A newsmaker you should know: Friends turn frenzy for food into cookbook, blog

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Longtime friends Mandy McFadden and Sarah Sudar like to eat. A lot. And it is a good thing, because that is exactly what they had to do for research for their new book, "Food Lovers' Guide to Pittsburgh" (Globe Pequot Press: $14.95).

Along with two other friends, Julia Gongaware and Laura Zorch, they are also the creators of the blog eatPgh.com.

Ms. McFadden and Ms. Sudar met while in junior high in the Hopewell Area School District.

"My dad was in the Air Force so we moved around a lot, but when he retired we moved back to the area because both of my parents are from here," she said.

Soon after moving to Hopewell when she was in fifth grade, Ms. McFadden met Ms. Sudar. Both graduated from Hopewell High School in 2002 and kept in touch through their college years.

Ms. McFadden now lives in Mt. Lebanon while Ms. Sudar still lives in Hopewell.

While an undergraduate student at Westminster College, Ms. McFadden became friends with Ms. Zorch. Ms. Sudar met Ms. Gongaware while both were in graduate school studying journalism at Point Park University.

Self-professed "longtime eaters," the writing and eating combination started when Ms. McFadden was laid off from a job as a writer and social media professional with an agency three years ago. As part of her job, she oversaw the VisitPA.com blog, but when state funding was cut, the agency lost the contract and Ms. McFadden lost her job.

"I had a chip on my shoulder after I was laid off and still wanted to blog. I thought that I would continue writing, but just focus on food -- after all everyone eats, right?" she said.

Ms. Sudar had written freelance articles for Ms. McFadden and had her own fashion blog. When Ms. McFadden asked her to join forces to write eatPGH.com, Ms. Gongaware and Ms. Zorch were also invited. They kicked off the blog in July 2009.

Both admit there was no "rhyme or reason" to the early days of the blog.

"If one of us ate out or discovered some new food, we would just write about it," Ms. Sudar said.

The four would also check their email on a "random" basis, and it was Ms. Sudar who discovered an email from publisher Globe Pequot Press late last year.

"My first thought was, 'Is this legit?'" Ms. Sudar said. She forwarded the email to the other three, but they only had a few weeks to put together a proposal and first chapter.

"I think we had two weeks, and all four of us have full-time jobs," she said. "Plus, it was the holiday season."

Ms. McFadden is a digital engagement manager for PPG, Ms. Sudar works for the University of Pittsburgh in public relations, Ms. Gongaware is a social media manager for UPMC Health Plan and Ms. Zorch works as an educational programs assistant at the Office of Public Arts for the city of Pittsburgh.

Despite the tight turn-around time, the four managed to get outline in on time and were awarded the contract for the book.

"They have a template on how they wanted it done, but we had three months to get the entire manuscript back," Ms. Sudar said.

The four sat down and compiled a master list.

"We broke the city into north, east, west and south and the city proper, then divided it up," Ms. McFadden said.

While they could use restaurants and places that they had blogged about, they couldn't use the same material. Since the book contains 228 food-related places, that involved eating out -- a lot.

"There were a couple of days that we ate out three meals a day. And we always took friends because we couldn't eat everything on the menu ourselves," Ms. McFadden said.

When the four were "down to the wire," they did a bit of juggling with the schedule, according to Ms. Sudar.

"If one of us was working Downtown, we may have handed off one of the Downtown restaurants to her," she said.

They met the March 1 deadline, and the book was launched Sept. 4.

"We have been so overwhelmed with support and sales," Ms. Sudar said. Since the book came out, the four are thinking about the next project -- involving food, of course.

"We don't think of ourselves as food critics. We just really like to eat and we like to talk about it," Ms. McFadden said. "We know what is good and what isn't and that is what we want to tell folks."


Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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