Amber: Hi I’m Amber Ambrose and this is The BusinessMakers Show. Today our guest is Teresa Byrne-Dodge of the My Table magazine and the My Table Culinary Awards. Welcome to the show.
Teresa: Thank you.
Amber: Thanks for joining us. And I should also mention that this is really exciting to me that we’re literally at Teresa’s table.
Teresa: The Dining Room table, yes.
Amber: So speaking of tables Teresa, tell me about My Table magazine, just a snapshot of what it is today.
Teresa: It is a magazine that’s devoted to dining out and dining well in Houston. We’ve been around since 1994; we’re starting our 24th year. We are both print and digital.
Amber: Okay, that’s great. And give me just a little bit of the My Table Culinary Awards because I know that’s a deal in the industry as well.
Teresa: It is. It began about 2 years after the magazine was founded. It started as a standup cocktail reception, I think 14 people turned out for it, but over the years it’s grown and grown and grown and now it’s a big black tie super-duper event the first Sunday of every October. We have online voting so the voting is by everyone; it’s not just an industry thing.
Amber: Oh I see, so it’s open to the public?
Amber: Gotcha. So I know that you guys have gone through a lot of changes in the last 24 years. First of all you’re still around which is fantastic I think, especially for print just with all the things that have gone on in the digital world, but that you’re doings something different now because I think the print product with My Table is a very important part of what you do.
Amber: But you’re changing it up this year.
Teresa: We’re going form a 6 times per year printing schedule to a quarterly printing schedule. It’ll be many more pages than the old My table. It’ll have the perfect binding with the crisp edge on the back instead of saddle-stitch. We’re so excited about this.
Amber: So it’s almost like a more polished…
Teresa: Very much more polished.
Amber: More concentrated effort it sounds like even though you get it fewer times per year.
Teresa: It’s going to be more inspirational in that a lot more beautiful photography and layout and recipes and interviews with chefs and bartenders and less about just running lists of things with addresses and phone numbers because you can find all of that now yourself, you don’t need us to put it in print.
Amber: Sure, so you’re doing something different. I mean because for me, I was telling you before the interview, I really like to have something on my coffee table to just be able to pick up and sort of leaf through at my own leisure and it sounds like that’s exactly where you guys are headed.
Teresa: Yes and we really believe in going narrow and going deep rather than trying to spread ourselves out over everything.
Amber: Well that makes sense just focusing and doubling down on something.
Teresa: I think that’s part of what has helped us be successful. I mean and we’ve gotten a lot of offers over the years; people have said why don’t you bring that to Denver? Why don’t you do this in Phoenix? For one thing nobody is going to work as hard as we work.
Amber: That’s true.
Teresa: And we don’t know those markets. We know this market; I’ve been writing about restaurants here for 33 years. First at the Houston Post and on and on, so I can’t duplicate that in another market.
Amber: And that makes sense why you’re able to adapt your business as well to the market because you know it so well. So what brought you to the pint that you’re at today as far as just sort of navigating the road map?
Teresa: In some ways the print business is easier than it used to be. For example in the old days we would take a photo – and let’s say it was a slide – and then we’d have to have the slide scanned and then we’d have to have separations made of the slide, so just doing color photography in a little magazine was so expensive and took so much time. So some things are easier but the technology is more expensive, the paper and ink are more expensive and writers are more expensive.
Teresa: And mailing costs; I mean is there a year that the post office doesn’t increase the mailing costs?
Amber: Sure. That’s all things that I would have never thought about just because I’ve been so immersed in the digital world, which I know is also something that you guys have rolled out.
Teresa: We are and I have my daughter Taylor Dodge to thank for that, she’s dragged me into the digital world. And that’s why just last fall we spent many tens of thousands of dollars doing a new website that we unrolled in early January and it’s so beautiful, so easy to navigate. And we have changed from doing a twice a week newsletter with our stories in it to doing stories all the time. So we post breaking news now, we do quick snapshots of new restaurants and bars and markets and then on Thursdays we send out a newsletter that just sort of summarizes them. You can click through to everything then.
Amber: So it’s like a cheat sheet for all of the stuff that you’re doing.
Teresa: It is but it’s a real difference from what we used to; we used to write for Side Dish, now we write for the website and Side Dish just tells people about it in case they missed it.
Amber: And I think that’s interesting to because there’s so much change in a short amount of time and that also I think to the market that you cover there’s been a lot of change to the Houston food scene.
Teresa: Oh my gosh, the digital food scene in this city, all of the online magazines and all of the coverages – well you know, you were with Eater for a while and that was just the first of many. So some worked great and some were not so great.
Amber: Sure and I know it’s hard sort of carving out your own niche within that crowded market.
Teresa: It is and you don’t want to be lumped with anyone else.
Amber: No, not at all. Obviously 24 years you’re doing something right and you’re making some decisions that are probably pretty good there.
Teresa: But like any business you try and find your way and you have to re-examine every year and make some painful changes.
Amber: Sure. Well I can’t have an interview with Teresa Byrne-Dodge of My Table magazine without addressing the craziness that is now the Houston food scene. It’s a beast – a very good beast.
Teresa: It is, and growing every year, but we are so lucky. Finally we have some national writes who’ve come here and discovered it for themselves. We used to have everything except Nordic food and now we even have Nordic food.
Amber: That’s crazy.
Teresa: But we have pockets in Sugar Land, in Ft. Bend, in Pearland, in the Heights; places where whole cultures gather together to make the food of their homeland. We have so many immigrants who feed into this and we are very lucky.
Amber: Yes we are. I agree, I love to eat out in the city when I get a chance. Also 24 years ago – obviously the Houston food scene has grown to immense proportions these days, but what was the thing back then that sort of planted the seed inside of you to start My Table magazine?
Teresa: Well I had been writing about restaurants since ’84 and I wrote for the Houston Post, I wrote for Houston Metropolitan, and as time went on I just got really tired of writing Houston’s Best Hamburger story every year. So I was getting some little newsletters that I subscribed to and they were usually put out by one person, they were very curmudgeonly and I thought I could be that and so I decided to start my own little newsletter. And that’s how My Table started in fact was a little 12 page, photocopied newsletter put out by me. And my mother came – our first issue we had 64 subscribers – my mom came and helped me stuff them in envelopes and we mailed them and that was it; that’s how it started.
Amber: that was the genesis of My Table magazine, I love it. So it started out as a newsletter that is something that is new to me.
Teresa: And when we started I had no idea – from when I worked for the Post or different magazines I didn’t know how those publications got into people’s mailboxes or on their front porch or anything. If I knew then what I didn’t know I would never have had the courage to start.
Amber: So almost like ignorance is bliss and just go for it.
Teresa: It was, it was. I had to invent my own way of doing subscriptions, the post office came and inspected me at my house to make sure I was legitimate publication; it was quite a learning experience.
Amber: Yeah, so don’t procrastinate, just go for it.
Teresa: Just do it.
Amber: You’ll learn along the way either way.
Amber: Well thank you so much Teresa for joining us today.
Teresa: You are very welcome.
Amber: I appreciate it.
Teresa: Thank you.
Amber: Once again I’m Amber Ambrose and this is The BusinessMakers Show, thank you for watching.
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