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Hot or Not?

New social network allows Memphians to rate local businesses.

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Whether the atmosphere at a Memphis business is top-notch or the service just plain sucks, patrons now have a way to rank their favorite (or least favorite) haunts online.

City Torch, a social network that allows Memphians to assign a score for bars, restaurants, stores, and events, launched in Beta mode in mid-April. With the kinks mostly worked out, the website's founders are now spreading the word to get locals signed up.

"We wanted something communal and locally based, because [national restaurant ranking website] Yelp and other sites are very broad. Sometimes, they include chain restaurants," said Memphian Barney Katzerman, one of City Torch's founding partners. "We wanted something that could be about how locals find local, and we wanted to develop that into real-time."

Here's how it works: Using the free City Torch smart phone app or the website, users may rank businesses on a scale of one to 10 for quality, service, and atmosphere. Users also leave comments and tips when ranking businesses.

The three scores are averaged to give the business an overall score. That score, ranging from one to 10 with 10 being the best ranking, averaged with other scores give the business a "hot" or "cold" designation.

"If a business owner sees they're cold, they might want to do something about it," said founding partner Trey Dacus of Memphis. "And if they're hot, they might want to keep doing whatever they're doing."

The site is geared toward the 18-to-35 demographic. Having recently graduated from college themselves, Dacus and Katzerman have been marketing City Torch to a young audience through sponsoring local concerts and handing out T-shirts and beer koozies at local events.

So far, the site has about 600 registered users. One doesn't have to register to view a business ranking, but registration is required to rate and make comments.

Dacus says there are currently about 2,000 local businesses available for ranking on the website. The majority are bars and restaurants, which Dacus says tend to fit the rating system better, but City Torch includes other businesses as well.

"We have car companies and even insurance offices. Anything local could apply," Dacus said.

City Torch users won't find any chain restaurants or national shops though. Only Memphis-based businesses are included. But once the Memphis site takes off, the founders hope to expand the City Torch model into other markets.

"We're trying to solidify and expand within the Memphis market," Dacus said. "And in a year or two, we'll move to other markets."

"We're about to be up for reinvestment, and that's one of our goals. We want to go to two more cities and redo the app," Katzerman said.

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