PHOTO COURTESY OF OLIO CITY
Ellen Prinzi, Olio City's CEO
If you're looking for a smartly written guide to the best places in St. Louis, along with real-time event info and recommendations as spot-on as you'd get from your savviest friends, well, there's an app for that.
Olio City, an ArchGrants winner, launches today after roughly one year of development. (You can download it for free from the Apple store here
.) Founder and CEO Ellen Prinzi conceived of the app as a guide that works with your preferences and past choices, almost like Netflix, to deliver recommended restaurants, bars and events that are both carefully vetted and tailored to you personally.
"If it's in Olio, it's the best of the best," Prinzi says. "We spent a lot of time going neighborhood by neighborhood to make sure of that."
Prinzi's lightning-bolt moment came in the fall of 2014. A former coordinator of baseball operations for the St. Louis Cardinals, Prinzi is married to the team's strength and conditioning coach, which means many weeks of travel. She was, characteristically, on the road, and not in good mood. "I was in a hotel room, and I was hangry, and I spent 30 minutes going back and forth between eight different sites, reading reviews," she recalls. "And I thought, 'There has to be a better way.'"
She ended up hiring a developer and a team of smart, well-connected contributors (including writers for Thrillist and the Chicago Tribune,
along with the RFT
's Lauren Milford) to help fashion the content she'd found herself longing for — knowledgeable, authoritative and free from marketing blather.
In its first iteration, Olio City is focused on two cities: St. Louis and Chicago. But even as Prinzi is counting on user feedback to fine-tune the app, she's already planning an expansion to Nashville. Eventually, she intends to roll out in cities from coast to coast.
For now, though, "I love being able to show people St. Louis," she says. And that second city on offer is no slouch either: "The Midwest is an untouched region for all these other apps — and Chicago is the third-biggest city in the country. I'm taking advantage of where I am."
Local support for the project has been key, too. Winning the ArchGrant was huge: "Going through the process, you're really crossing all the t's and dotting all the i's. It makes you a well-oiled machine. It forced me to take a hard look at my company.
"And then," she adds, "once you're in, you have a whole other team that's an extension of your team at your disposal." The process, she says, was invaluable.
You can access the first city of your choice on Olio City for free; the second is $1.99. And that means the hardest choice for St. Louisans might be whether to start looking for new places to try here at home — or use the app to plan that perfect weekend in Chicago.
"My hope, and the way I use it, is that I can see people using it just as much in your own city as when you travel," Prinzi says.
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