Over the last three years, “Ken Eats Gainesville” has become the go-to blog in town for local food reviews and information. Ken Peng launched the site with a Facebook page, now with more than 17,000 likes, and still uses the social media page heavily. I sat down with Peng to talk food, the site and the must-eat places for Gainesville newcomers.
Kirsten Chuba: How did you come up with the idea for “Ken Eats Gainesville”?
Ken Peng: It was serendipitous I suppose. At the time, I was in between jobs and always had the idea of a food website in the back of my head. A friend of mine urged me to go through with it, and here we are. The name itself actually had its origins in the Alligator, way back in the summer of 2005, when I answered an ad looking for contributors. I wrote small blurbs about local restaurants for the Avenue for just that semester. So it had toiled in the back of my head all the way until 2013.
KC: Your day job is working in finance, how does that compare to running the food blog?
KP: It doesn’t. And I like that. The blog serves as a break, stress-relief, escape, whatever you want to call it. I think anyone that works in a corporate environment can understand what I’m getting at. But I will say that in my marketing director role, I do get to flex some creative muscle. At the end of the day, it’s still a business, and I can’t get away with expressing myself the way I do on KEG. I’d definitely get fired.
KC: How many years have you been doing this/how many restaurants have you reviewed?
KP: I’ve been doing this since 2013, and I’ve written 50 restaurant reviews. Of course, that’s not counting best-of lists, news and restaurant announcements.
KC: What do you think it is about your site that makes it so popular?
KP: I think that up until the time that I launched it, there weren’t many local websites that focused on local restaurants … at least not well-organized or accessible ones. I actually decided that a Facebook page was the best platform to launch the site; it wasn’t until some time later that a stand-alone website was built. But I try to keep it honest, and I think the audience sees that. It’s very transparent when reviews or articles are paid-for. I wouldn’t feel very good about myself if I did that, and readers would immediately scoff. So I respect that trust that the readers have with my words.
KC: What are your top three favorite local restaurants?
KP: Crane Ramen, Sabore, Dragonfly. This is actually a tough one to answer. I’d say The Top, 706, Root & Pecker and Bangkok Square are right up there too.
KC: What’s one place that freshmen have to check out as soon as they get to Gainesville?
KP: The Top is your quintessential Gainesville restaurant; I think they do a great job of encapsulating what Gainesville is all about. Dragonfly seems to be a favorite amongst all college kids. Satchel’s is probably the popular answer here, but I just don’t care for their food ... ask any locals and they’ll say, “The pizzas are meh, but the salads are great!” Oh and you can sit in a van; I guess that’s cool.
KC: What do you think about Gainesville’s food scene overall?
KP: It has come a long long way, especially from the sadness it was 12 years ago when I first moved here. We’re starting to see some specialty places pop up that do one thing, and one thing very well (i.e. Crane Ramen, Maple Street Biscuit Company). I also think we’re starting to see more chefs who care about their craft and where their ingredients are sourced. But yet, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. There’s a lot of growth happening around town, a lot of really passionate people who are working on projects, and both residents and college students alike are more now more interested in food than ever before. So … we’ll get there.
To learn more about Peng and read his reviews of Gainesville’s most popular eating destinations, check out his Facebook page “Ken Eats Gainesville.”
Know of any local writers, artists or musicians I should check out? Send Kirsten a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.