Fresh or Frightening Food Reviews was created by James Taylor, a Florida resident with a healthy appetite for new and interesting culinary options around St. Augustine.
Even tucked away in a corner banquette at the newly reopened Panama Hattie’s on a low-key Thursday night, James Taylor is almost instantly recognizable.
Not only is Taylor regularly spotted out on the St. Augustine dining scene, but he is also the bearded face of a popular crowdsourcing food review site on Facebook.
Auggie’s Fresh or Frightening Food Reviews began as a lark of a venture for Taylor, a St. Augustine native who grew up working in the food service industry and, at 46, still maintains a healthy appetite for new and interesting culinary options around town. In just over a year, the fledgling site has pulled in a pretty astonishing number of followers — more than 30,000, to be exact.
In the process, Taylor himself has become kind of a local celebrity.
Clarissa Jones and a female friend of hers stop at Taylor’s booth and try to size up if they’re interrupting his meal.
With an “aw, shucks” grin, Taylor puts them at ease.
“I just think it’s just a really great site you have,” Jones says. “I like learning about a wide variety of restaurants. Some of these places I’ve never been to, and I live here.”
If Taylor had to guess, that is why FOF has struck such a nerve in the local social media community.
“Real pictures and real words by real people from real experiences,” Taylor said. “People gravitate towards that.”
But while some reviews posted by members are extremely flattering, making readers want to put a restaurant on their next-to-try-out list, others are not as kind.
That constructive criticism can be just as helpful to businesses, according to Taylor.
“I can’t tell you the number of restaurants that are thankful for us [users of the site] telling them the things they’re not doing as well so they can fix them,” Taylor said.
So if the FOF vehicle provides such value, how is that value monetized?
Taylor acknowledged, “I have been paid by some restaurants, for openings and promotions and such. It is a marketing platform for restaurants.”
Last year, Taylor’s repeated live posts from a local pizza restaurant facing closure rallied the community behind a campaign to try to save it, with thousands turning out to support the mom-and-pop business. The shop eventually did close, but the owners still thank FOF for the exposure it brought to them in the short term.
Taylor believes users who regularly interact with the Facebook page get back just as much.
“The restaurants and members are 50/50 in this,” Taylor said. “They get to learn from each other.”
For Taylor, FOF is still a side gig. He works for the county as the lead wastewater treatment plant operator. He, as administrator of the site, and six volunteer moderators make sure members are following guidelines that keep comments “clean.”
“I’m just riding the boat and keeping it on a steady path,” said Taylor, who considers the exponential growth of FOF “organic.”
That being said, Taylor cannot downplay the fact that he has become what’s called a social media influencer, invited out to restaurant openings, chef collaboratives and other foodie-related events around town.
Auggie’s Fresh or Frightening continues to scale its platform, currently adding an average of about 1,000 new members a month.
If that success keeps up, could he quit his day job?
“Hopefully, one day,” Taylor said with a grin, “we’ll see what happens.”
This story originally published to staugustine.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network via the Florida Wire. The Florida Wire, which runs across digital, print and video platforms, curates and distributes Florida-focused stories. For more Florida stories, visit here, and to support local media throughout the state of Florida, consider subscribing to your local paper.