house, then report their findings on various social-media platforms, with Olsen’s company documenting the evening and Olsen himself acting as host.
The Pitch asked Olsen a few getting-to-know-you questions by e-mail.
The Pitch: How much has social media — especially picture-driven social media such as YouTube and Instagram — affected the restaurant industry?
Olsen: Online video is quickly overtaking other mediums as the most-consumed medium. People want to see things, experience things, explore things. And what better way to explore a city and all its restaurants than with video? You can see and feel the ambience before going there, hear what customers are saying, get a feel for what the restaurant sounds like. With video, you can pretty much do everything but taste it.
What do you hear from your food-and-beverage clients about how their operations have changed and how they feel about those changes?
You have loyal customers and the experimental customers. You have the customer who will come back multiple times potentially in a month — those customers are valuable, and what is changing is how to reach them. Equally, if not more, important are the new customers trying you for the first time. There is that opportunity to make them loyal, multi-visit customers. The No. 1 challenge facing these owners is the fact that they have to do so much to keep up with all of them. It can be overwhelming.
Do you take photos of your food when you eat out? How do you feel about that practice?
I am all for it. I don’t do it often, but I think it is important to share good experiences. Our open society allows us to make better decisions based on the input from others.
Cellphone protocol in restaurants and bars: What are your own rules?
I am probably the wrong person to ask. As a business owner, I tend to always be connected. I am that guy.
What’s typical of a food-centered event you and your wife, Kristy Olsen, host at home?
We love to entertain. We cater or order in food for K-State games and other seasonal parties. This ranges from barbecue to Mongolian. If there is an away game, we are always eager to invite friends over to watch it.
What’s your specialty as a cook?
Fresh salsas, with ingredients from my garden, and smoked meat would probably be my two bests as an amateur. Others may beg to differ.
What foods are you addicted to?
I am addicted to barbecue. People always ask what my favorite is, and I can openly say that I love them all. Each barbecue joint in KC has its own unique place. It could be their sauce, rub, personality, uniqueness, smoke — who knows. What I do know is that I rarely have to find an excuse to eat barbecue. Kansas City is truly spoiled with the great food we have here.
And can we assume you’re a Room 39 fan?
It has been fun watching Ted’s baby grow over the years while he has gone with his gut. He didn’t just knock off a concept — he built Room 39 from the ground, and grew it his way. And it says something when you have alumni like he has. There are Room 39 chefs all over the country now, and in some of the most well-known restaurants.