DeMarco Williams: Atlanta Food Writer for The Infatuation

 

Angela Tuell  00:05

Welcome to Media in Minutes. This is your host Angela Tuell. This podcast features in-depth interviews with those reports on the world around us. They share everything from their favorite stories to what happened behind the lens and give us a glimpse into their world. From our studio here at Communications Redefined, this is Media in Minutes. Today we are talking with Atlanta native DeMarco Williams. For the past nearly 30 years, DeMarco has worked as a journalist on many different beats from entertainment with Vibe and Source magazines to sports with ESPN and Bleacher Report, to travel for Yahoo and Fodor’s, and now food critic and Atlanta, his love of food has carried over to his fulfilling and really filling current position as an ATL food critic with the popular dining platform, The Infatuation. Hi, DeMarco, thank you for joining us today.

 

DeMarco Williams  01:01

Hey, Angela, thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.

 

Angela Tuell  01:04

Yes, me too. You know, you have had such a varied career in journalism, from covering the entertainment world to sports to travel, and now restaurants in Atlanta. I’d love if you could walk us through your career path briefly. And, you know, tell us how you got to where you are today.

 

DeMarco Williams  01:21

Okay, good stuff. Um, actually, I want to go back a little bit in high school, you know, when I was in English language arts classes when we had book reports, I, you know, admittedly, I didn’t read the books cover to cover as I should have. I was always pretty good at putting the reports together, the actual project, and storytelling. So when the reports when the grades came back, you know, it would say C+ / B-. DeMarco, I could tell you didn’t read this. But you told such a great story. I had to give you this grade. So that kind of carried over. And there was a local Atlanta magazine called Insight. It’s now defunct, but they covered entertainment. And then in the back page, you know, the little classifieds. They were looking for writers, you know, it was a free, it was an unpaid position. But they were looking for writers to cover movies and music and that kind of thing. And I said why not? And I got the position. And I loved it. And that was in ’96/’97. Okay. And that kind of led to a former classmate getting a job in New York, I reached out to him about freelancing for a basketball publication. He said yeah, and one thing led to another and here I am.

 

Angela Tuell  02:51

That’s great. If you’ve done both freelance and full-time in-house, what is your preference?

 

DeMarco Williams  02:56

They both offer a lot being in the position that I am now married with a child, I gotta go full-time with you know, knowing that you have you know, insurance and salary and you know, things that those safety blankets were in the freelance world where, you know, sure you make your own hours, but sometimes those hours are blank, you know, and you know, the money is can be inconsistent. You know, I’ve had great months and years as a freelancer, but the inconsistency of it all just, you know, can’t sustain once you’re –

 

Angela Tuell  03:32

It’s a hard life. A lot of times that is single people. That’s just what we see a lot.  And, you know, covering travel and sports and entertainment. Do you have, do you have a favorite of all those?

 

DeMarco Williams  03:46

Ah, wow, that’s a tough one there, Angela. You know, if someone said, you know, you had to stick with the one the rest of your life, I would lean towards sports. You know, don’t say that too loud to my current employers, but you know, it just, you know, just growing up, you know, just being a sports fan my whole life. Baseball and basketball are probably my biggest loves. So, yeah, that sport would probably be where I’d turn.

 

Angela Tuell  04:18

So today you’re working for infatuation. For those who are not very familiar, please tell us more about it and what your role is there.

 

DeMarco Williams  04:26

Sure. Sure. Infatuation is essentially the go-to online food guide for every possible situation you might encounter. Solo Valentine’s Day dining, where should I go? Last-minute group dinners. Where should I go? Angela, where do you live right now?

 

Angela Tuell  04:47

Indianapolis.

 

DeMarco Williams  04:48

Okay. The 10 best restaurants by Lucas Oil Stadium. Yes, that’s what we do. And you know, that’s what people have grown to know us for just, you know from them. Most basic best burgers to where to get Peyton Manning’s favorite hamburger. You know, that’s what we do.

 

Angela Tuell  05:08

So do you do more than just Atlanta or it’s only in Atlanta?

 

DeMarco Williams  05:12

Well, The Infatuation covers multiple cities, Chicago, New York, LA, and all your big metropolitan areas. But I’m focused. I’m a writer with the Atlanta brand.

 

Angela Tuell  05:24

Okay. So with more than 1200 restaurants in metro Atlanta alone, how do you do this? You know, what gets your attention?

 

DeMarco Williams  05:34

That’s a great question. And it’s one I’m still looking for the, you know, definitive answer, but me and my team, Nina Reeder is the senior editor, and Juli Horsford. She’s my coworker as well. So we’re a three-person team, and we just attack it from the perspective of, you know, what we hear about, you know, we, we try to keep our, you know, our metaphoric ears to the streets. We’re on social media constantly. So we hear about the buzzy restaurants, PR companies email us, you know, incessantly. We lean on our relatives and friends, you know, what do they like dining? What new places have they heard about, you know, in certain parts of towns, and, you know, you just kind of put those four or five things together. And, you know, you just kind of map it out as best you can. But like you say, with 1000s of restaurants, you can’t do everything, you just do the best you can with what you have.

 

Angela Tuell  06:37

Yeah, and I bet you’re eating a lot. You’re out there eating a lot.

 

DeMarco Williams  06:42

Yeah, I haven’t eaten a lot, you know, going out, you know, four or five times, actually, he’s probably pacing a little bit more than that five or six times a week. But one thing that, you know, separates Infatuation from a lot of other publications most, actually, is that we cover our own bills, you know, we, we pay our own checks for these restaurants, you know, we don’t take any freebies, no complimentary meals, that kind of things. Because we want to approach the restaurant from the same sort of perspective that you are. You know, we want to just be that kind of proverbial fly on the wall and dining, just like everybody else would dine at a restaurant to give an honest perspective.

 

Angela Tuell  07:26

Yeah, that’s really impressive. Especially today, when the lines are blurring so much. And yeah, and readers don’t know, you know, was this paid for, was this given to someone?

 

DeMarco Williams  07:36

Yeah, yeah. All of our meals are, you know, we handled our own bill.

 

Angela Tuell  07:41

Yeah. So you’re really, more of I mean, is your title critic like, you’re, you’re really more of a critic, right?

 

DeMarco Williams  07:48

Yeah. Yeah. Um, I mean, we technically call ourselves food writers. Okay. You know, we do rate the restaurants. So, you know, there is a level of criticism to it. So, I mean, if you say food critic, you aren’t wrong. Yeah.

 

Angela Tuell  08:05

Okay. So are you still doing any other freelancing? Or is this the main focus right now?

 

DeMarco Williams  08:10

Yeah, with dining and writing so much. You know, that’s definitely the, you know, 95% focus. But you know, when, when the occasional sports story comes along, that is a good fit that, you know, if I’m covering some Atlanta team, or player or something like that, that I’m really interested in, you know, I do my best to make a little time for that.

 

Angela Tuell  08:34

Yeah. Yeah. What little free time there is, right?

 

DeMarco Williams  08:38

Right. Right. Right. It’s not much these days.

 

Angela Tuell  08:40

Right. What are you most proud of in your career?

 

DeMarco Williams  08:43

You know, I’m really proud that I’m an African American male, who’s made a career in journalistic fields that you don’t really see a lot of African American males in. Yeah, I in travel, restaurant reviews, even sports, you know, you don’t see a lot of us in those respective fields. And, you know, I feel proud that I’m, you know, been, I’ve been able to represent black males in some respect for so long.

 

Angela Tuell  09:20

Yeah. And it’s impressive to be in journalism this long, you know your whole career. I mean, I’m one of the examples who left journalism to go to PR. And you see that a lot, you know, yeah. What do you wish you could have told your younger self starting out in journalism?

 

DeMarco Williams  09:35

You know, one thing that, you know, it doesn’t necessarily irk me, but it does come up in my head from time to time is that when I was younger, I said yes, too much to different stories and assignments, with magazines and, you know, online publications that didn’t really care about the writer and the pay was low. You know, when, you know, the conditions were bad, but I just said yes to everything. You know, just because I thought I had to, you know, but I would tell my younger self, you know, know, your worth, you know, know, know what your talents are. And, you know, it’s okay to say no, sometimes, you know, you don’t have to say yes to every assignment when you when you know, it doesn’t quite feel right.

 

Angela Tuell  10:23

Yes, that’s such great advice. And we learn that later in life. But it would be great to know that when we’re starting out, yeah. What have been some of your most memorable stories throughout your career?

 

DeMarco Williams  10:35

Actually, one that I went to not too long ago, my family, my mom, and aunt have a makeup salon in the small mall in the Atlanta area in the West End Mall. And I was able to do a story on the West End Mall. And I can kind of center it around, my personal experience because I used to help out there on the weekends. And you know, I’ve just seen the mall evolve, and kind of go through these different iterations of the mall over the past few decades. And I was able to personalize that story really well, I think. It was, it was pretty well received. And, you know, just been able to kind of give my family members their flowers, you know, and acknowledge them for being, you know, just smart businesswomen. And you know, that kind of thing. So I’m probably most proud of that story. You know,

 

Angela Tuell  11:34

Who was that one for?

 

DeMarco Williams  11:35

 It’s for an online publication called Canopy.

 

Angela Tuell  11:37

We’ll link to it so our listeners can read it.

 

DeMarco Williams  11:40

Okay. Good stuff. Yeah. But that’s, that’s probably what I’m most proud of, you know, some of the things you know, you know, a couple of athletes, I was the first person to write national stories on them, and they become megastars. And you know, that felt good.

 

Angela Tuell  11:54

Really? Like who?

 

DeMarco Williams  11:55

I wrote. I wrote the first national story on Kevin Durant. Wow. Yeah, for Slam magazine. I can try to find you that link too.

 

Angela Tuell  12:04

Yes, please.

 

DeMarco Williams  12:04

It’s been a little while. So you know that that feels really good to be able to, you know, say things like that.

 

Angela Tuell  12:11

Yeah, I’m sure. You mentioned Atlanta, and you’ve lived there most of your whole life, right?

 

DeMarco Williams  12:16

Yeah, I worked at ESPN for a couple of years. ’06, and ’07. But outside of that, then Atlanta my whole life.

 

Angela Tuell  12:23

That’s great. So this job fits you really well too with the restaurants.

 

DeMarco Williams  12:28

Yeah, I’m able, you know, I feel like I can, you know, cover the main drag and the little nooks and crannies that, you know, of smaller neighborhoods.

 

Angela Tuell  12:39

Yeah, it’s a great resource for locals, but also visitors as well. So you have two different audiences.

 

DeMarco Williams  12:46

Yep. Yeah. Because, you know, and we, we kind of keep that in mind, as we’re writing and planning out things where, you know, we’ll have like a, an intro to Atlanta, kind of, you know, Intro to Atlanta guide, or, you know, we’re currently working on a guide for, you know, if you have an extended layover at Hartsfield airport where, you know, people, you know, have had some sort of interaction. So, you know, we want to approach it from the people who are here just for a couple of hours, or the people who’ve been here for 30 years, you know.

 

Angela Tuell  13:20

So, um, because of the way that the online food guide works, is it like, you know, traditional journalism, where the money, you know, the back end money, part of it is just from advertising, basically?

 

DeMarco Williams  13:32

Well, actually, no, our system is a little different, because we’re backed by JP Morgan Chase. So, yeah, Chase powers The Infatuation because they want to make their travel and food guides for their Chase and Chase Sapphire customers. They’re just trying to make their editorial and guides more robust. So they have The Infatuation as their online Food Guide.

 

Angela Tuell  14:03

That’s great. But it’s open to everyone.

 

DeMarco Williams  14:06

Yes, it’s open for everyone. You can you know, you can be a diehard customer with another credit card company and still get great tips for dining. Yeah.

 

Angela Tuell  14:15

I love that. So you’ve mentioned PR professionals earlier, a little bit, you know, how can they most are we most help you do your job? Do you have any pet peeves?

 

DeMarco Williams  14:29

Well, let’s see. Yeah. There’s a there’s a level of egotism and I think PR firms would be wise to kind of cater to that a little bit more. And I say that in the sense of personalized emails a little bit more. You know, instead of that, starting with, Hey, friends of the media, you know, that kind of –

 

Angela Tuell  14:55

Do you really get that?

 

DeMarco Williams  14:56

Oh, I get it all the time. I don’t get it from you, Angela, but I get it from other folks who, you know, you even get the Hey, and it’s got xxx. You know, so try to Hey DeMarco, you know, I see you’re in Atlanta and I know you’re a Braves fan. What do you think about blah, blah, blah? Or, you know, I know you can’t, you know, I know if you have a roster of 300 writers that you’re trying to approach, you know, you can’t do that for everyone, but you know, every fifth or sixth one, you know, personalize it a little bit. DeMarco, you know, maybe you and your son would like to hang out at such. You know, that kind of thing. I think that would that would help, you know, that will help those emails get read and not, you know, not deleted so quickly. And another reason emails are deleted so quickly from us is that they’re too long. You know, they’re too long-winded. And, you know, you get overwhelmed with the six and seven paragraphs and bullets just, you know, just tighten up the pitch a little bit. And I think you’ll get a more positive response.

 

Angela Tuell  16:10

Yeah, like, Hey, have you tried this restaurant in, you know, one or two sentences? That sort of thing. Yeah.

 

DeMarco Williams  16:17

But yeah, just three or four sentences, maybe a nice picture, and hits in?

 

Angela Tuell  16:22

Yes. You’re talking about restaurants a little bit. Is there a common mistake you see restaurants making?

 

DeMarco Williams  16:29

Well, restaurants in Atlanta are too loud. A lot of them the music, and just the commotion and busyness is just a turn-off. You know, and I know they’re catering to the young TikTok, IG Reel, free content creator party, or whatever. But it’s just too loud. And you’re, you’re turning off the folks who are over 30.

 

Angela Tuell  16:58

Yeah, which are the ones who have a little bit more money usually than the ones who are in their 20s? Right?

 

DeMarco Williams  17:03

Indeed, yeah, it is. It’s turning into a mild pandemic here. Don’t want to use that word in the wrong context. But it’s turning into a problem. Let’s just, let’s just say that.

 

Angela Tuell  17:16

Wow. So do you have a list of the best quieter restaurants to try in Atlanta?

 

DeMarco Williams  17:22

Um, I don’t want to call out any. I don’t want to call out any restaurants by name right now. But there are some.

 

Angela Tuell  17:33

But if you’ve if you’ve written that article yet is what I meant.

 

DeMarco Williams  17:37

You we are we are actually working on some stories along those lines, you know, where you don’t have to wear headphones.

 

Angela Tuell  17:46

Right? I like it. We’ll have to watch for that. What do you think the key – so besides that noise part – you know, what do you think the key is to success for a new restaurant or new, you know, food or beverage company?

 

DeMarco Williams  18:01

Um, consistency. And that’s not just restaurants. That’s hotels, that’s writing, that’s life, you know, just consistency. You know, if I – we went to my wife and son, we went to a restaurant last night. I had a great experience with some spaghetti and meatballs. I want that same experience when I go back in a month. You know, that’s where a lot of places are dropping the ball, is that what you get this time it’s not necessarily what you get next time. I know, it gets a little blurry because of supply chain issues and, and worker issues. And you know that that kind of thing is kind of, you know, playing into the inconsistency of it all. But companies, and restaurants, in particular, need to work on delivering that same experience every time. And there’s so much a lot of them are struggling with that.

 

Angela Tuell  19:04

Yeah. And that probably makes your job even more difficult because you’re recommending a place. Yeah, and then hoping it’s consistent that I mean, when you’re at when you have to try all these places, you can’t try every one every week or every month, you know.

 

DeMarco Williams  19:17

One thing that we do is that we have larger, we do extended reviews for restaurants. And in those cases, we go to a restaurant two or three times to ensure that, you know, that experience that we had the first time: Are they consistent? You know, does it happen that second and third time? So we go that we try a restaurant two or three times before we write that longer in-depth review.

 

Angela Tuell  19:46

Yes, I love that. So if you’re a first-time visitor to Atlanta or in the first time, you know to go and check out the culinary scene type thing. Where do you begin with Infatuation? Where do you where do you even begin?

 

DeMarco Williams  19:59

Yeah, You took the words right out of my mouth. Yeah, we have a couple of guides for first-timers. And, you know, if you if you’re an Atlantean, but you’re trying to impress, you know, a cousin who’s visiting from out of town, you know, we have those kinds of guides. But you know, you certainly want to start with, you know, I can mention some of these institutions that, you know, have been around for such a long time that they’re kind of standard bearers, Busy Bee and Paschal’s when it comes to soul food. That soul food is what you know, exempt exemplifies Atlanta. And that’s, that’s what we are. And we proudly stand by, by that. So you want to go to places like that. And, you know, we have a couple of new food stalls, food halls like Ponce City Market, and Krog Street and they kind of exemplify the new Atlanta. You know, where, you know, we have these, you know, Atlanta has become this melting pot, and it’s multicultural, kind of culinary scene that we have in these places like Ponce City and Krog Street. They have great places like Fred’s Bread and Meat, you know, just a wonderful place for cheese steaks, you know, Atlanta isn’t known for that. But this place really gets down and a great cheesesteak and a great cheeseburger, you know, and in Ponce City, you know, you have Chef Pinky, who’s you know, become a symbol for Atlanta with her Slutty Vegan, you know, she’s got a Bar Vegan, in Ponce City. And there are places like Holman & Finch, another burger place in Ponce City, and Fish Camp in Ponce City. You know, these all local chefs who’ve, you know, helped put Atlanta on the culinary map. And these are some of their best restaurants. You know, not necessarily restaurants, but very food stalls, where you can get a taste of their food without, you know, having to get reservations three months in advance.

 

Angela Tuell  22:00

I love those food markets. We have a few in Indianapolis now too, and you know, other cities throughout the country are really doing and it’s fabulous. Before we go I see you’re a world traveler. What have been some of your favorite destinations?

 

DeMarco Williams  22:12

Italy is near the top of my list.

 

Angela Tuell  22:14

Ah – me too.

 

DeMarco Williams  22:16

Yeah, Rome, my wife, and I have been to Rome a couple of times, and each one has been magical. It’s one of those places where we like kind of freestyling and just hopping on public transportation or just leaving the hotel and just walking without much of a script. And you know, whenever we go, we just find something magical, you know, be it a restaurant or museum or just some architectural marvel, you know, so Rome is very high up. And Thailand is extremely high on my list. Been to Bangkok Phuket and Chiang Mai. All three tell very different stories. But, you know, just Thailand just in general, is just a wonderful place and they love my favorite foods, fish and rice. Those are my kind of places.

 

Angela Tuell  23:12

That’s great. So how can our listeners follow your work and connect with you online?

 

DeMarco Williams  23:16

On all social channels @DeMarcoWill. D-e-M-a-r-c-o Will W-i-I-l, and at The Infatuation, Atlanta. Infatuation underscores Atlanta.

 

Angela Tuell  23:30

Wonderful. We’ll have links to those in our show notes, too.

 

DeMarco Williams  23:33

Thank you.

 

Angela Tuell  23:34

Thank you so much for joining us today.

 

DeMarco Williams  23:36

Thank you for having me.

 

Angela Tuell  23:38

Can’t wait to get to Atlanta and try some of those restaurants.

 

DeMarco Williams  23:40

Come on down.  Let me know and I’ll help you know, I’ll show you around.

 

Angela Tuell  23:46

That’s all for this episode of Media in Minutes, a podcast by Communications Redefined. Please take a moment to rate, review, and subscribe to our show. We’d love to hear what you think. You can find more at CommunicationsRedefined.com/podcast. I’m your host, Angela Tuell. Talk to you next time.

DeMarco talks all things ATL with Angela in today’s episode.  Listen to learn about his career in writing, favorite stories, family life, sports, top eats and best travel.

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