In his career in technology, Tony Akston, 45, has traveled all over the world, eating everything from street food to meals at fancy establishments. When looking for online recommendations, the Atlanta-based businessman decided that sites like Yelp are cluttered by ads and poor design, so he devised an idea of his own. One Hundred Tables does the work for the consumer, displaying a sleek map of 100 restaurants in a given city, what the site calls “dive bars to five stars.” Restaurants must purchase squares on the map for $100 a year. To make sure they are popular enough, Akston requires them to accumulate 250 Facebook likes before qualifying for his site. He caps it at 100 restaurants per city to give the site exclusivity (late arrivals go on a waiting list by a first-come, first-served basis). Last week, the company officially announced Onehundredtables.com and as it continues to open up markets, Akston expects to be live in 20 cities by the end of month, 40 by year’s end. Eventually, the site will display 100 restaurant recommendations in 100 cities around the world.
Q. The site assembles itself. Is the hope that cream always
A. It’s very easy to make a top 10 list. Everybody’s list is pretty close if you’re talking about restaurants. The cool thing is we don’t pick the restaurants. The restaurants can put themselves there and if a restaurant has a sufficient amount of Facebook likes, they’re probably doing something right. It doesn’t just happen. I have to go to Facebook and I have to deliberately say “I like this” and what does that do? It tells all my friends. It reflects on my profile, it’s a reflection on me. People don’t like something on Facebook unless they genuinely like it. We didn’t want to base who gets in from all these different cities on some food critic who just has his personal taste and that’s it. We said dive bars to five stars, let’s really just go for the authentic experiences and see what list gets assembled. The reality is we track [stats] and most of the places on our site have far more than 250. We’re talking 10,000 likes.
Q. Foodies love being the first to try restaurants. Why exclude something that just opened, that could be great, but just doesn’t have the requisite Facebook likes?
A. We’re not trying to target everybody. There are thousands of good restaurants in Boston. We know that New York might have 50,000 restaurants but we’re full at 100. We’re assembling, for lack of a better word, probably the most unique collection of restaurants in the world. Only here will this collection of restaurants even possibly exist, where you’ve got maybe a dive bar in one hand and the best restaurant in town on the other hand, all on the same page. When we launched, it wasn’t to launch with every bell and whistle, it was to launch with the core idea: 100 cities, 100 great restaurants, they’re all good. We only do one filter: cuisine. We don’t get into, well, I’m in this part of town or I’m in that part of town. If I’m looking for sushi, great. There’s 100 squares in the city, 100 restaurants, you filter it by sushi. If there’s 21 sushi places, then 79 squares vanish and you’re left with 21 sushi joints. Pick one and go.
Q. How did you settle on $100 a year for restaurants to buy in?
A. The business is a million-dollar idea [if all the squares are sold in every city]. Unlike most businesses that say, “Oh my God, I want as many customers as I can get, I just want to sell, sell, sell,” our approach was different. We put a ceiling on the core revenue. I say core revenue because I have other ideas for revenue. I like the idea that it’s such a deal for a restaurant. Where I come from in the technology space, when you sell something for $5,000 or $10,000, it’s not an immediate sale. I have to talk to my partner, we have to think about it, we have to look at it. And three to six months later, maybe there’s a deal. We wanted a restaurant to come here and say, “It operates differently, there’s built-in exclusivity, and it’s only $100 a year, basically a quarter a day, 27 cents a day.” So in terms of risk, the risk is just $100 a year.