When Darrel Ng moved to Sacramento from San Francisco in 2003, he made it a point to learn where the best happy hour deals were, and as he took more and more interest in the local restaurant scene, he decided to share his findings, launching the blog Cowtown Eats in 2009.
“I used to work at the Capitol, and we were always asking each other who had the best happy hours,” Ng said. “Most of us were from out of town, and it was frustrating trying to find the best value.”
Now a public relations professional for the health industry, Ng said his blog isn’t so much a source of income as a passion for the local dining scene, but he did say it helps fund his happy hour research trips.
Cowtown Eats, which now has about 35,000 page views per month and close to 8,000 unique visitors, has continually updated information about the local restaurant scene, be it Ng’s original writing, posting of daily deal coupons for restaurants or links to stories covered by various local media outlets.
“I post twice a day, and I spend about 45 minutes each night working on those, then I just schedule them for the next day,” Ng said.
As for the name, Ng said he wanted to take the traditionally negative connotation of Sacramento as a “cow town” and turn it into something positive.
One 23-year-old Sacramentan, Chris Odneal, took a path similar to Ng’s, moving to Sacramento from the Bay Area about a year ago to work in the Capitol.
“Most of us move up here from all over the state, and we were looking for places to go,” Odneal said. “Someone suggested Cowtown Eats to me, and we found it to be one of the most useful spots for compiling where all the happy hours are in Sacramento.”
Odneal said he uses it to find happy hours with good value when it comes time to celebrate birthdays or other events.
“It’s a great tool for folks moving into Sacramento and trying to figure out where the best places are,” he said. “You can click on a day of the week and find the best deals out there.”
Ng said he thinks the success of his blog – which lists between 100 and 150 happy hours – is due to the level of detail he provides.
“Some other blogs might have numbers, like they say a certain place carries domestic drafts for $2, but I say exactly which beers they have,” Ng said. “They might do it as a business, but I have a real passion for it, and I think that comes through.”
He added that he focuses on value. While a $2 happy hour deal might sound good, sometimes the food isn’t necessarily worth it, and maybe a $30 meal special at a place that’s traditionally more expensive is a much higher value for the dollar.
Reviewing restaurants is something he does rarely.
“Not everyone has the same palate, and besides, food review sites are a dime a dozen,” Ng said. “If I find something amazing, I’ll post about it, like maybe a seasonal burger at the Mini Burger Truck or something.”
Ng said he learns about new events in a variety of ways, be it simply walking around the city, talking to restaurant owners and workers, or, in some cases, hearing directly from restaurants themselves.
“Some of the ones with more sophisticated marketing teams send me emails when they have something new,” Ng said.
One of those is the Paragary Restaurant Group.
“I think he has a really good readership of kind of that foodie community,” said Callista Wengler, marketing director for the Paragary Restaurant Group. “For us, that’s the ultimate in terms of customers, because if you can get the foodies, there’s a whole network you want to reach out to.”
In addition to sharing ideas with Ng on a professional level, Wengler said she frequently reads Cowtown Eats when she’s looking for something new, as well as to learn about other restaurants.
In the future, Ng said, he plans to create a more permanent logo and updated design for the blog, but he has no specific timeframe for that.
“I’m still kind of surprised so many people read it,” he said with a laugh. “I never knew it would grow like it did, but I’m really enjoying it.”
Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Darnell.