Ben Leventhal made his name as a foodie. As the co-founder of the culinary blog Eater, Leventhal helped create the cultish aura that surrounds contemporary fine dining. But for the past three years, Leventhal has shown as much interest in the business of dining as in cuisine. As he tells it, “I think there's as much innovation happening in terms of technology and business model as there is necessarily in terms of the food on the plate these days.”
Leventhal is the cofounder of Resy, a reservation app launched in New York in 2014 and now active in fifty different markets. Today, it is partnered with nearly 200 restaurants in New York—among them trendy, acclaimed restaurants like Charlie Bird, Estela, and Union Square Café—and over 1000 restaurants around the country. It’s attracted attention from a number of Silicon Valley types, too—earlier this year, Airbnb led a $13 million investment in the service.
Although Resy is the David to OpenTable’s Goliath, Leventhal thinks that his service offers quite a lot that OpenTable lacks: “compared to OpenTable, we provide a lot of things that they don't in terms of guest experience and communications,” he says, and touts the way that Resy allows customers to text their restaurant (though in this reporter’s experience, such “communications” can be an irritating two-way street. “Protip: However many eggrolls you think you want, double it,” reads one of many unsolicited text messages I’ve received urging me to run up my bill).
Food and going out to eat remain Leventhal's deepest, driving passions. When asked about expanding the app’s coverage, Leventhal says, “We want to be everywhere where people love going out to eat and love food. So in terms of how we pick cities, our most substantial criteria is places where restaurants are great.” Leventhal went on to single out San Francisco, Los Angeles, Charleston and New Orleans as places with especially great restaurants. “That's why we picked those markets,” he said, “and we'll continue to expand based on where we see activity around great restaurants.”
Asked what trends he sees in food right now, Leventhal still sounds like the young man who founded Eater over a decade ago. “I think you're definitely seeing a continued interest in casual dining, " he says. "People want an amazing hospitality experience, but are also looking for casual food, so you're seeing those two things come together. There are a lot of casual but sophisticated restaurants that I’m seeing open and thrive, and I think that speaks to how diners are eating these days. We also continue to experiment and be fascinated by non-American cuisines, and some of the most exciting restaurants right now are non-American restaurants.”
But make no mistake, Leventhal is a businessman. When asked his favorite restaurants, he rattles off a few names—Pasquale Jones, Union Square Café and Loring Place in New York; Kismet in Los Angeles and the Hillstone chain. All are highly regarded restaurants. But more importantly, they’re also all Resy clients.