Imagine if your work entailed dining at dozens of restaurants every month and taking the summers off to travel abroad. That’s the real deal for Neal Finelli and his wife Vanessa, publishers of Taste Dining & Travel magazine celebrating 25 years in business.
With a glut of publications in the Sarasota Bradenton area, I asked Neal how he managed to be a success in this competitive business. It seems he has a knack for developing excellent client relationships. “I do a lot of selling and people like me…if they buy because they like me, that’s great, but the magazine speaks for itself…the proof is in the pudding.”
Delivering stellar results with his magazine for his restaurant clients, some who’ve been with him since day one, takes a combination of customer service, great ads and editorial and high visibility. .
“I’m diligent about our distribution and we’ve got the highest circulation of any local magazine,” Neal said. Which equals exposure for the highly competitive restaurant businesses in his publication. “Also, we’re a niche publication that gives locals and tourists information on dining and travel, something we all do in this area for socialization and sustenance.”
The magazine prints 48,000 publications and distributes at 780 spots throughout Sarasota, Bradenton and Venice. Issues come out in November, February and June. More than 60 restaurants are featured in the magazine, and Neal manages to dine at all of them. “I like to give a good overview of the restaurant…I’m not a critic,” Neal said.
“People also enjoy our reports on travel destinations,” Neal said. Vanessa, originally from England, handles this part of the publication. Portugal, Norway and England were featured in this year’s issues.
Two unique services offered by the magazine are a historic restaurant and walking tour of downtown Bradenton, offered October through May, and a progressive dinner in Sarasota, with proceeds going to Mayor’s Feed the Hungry, Meals on Wheels and the Food Bank. For an average price of $85, Neal sets up three restaurants and attendees often ride the Trolley in Sarasota to each destination. Appetizers and drinks at the first; salad, entrée and wine at the second; dessert and coffee at the third. Sounds like an excellent way to enjoy the evening, support out community, and meet other like-minded people.
Neal, an obvious expert on our local dining scene, is happy to report that during the past two years, there have been fewer start up restaurants closing. About two new ones are opening every week. Sarasota Bradenton has approximately 1,400 restaurants! And over the last several years, our area has embraced global dining. Thai, Vietnamese, Portuguese, Indian, Lebanese…it’s all here and more.
Do what you love. Love what you do. It’s been a model of Neal’s life since he moved to Florida from New Jersey 40 years ago. He accepted a job selling ads for an ad agency in Sarasota upon first moving. Thought he could do it better. And actually started Nightmoves, covering the music and club scene, and interviews with high profile artists including Dicky Betts, Eric Burdon, Three Dog Night, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels. Nightmoves survived 13 years and ended with the local papers publishing weekend sections. Neal then published SRQ for five years prior to deciding what this area needed was a niche publication covering dining and travel. His instincts were obviously right on – as the magazine celebrates 25 years in business.
In addition to living and working his passion for dining and travel, Neal is a musician (drums and guitar) and enjoys sports. He has no plans to retire. “I’m still living the life. If you have your lifestyle be a part of your work, it doesn’t become work. I think everyone should strive for that.”
For more information on Taste Dining & Travel, visit the website at www.tasteweb.net or call 941-366-7950.
Photos by Patti Pearson and courtesy of Neal Finelli