Empire Building

Zach Brooks on Midtown Lunch’s Expansion: ‘I’m Fully Aware That Nobody in L.A. Gives a S***’

Photo: Courtesy of Zach Brooks

A little over a year ago, Zach Brooks quit his job as a music programmer at Sirius Radio to devote his full time to one of our favorite blogs, Midtown Lunch. Today he announced that he’s following his wife to the West Coast where he plans to launch an L.A. edition of the blog (downtown and Philadelphia editions will also launch by the end of this week). Brooks isn’t a complete L.A. neophyte — he says he lived there for two years before coming to New York, though he was mostly too broke to take advantage of the food: “After two years of being poor in L.A., I came to New York the thinnest I’ve ever been and I leave New York the fattest I’ve ever been.” We asked Brooks what’s in store for the Midtown Lunch empire.

Does this expansion mean Midtown Lunch is going to become a full-blown commercial entity?
Yes and no. Since I started the site people have been saying, “You should expand — you should do a Midtown Lunch Chicago, a Midtown Lunch
Boston … ” I’ve always not been into that whole idea because I don’t think there’s anywhere in the country like midtown — it’s a completely unique thing onto itself not just because of the number of places there are to eat, but because of the sheer number of people in such a confined area trying to find lunch that’s not boring. Because the blog was focused on midtown where there’s such high demand, it became something far larger than I ever expected, but at its heart it’s still about finding a decent lunch. I never wanted to expand, but we already have a downtown-lunch column on Fridays, so it seems only natural to expand that coverage. I’m not getting rich off Midtown Lunch, but it does open the door for me to then go to L.A. and start the L.A. portion, and if someone e-mails me in San Francisco, or Pittsburgh, or Portland and is like, “Dude, I like this kind of food and these are the kind of lunches I eat, I’d like to write about lunches in my area,” I’m definitely for expanding.

Who’s going to be helming the Philadelphia edition?
There’s someone there, Jamie [her last name will not be used], who’s super passionate and knows about Midtown Lunch — she’s a former midtown office worker who was a popular profiled luncher on the site, and she really loves midtown lunches and knows exactly what they are.

Do you think a “downtown lunch” has a different sensibility or focus?
In the past four years, the meaning of a “midtown lunch” has gone beyond the city — a community has gathered on the Midtown Lunch site, and in the forums they talk about their favorite lunches in L.A., or the things they find in Queens and Brooklyn. The midtown lunch itself has become this specific kind of lunch — under $10, inexpensive, interesting, non-chain, something different, authentic, oftentimes ethnic, just kind of an adventure in urban lunching. The Philly site is not going to find a specific area in Philly and hyper-blog that specific area like Midtown Lunch has — it’s going to be all about finding midtown lunches in Philly wherever they may be. And downtown will be the same thing.

You made a joke about not breaking your “no salads” rule, even in L.A. Are you wary of L.A. cuisine in any way?
There is a ton of really gross food in L.A., and I mean that in the best sense of the word. There is some amazing, amazing unhealthy food in L.A. and I’m excited to work my way through all those places. Whereas here in New York I joke about Chipotle and Café Metro being this enemy on a pedestal, I think in L.A. that enemy will end up being the emphasis on health food, and making everything healthier and less fattening.

What are you looking forward to eating first?
Every place that Jonathan Gold has eaten — I think he’ll probably end up being my guru. And obviously the street-food scene is just out of control there. When I lived there, the street-food scene was pretty much confined to roach coaches like taco trucks and now there’s been an explosion of the hipster trucks following the success of Kogi. In New York there are a lot of those new trucks that have hit the street, but because of how hard it is to get a permit, that’s been curbed significantly.

How do you think the L.A. blogosphere will receive you?
I’ve never considered myself a food critic — I’m not going to go to L.A. and say, [in dramatic voice] “Hello! I’m here now!” I’m fully aware that nobody in L.A. gives a shit about what I think about the lunch places there. But the thing is, four years ago, who gave a shit about what I thought about the lunch in midtown? I believe blogging is all about community, and I plan on immersing myself in the blogs in L.A. I’m pretty sure the first places I eat at will be direct recommendations from L.A. food bloggers. I don’t plan on being the guy who pretends like they’ve discovered all these places.

What will you miss most about New York food?
I plan on coming back a lot, but definitely the street food, and the Vendy Awards. I’ll miss eating in midtown, which is kind of shocking because when I first started I thought it was the worst place to work in the entire universe and has the worst food you could imagine, but after four years of Midtown Lunch I think I’ve become a convert.

Why do you think ML has succeeded in sticking out amid all the other food blogs?
I got incredibly lucky — I started blogging at a time when there was a niche that needed to be filled and I filled the niche and I made the right decision to call the blog Midtown Lunch and not Zach’s Lunch Adventures. If I didn’t stick to my niche and it was a blog about everything I ate, I don’t think it would be as successful as it is, and I think a lot of new food bloggers could learn a big lesson from there.

What’s your favorite Midtown Lunch post?
Beating the Chinese-food buffet. If someone gave me a deal to turn that into a book, I’d be more than willing to travel around the country eating at every Chinese-food buffet.

What happens to the original Midtown Lunch now?
It’s not like I’m going to be going out and hiring a group of people or one person to take over the site but there are people who are part of the Midtown Lunch community who comment on the site and have blogs of their own and work in midtown and have been part of the site since the beginning. Nothing has been set in stone but I’m sure most of the eating and writing will be done by those people.

Zach Brooks on Midtown Lunch’s Expansion: ‘I’m Fully Aware