Ellen Malloy, Founder
Ellen Malloy is the founder of Restaurant Intelligence Agency, a software company founded in 2007. RIA connects restaurants to the media and the dining public with simple, easy-to-use software. Malloy's goal is to use the Internet to redefine the focus of restaurant marketing and help build a stronger, sustainable community of chef-focused restaurant industry professionals, diners and media.
Restaurant Intelligence Agency's products, Spoonfeed and Soapbox, help chefs, mixologists, sommeliers and other restaurant personnel get noticed. Together, the websites are designed to let industry professionals craft, manage and grow their digital brands, while providing a database of information for both media and diners about chefs, mixologists, sommeliers and restaurants that is unavailable anywhere else.
Spoonfeed is a private social networking site employing a directed question-and-answer platform that acts as the back-of-the-house dashboard for Soapbox, a public-facing website that functions as a digital magazine. Designed as a hosted blog, Soapbox allows members to “speak for themselves” and in doing so, create a more engaging and more authentic relationship with their diners and the media.
Behind the scenes: “It might be easy to assume I’ve always worked in restaurant PR, but that just isn’t anywhere near the truth.”
- Sommelier, Court of Master Sommeliers — 2006
- Associate Degree, Culinary Arts, Kendall College — 1996
- Masters Degree, MS LAS, DePaul University — 1993
- Bachelors Degree, Journalism, History, Indiana University — 1986
Ellen Malloy worked in public relations, marketing and as Sales Manager for Lyric Opera of Chicago before working in the restaurant industry. Determined to learn the business of cooking from the ground up, she worked for two of Chicago’s most esteemed chefs, Michael Kornick and Jacky Pluton. She rounded out this on-the-job training with a culinary education from the Culinary School of Kendall College, where she graduated at the top of her class. She later earned a Sommelier certificate from the Court of Master Sommeliers.
It was in those early kitchens that Malloy first encountered the inner workings of restaurant PR. Applying her marketing background, she quickly recognized the need for more efficient and personalized representation.
Paperclip, Inc.: "I knew I would never be a chef but I could be a publicist who truly understands kitchen life."
After completing culinary school, Malloy opened up shop as a restaurant publicist. From 1997 to 2008, she turned her company, Paperclip, Inc., into one of the country's premier restaurant PR firms, representing Michael Jordan’s restaurants and nationally acclaimed chefs such as Paul Kahan and Rick Tramonto.
Restaurant Intelligence Agency: “It seemed that PR never really worked for chefs in the way it should.”
Being in the forefront of the industry, Malloy was also in a unique position to evaluate the weak points of the traditional PR model. Identifying the coming shift of information distribution, Malloy anticipated how inefficient those practices were becoming.
"Given the incredible efficiencies of the web, traditional PR had become a broken business model."
Jettisoning the standard structure, Malloy moved her PR operation online, building a service to handle the foundation of good restaurant PR — information distribution — at a fraction of the cost of traditional PR. For Restaurant Intelligence Agency (RIA) clients, Malloy's team would collect, write, post and distribute media information, and house that information on a searchable website that organized each client's media information for easy access by journalists.
- The RIA website was designed to house an affordable digital version of a paper press kit with room for marketing events and promotions.
- RIA distinguished itself from restaurant websites by being fact-checked, edited and up-to-date while also taking advantage of a network platform.
- In doing so, RIA grew from a basic tool for streamlining PR to a powerful content marketing platform, reaching approximately 10,000 media outlets — as well as a growing list of concierges and diners.
The Soapbox solution: “Chefs need to speak for themselves.”
As American chef culture grew, the split between the haves and have-nots — those with media access and those without — widened to the point where a handful of chefs were spun by the media into a constant rotation of national visibility, while others never saw the light of day.
But during this time, even brand name chefs began to lose their voices as they found their work and culinary philosophies open to interpretation by bloggers and consumer-based instant review sites like Yelp!. Determined to return their voices back to chefs in a venue with integrity, Malloy developed the tandem resources of Spoonfeed and Soapbox, initiating a true chef/diner/media dialogue.
Functioning as a hosted mini-blog for each member, Spoonfeed/Soapbox solves the biggest marketing problem of restaurants and chefs: distribution of brand-supported information.
Personal and restaurant profiles feature straightforward tools for delivering the information the media need and the insidery feel that turns diners into fans. There are platforms for sharing key facts and essential information, keyword filters that ensure every relevant member is included in roundups and trends and, in a twist on the traditional Q&A site, the websites include a database of more than 10,000 carefully crafted questions that uncover inspirations, philosophies and backgrounds, and more.
Connected with social media sites, Spoonfeed and Soapbox guide chefs and restaurateurs in building their online brand, connecting with media and promoting their news with easy-to-use tools they can manage themselves. It is more comprehensive than a traditional press kit — and more of-the-moment, too.
Our Goal: "What we're building is the community."
Be it through expanding connections in the local community, networking chefs nationally, or simply housing information to take advantage of the Long Tail, the Internet has the power to transform restaurant marketing. But the early impacts of our connected society have been, often, largely negative for restaurants: instant review sites damage reputations unfairly; celebrity-driven media focuses on a few while ignoring most; a culture of discounting has ripped into profits; and a developing phenomenon of chefs-as-gladiators has focused the dining public on crass culinary entertainment.
"The respect for the chef as craftsman is getting lost."
Our goal at RIA is to create a platform where chefs can be celebrated for their authentic pursuits in their own voices. In doing so, we build tools that help diners discover new chefs they can follow over the arc of their careers; help media discover the true voice of the respected artisan chef; and help chefs discover that they can support their business by honoring their craft and expressing their individuality.