It started with a two-hour train ride across the Italian countryside, all for a plate of tortellini. Jonny Cottone ’99, then a Lehigh student studying in Florence, made a special trip to Bologna for the meal his professor had recommended—and took a picture of the dish so he could share the experience with friends and family back home.
It was, says Cottone, his “a-ha moment.”
A decade later, Cottone is the co-founder of twiddish.com, an online social networking tool that allows diners—or “dishers,” in the site’s lingo—to upload pictures of individual dishes they order at a restaurant and submit a short review.
“Traditional restaurant reviews don’t always tell me what I want to know,” Cottone says, “which is ‘What did you eat?’ and ‘Would you order it again?’”
Twiddish would answer those questions, providing dishers and restaurants with a day-to-day, local communication tool featuring real people sharing information in real time about what real people eat, Cottone says.
But Twiddish, created by Cottone and co-founder Michael Stewart, is more than just a way for dishers to communicate with each other, he says. It also allows a direct line of communication from dishers to chefs, and from chefs to dishers. A future incarnation of the site will provide restaurant pages on which restaurants can upload daily specials and pictures of popular dishes, and provide space for customer reviews.
Arresting the decline of the food culture
“Twiddish is a powerful, localized, real-time marketing tool that restaurants can leverage in order to fill empty seats by communicating with their local communities and visually promoting their nightly specials and signature dishes,” says Cottone, who now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.
To that end, Cottone says, Twiddish capitalizes on the proliferation of micro-blogging and social media, technological advances such as iPhones and digital technology, and the growing popularity of user-based consumer reports.
Though Twiddish is a national site, Cottone sees the project as an important tool for strengthening local communities through food. He believes that adventurous “foodies” who share their dining experiences with friends and neighbors will encourage more conservative eaters to try new things, eat at local independent restaurants, and engage in a food culture that has rapidly declined in the United States.
The site also taps into a growing community of “food bloggers,” who use food as a way to share their everyday lives with the people they love.
Cottone, who earned an M.B.A. from The Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College this year, has big plans for the future of Twiddish. In addition to a recently developed iPhone app that came out this year, he and his business partner are developing ways to generate more buzz around food photography and to engage restaurateurs nationwide.
The realization of his ideas are, in part, thanks to his time as a marketing major at Lehigh.
“I took a class on new product planning with Bruce Smackey,” says Cottone, “and that’s what really got me thinking about how to develop new concepts and about becoming an entrepreneur, turning new ideas into actual businesses.”