Ellen Prinzi Wants To Change City Discovery Starting in the Midwest

By Kelsey Waananen
In Culture

St. Louis local Ellen Prinzi loves exploring her city, but she thinks there’s a better way to do it. Right now, adventure-seekers have to flip through guide books, sort through various listicles online or solicit advice through social media. But in her ideal world, there’s one place where you can go to get the very best information, and recommendations for local authorities. So she made that dream into a reality.

Her company and app, named Olio City, work to create a personalized travel and city discovery experience in order to give city-dwellers the best of the best in their area, from events to restaurants and attractions. The app takes you through a quick and playful survey and then uses your preferences to build the best recommendations for you—and it continues to get to know you over time.

With the app being fresh on the market, we sat down with Prinzi to find out more about where she’s been and where she thinks Olio City is going.

Ellen Prinzi (second from left) and Olio City's Chicago team. Photo courtesy of Olio City on Instagram.

Ellen Prinzi (second from left) and Olio City’s Chicago team. Photo courtesy of Olio City on Instagram.

Tell us about your experience with traveling.
I lived in NYC before St. Louis, and before that I was in San Francisco for four years, and  I grew up in Kentucky. So for city discovery, I really started from square one in both of those cities. I didn’t know anybody. So I’ve always loved discovering cities.

Besides travel being a passion of mine, I’ve traveled a lot for work and then I travel with my husband. It’s the same anxiety any time I’m either planning a trip or I’m Googling stuff. We’ve all seen on Facebook, “Anybody have recommendations?” There’s not a perfect way to discover cities that doesn’t require a lot of trial and error, and that takes a lot of time. People don’t have that time to whimsically read reviews. And that’s where OlioCity was born.

How did you go from “This is what I want” to “I’m the one who should make it?”
I can’t explain how passionate I am about this. I’ve probably been waiting for two years for something like this to happen. But once you get bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, it’s contagious. Now I’m on a mission that it’ll be our company that does it and that’s really exciting.

A lot of it was the idea, and then you can’t create anything without great people around you. So it was kinda getting into the entrepreneurial scene here, meeting designers, meeting people who could build Olio and shared in the vision. We’re lucky, because there’s a lot of that community here and then we won the Arch Grant in the fall, and once that happened, we were off to the races.

What was your starting point with Olio City?
I spent about six months researching the space. There’s a lot of stuff happening that I don’t know about even in our own town. I downloaded every travel app you could imagine, and really just dug into how people were doing it and figured out what was working and what would work for us. We stumbled upon Netflix and Pandora—they take large sets of data and they personalize them for you. That premise is where we think the future of city discovery is.

I created this as a travel app. And I’ve shocked myself because I’ve fallen in love with St. Louis so much more. People are like “I don’t need this in my hometown.” But if you live in a city that’s a decent size, things open and close, you know? The older you get, the more you go to the same places, so the app has opened up my own city. And it’s great to go to Chicago now. No matter where I am, the best things to do are recommended to me. I don’t have to do any work

Chicago and St. Louis are the first cities available in the app. How did you choose those two?
I chose Chicago because it’s the third largest city in the country, and the third largest tourism city in the country. They hit over 50 million visitors last year—that more than San Francisco and Los Angeles. All these travel apps start on the coast and they’re missing a traveling population that lives here.

I love the idea of doing a large city, and a mid-sized city like St. Louis. And I love St. Louis. I think creating an app that shows people there’s so much to do here is a nice thing.

What was the inspiration for Olio’s playful tone?
What we were going for was smart, sarcastic, witty. That’s the person I hope I am [Laughs]. We all have that really cool friend, and I want Olio to be your hip friend in every city.

What is your favorite feature?
The fact that we curate the best a city has to offer. So if I’m in Benton Park, and I see what’s recommended around me, I know I’m not missing something. If it’s good, it’s in Olio. And we offer reasons why it’s good. There are places in town where the food’s just okay, but the drinks are amazing, or, “OMG the patio.”

Not every place is a home run in atmosphere, food and drink. But Olio will tell you, “Yeah, it’s kind of a hole in the wall, but it has the best tacos you’ll ever eat.” We want to offer straight talk.

What’s next?
We just launched, so we really have to own the St. Louis and Chicago markets, but our goal is to be in every major city in the world. Nashville’s for sure next, in some capacity. It’s just on the rise.

To find out more about Olio City, visit oliocity.com or any of the company’s social channels.

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