“First, we want to open up an honest debate on regional food. The biggest problem I have with a lot of the existing food writing is it has such a bias. We love this area too, but we feel like glossing over things that could be improved only does a disservice to people.” - Chris Felliini
The food scene in the region has had a boom in the last several years – food trucks, pop-ups and a good start in the farm-to-fork movement in additional to traditional brick-and-mortars. As veteran of local kitchens, Chris Fellini felt that there is more to said about what's going on. He's going to do it through writing with a magazine he founded called Southern Grit.
Self proclaimed military brat and raised in Virginia Beach, Chris is using his 10 years experience in the food industry to translate Hampton Roads' food scene, and if Chris has his way, all the way up to the D.C. area.
He was inspired by his personal travels, favorite food critics, writers and other magazines like Lucky Peach. He wants it to be visually engaging and have honest opinions about restaurants, food and other traditional or non-traditional operations in the industry.
Chris' initial idea behind creating a magazine was inspired by Joshua Fitzwater who runs 757ezine. They got serious about it last year after Chris had a heart attack in his mid-20s and Joshua underwent a surgery related to his weight loss. These events put things in perspective for the two and after kicking off a plan in October they were picked up in January. Work began on putting together the first issue around the theme “The Women's Issue” - each issue will be themed. The first run of print will have a circulation of 1,000 copies and the magazine will come out bi-monthly.
I caught up with Chris recently and had a little Q&A about Southern Grit:
CF: First and foremost, this magazine wouldn't be in existence if Fitz hadn't taken a chance on my writing in the first place. With the finished product, a lot of the initial appeal is the look. All things layout, photography, and design related are Fitz. It's his attention to detail that is going to draw readers in; it's the writing inside that will keep them coming back.
GC: What is Southern Grit?
CF: Southern Grit is a free publication focused on food. Each issue is themed. Between the look of the magazine and the writing, we're striving to be a publication that anyone would gladly pay money for. With keeping it free, though, we invite anyone with an interest in food to join in the conversation.
GC: How did you come up with the name?
CF: Fitz and I tossed around a lot of names. We wanted something edgy to match our content ideas. I threw out "Pantry" and "Southern Grit" at about the same time. We kept coming back to "Southern Grit" and Fitz was really pushing for it. Since we were so stuck on it, we went with it. Southern because of where we're from, and Grit because of the honesty that makes the backbone of the magazine.
GC: What will Southern Grit try to provide to readers?
CF: Southern Grit really has two focuses. First, we want to open up an honest debate on regional food. The biggest problem I have with a lot of the existing food writing is it has such a bias. We love this area too, but we feel like glossing over things that could be improved only does a disservice to people. There's a thin line between being honest and being an asshole, and we stay on the side of honesty. At first, we may get push back because people in the area aren't always shown the truth by reviewers, but our stance is that the only way someone can grow is with constructive criticism. The other part of Southern Grit is stepping outside the box of traditional food writing. By pairing great food photography with illustrations and other art media, we're offering a visual edge more akin to an arts magazine. Our content, too, doesn't just stick to restaurant reviews and recipes. We want to creatively discuss all issues that fall into the web of food. Everyone eats, so there's a lot to talk about.
GC: Will Southern Grit primarily cover food and restaurants?
CF: Southern Grit is themed each issue. So, in the context of that, we certainly will be covering restaurants and food. We have a section called "First Impressions" that's dedicated to showcasing new restaurants. However, the beauty of themes is that the content almost creates itself. For our first issue, the Women In Whites edition, we featured several female restaurateurs. However, our second issue focuses on alcohol, so our features will be on different styles of bars. Since each theme is different, expect the content to vary appropriately.
GC: Do you have a target audience?
CF: Our target audience are millennials and foodies. We want people who work in the industry to appreciate the magazine. We want people who are passionate about food to pick up a copy. At the same time, we're not Bon Appétit and we don't want to be. We think food should be fun, not pretentious.
GC: How far out of the area you hoping the magazine will reach?
CF: We're going to grow this slowly, so we don't overextend. Right now, we're really focused on Norfolk because of the existing food culture. We're also going to be at some key spots in most of the other 7 cities. In a year or two, I'd really love to have our magazine in Roanoke, Richmond, and the outer DC area because in Virginia, that's where food cultures are thriving.
GC: Your experience in the industry and recent life events seem to be key in your decision to start Southern Grit, what else influenced you?
CF: I've always been passionate about food, in all it's forms. I've also admired Pete Wells and Frank Bruni (NY Times food critics), as well as the content the magazine Lucky Peach keeps turning out. I'm very into writing as well, so this was a way to combine my two passions. At the end of the day, though, a lot of respect goes out to Joshua Fitzwater. He runs 757 E Zine, and was hanging out at O'Connor Brewing Co. (one of my current jobs) when I approached him about writing about food in his magazine. He was more than impressed with my article, and had the foresight to want to take this further. Really, without Fitz coming up with the idea of a strictly food magazine, Southern Grit wouldn't exist.
GC: You've been working in restaurants for over 10 years, anything you remember that really gets you?
CF: The biggest thing working in kitchens has taught me is that multitasking is the key to survival. A quote that has always stayed with me comes from Harry DiSilvestro, one of the owners of Y'not Pizza, my second job at 17. He told me to never burn a bridge, because you don't know where that bridge could take you down the road.
GC: How has the reception been when looking for supporters and advertisers?
CF: When talking to prospective readers, everyone seems to be really interested in our focus on honesty. And like I said previously, everyone eats so everyone has an opinion on food. As far as finding people who want to advertise with us, once they see the amount of time Fitz has put into the layout and look of the magazine, they instantly recognize that no one else is making a free publication of this caliber.
GC: What will be the initial distribution?
CF: Our initial run is going to be 1000 issues bimonthly in Hampton Roads. As funding grows, we want to do this every month and then start doing larger print runs. Fitz really has the expertise in this, as he's been growing 757 E Zine for over a year now.
Southern Grit: The Cutting Edge of Food Writing & Photography is having its release party this Sunday, 22 March, at O'Connor Brewing Co. in Norfolk, VA, 1:00-4:00 PM.
Southern Grit: The Cutting Edge of Food Writing & Photography is having its release party this Sunday, 22 March, at O'Connor Brewing Co. in Norfolk, VA, 1:00-4:00 PM. Entertainment by The Wet Boys and food will be available from CXB BBQ, Bodacious Pizza and Wings by My Mama's Kitchen.
Additional information provided by Chris:
Chris Fellini. 26. Grew up in Virginia Beach, but I'm a military brat so I've been all over. I've traveled on my own – all over the country and have seen what other regions do with food. I've also worked in restaurants for 10 years so I bring that experience to the table.
Joshua Fitzwater. 30, Norfolk Virginia, photographer, print designer, musician, suicide survivor, weight loss 150 pounds in the last 2 years, owner of the 757E Magazine.