Alex Shebar is an award winning reporter, writer, filmmaker, blogger, community manager and rock star, but without the money, fame or musical talent. He was the first ever Community Manager for Yelp in Cincinnati, Ohio, growing the market from nothing into one that overshadowed some of it’s larger neighbouring cities. Currently, he’s the Senior London CM for Yelp in London and works with businesses to show everything useful, grand and cool in the city. This job often includes eating and drinking around London, which is tough, but someone has got to do it and he’s the man for the job.
LLO: Where are you from originally, how long have you been in London and what brought you here?
AS: I’m originally from Boston, Massachusetts and I’ve been in London since July of last year (right before the Olympics!) I came here to be the new Community Manager for Yelp, having worked for the company for two years previously.
LLO: As an American expat in London, where do you go for a taste of home?
AS: See, I’m having too much fun discovering new things. But when I really want an old fashioned American experience, I love The Duck and Waffle for gourmet American food (with the duck replacing the oh-so-classic Chicken and Waffle) and the new BRGR Co for an American burger (even though they’re originally from Beirut). And The Alibi in Dalston is an amazing dive bar that feels like the ones back in the states.
LLO: What does your job as London Community Manager at Yelp entail? Perhaps a tweet-sized day in the life description?
AS: As Yelp CM, I’m trying to introduce Londoners to London spots they don’t know. The hidden gems of London. I do a lot of free events with free food and drinks and they’re open to all. Check them out on our Events Page.
LLO: Yelp is running a photo contest in the neighbourhood of Soho. Tell us a bit about the idea behind the project as a whole.
AS: The photo contest is all about the pics you take everyday on your phone. Everyone has seen some amazing Instagram or Facebooked shots that really capture an amazing moment. I want to show those pics off – not just to your friends and family but to all of London. Anyone can snap a pic of anything in Soho: their meals, people working, playing, drinking, and more and enter them into the contest to be displayed to the city.
LLO: How about the nitty-gritty? How can we get involved? When’s the deadline? What happens with the submitted photos? And where do we go to find out more?
AS: Anyone can get involved and I mean anyone. As long as you have a camera (or even just a phone with a camera), you can enter.
Start by going to the website and click “I’m In,” then start uploading photos, either through our free Yelp app or on the site itself. The contest runs until April 20th. We’ll then take the best shots and professionally hand them in The Society Club, a local Soho gallery and one of CNN’s most interesting spots in London. We’re doing a big kickoff party on May 10th and the exhibition will run for a month. If any of the photos are sold, money will go to the gallery, so they can keep doing community events like this, and to support The Soho School, a local school made up entirely of kids from Soho. It’s a local contest with a local charity angle, and you might just find yourself, literally, on the wall of fame.
For more and to enter, click here: www.bit.ly/YelpSoho
LLO: Why the focus on Soho specifically and what’s your favourite Soho discovery?
AS: Soho’s such a culture blend of London. People work there, eat there, drink there, even (sometimes) live there. It seems to be a hub where a lot of people spend their time and I wanted to show it off. Not just the chic stores of the gourmet restaurants but families in Soho Square or people on dates playing ping pong on one of Ping!’s public tables or capturing amazing street art. It just seemed like the perfect spot to run this contest.
And there are so many amazing Soho discoveries I make weekly. My latest favourite has to be Clockjack Oven, a fantastic new rotisserie free range chicken spot. Chicken is weirdly a growing trend in London right now and this is some of the best I’ve ever eaten.
LLO: In your email signature, the second half of your title is “Crime Fighting Hero”. Tell us about the most recent crime you’ve encountered and fought. What was the outcome?
AS: Oh, you know, foil a bank robbery, stop a train that’s careening out of control, foil a villain’s plot to destroy the world. Really all just in a day’s work.
LLO: You’re a professional journalist, writer and blogger in your spare time. Where can we see some of your work?
AS: I am, but I don’t really do that much any more as Yelp and all the events keep me really busy. Mostly I now spend a lot of time crafting a mean tweet at @AlexShebar and @YelpLondon. However, if you want to read my favourite thing I’ve ever written, though, do a search for “Meanwhile at the Hall of Justice” and “Cincinnati”. I traced the roots of a legendary old building in Ohio to the headquarter of the Super Friends cartoon so that was pretty fantastic. Oh, and I also once chatted with Peter Frampton about his Obama yard signs being stolen during the 2004 election. You can find that one too.
LLO: You must come across some pretty cool places and events in this massive city while working with Yelp! What are your top three not-to-miss recommendations that Londoners who know this city well will appreciate?
AS: Absolutely, so here are a few food and drinks spots you might not know about:
For drinking: Lounge Bohemia in Shoreditch is my favourite hidden bar in a city filled with “speakeasy” bars. You have to make a reservation and there’s no sign outside, but go past the hall of newspapers and an amazing atmospheric space with some of the most unique cocktails in the city (one comes with Frankincense and is served in a hollowed out bible.) Additionally, The Marylebone in Marylebone does it’s own infusions, so you can get homemade white chocolate vodka, Nutella chili cognac or even, yes, Marmite vodka. Insane.
For eating: In Parma in Fitzrovia does only food from Parma, so you can have authentic Parma ham or Lambrusco wine you drink out of a bowl because it’s traditionally done that way. And this one is a little better known but worth mentioning again, the cheese sandwich at Kappacasein in Borough Market? It’s just so… words are not going to do it justice. That’s how good it is.
LLO: You’re speaking at the Digital Shoreditch Festival. What is this and why should we attend?
AS: I am. On the first day actually, May 20th. DSF is an 11-day look at creativity in East London. People from all walks of life: tech, non-profit, finance, entertainment, education, and more, will be speaking about what London is like now and what it could be like in the future. Every day has a different theme for the talks but there’s interactive portions, workshops, networking. It should be a lot of fun and I’m honoured they’re letting me talk.
Don’t forget to enter that Soho photo contest!