It’s a Friday night at school and you’re trying to treat yo’self. But there’s only so many times you can go to Pastaria or Mission Taco or Blue Hill, right? The question is how to actually find a cool, new place without putting the whole night at risk—and I don’t mean poring over a mess of Yelp reviews. Isn’t there an app for that?
Olio, a new app for St. Louis and Chicago, was created to solve exactly this problem. Providing suggestions curated by a list of local experts and personalized to your individual preferences, Olio is the solution for escaping the Wash U bubble and finding that new Thai restaurant, chill dive bar or salsa club you never knew St. Louis had.
Last week, I had the chance to talk to Alexandra Katsarelis, Wash U alum and Olio’s Marketing Manager, to get the deets on why Olio is the perfect way to see, taste and experience all that STL (and Chicago) has to offer.
ES: What makes Olio different from anything else out there?
AK: There isn’t really another app that brings together the best things to do in STL. If you Google, you don’t get a good list; you’ll get Yelp or TripAdvisor, and it’s just the main tourist places and not a lot beyond that. We are trying to be a full guide—we have events, restaurants, bars, attractions and also special guides for neighborhoods and guides from famous locals.
ES: So, how does it work? Does it learn about your preferences like Netflix or Pandora?
AK: I think Netflix is a good comparison. When you first join the app, you fill out a quiz that asks you what you want to splurge on, what your favorite foods are, etc. For example, the St. Louis that I want to explore is going to be different from the St. Louis that my boss with children wants to explore. Then, once you’re in the app, you can like or dislike things so that over time, it also gets to know your preferences. It uses an algorithm to discover what you like and then chooses places to recommend accordingly. Also, everything in the app to begin with is curated by a list of local experts.
ES: How did Olio find the local expert contributors? And who are Olio’s “famous locals”?
AK: Ellen Prinzi, the founder and CEO of Olio, spoke with a lot of different people in the community. One of our writers was a writer for the Riverfront Times, so she wrote a lot of food articles beforehand. For famous locals, we are trying to find people who are well known within St. Louis, so that users will be interested in seeing how they explore their city. Right now we have guides from Katie of Katie’s Pizza and Pasta, Adam Wainwright, a pitcher for the Cardinals and Alex Pietrangelo who’s on the Blues. We also have a guide from Nelly coming up, which I’m really excited about.
ES: How does Olio choose what events to feature?
AK: Finding new events is part of my job. We have a deal with certain events companies, so their events come right into our database, and then we choose the best out of those—so you’re not going to get overwhelmed by every single book club meeting or other event going on in the city. We spend a lot of time going on different venues’ websites, and we also try to have a range, so not missing out on the big concerts at Chaifetz and things like Fair STL for July 4, but also including things like a poetry slam in a coffee shop or something harder to find.
ES: Do you think it’s a good app specifically for college students?
AK: I think this is such a great app for people in college, and I actually wish I had it in college because it would have been helpful for getting to know STL. For example, I didn’t even know that Tower Grove was different from The Grove until late into my college career. With Olio, you can read neighborhood guides, which make the whole city more accessible. It’s safe and easy, too, because if you know you like Thai food, you can just search Thai food and find somewhere new to check out around you. For events, there is such a plethora of things that I never even heard about when I was at Wash U. The main people using Olio are millennials, so we are making sure it’s suited for that 18-35 age range.
After Olio gets to know you, it can apply your preferences to another neighborhood or city. So if you head to Chicago for a weekend, you can count on the app to find you similar places to the ones it knows you like in St. Louis, for example.
Next up is an expansion into Nashville—and eventually, cities across the country. Also coming up is an Android version, as the app is currently only available for iOS.
And in case you were wondering, it’s called “Olio City” because “olio” actually means “hodgepodge”—and the app is set up to be a hodgepodge of all the bests things to do in a city.