After SyracuseGuru.com was honored for Best Blog in the Syracuse New Times Best of Syracuse poll for a third consecutive year, SNT tech writer Joe Cunningham had to find out who this “guru” was exactly.
“I’m not the Syracuse Guru,” said Mike Rotella, founder of SyracuseGuru.com, “The Guru is more of a voice, a caricature, kind of an omnipresent voice.”
Through SyracuseGuru.com, Rotella has reviewed local restaurants, events, theater productions, music shows, hot spots, shops, clubs, bars and everything in between, throwing in an interview here and there with a local celebrity or notable, such as local businessman and world class triathlete Eric Hinman.
Born and raised in Syracuse, Rotella graduated from Syracuse University in 2011 with an English degree, having switched from an entrepreneurship major.
“I couldn’t get through business classes,” he said, “I just wasn’t interested in them.”
After graduating, Rotella remembers not having a vehicle for a month.
“I was getting super bored,” he said, “I didn’t know what was going on and I didn’t feel a connection to the city.”
To find that connection, Rotella visited local downtown cultural spots: eateries, cafes, museums, and events – and began to take note of what he thought about them.
“I felt a lot of the annual events were generic, bland, and crappy,” he said, “I felt out of place in my own city so I decided to branch out and make connections and then build a service for people to find things to do.”
In June 2011, Rotella teamed up with an artist to design his logo and personal branding. He looked around to see what events were coming up and compiled a calendar and blog posts about attractions, great places to eat, and other Syracuse-centric tips.
In short, SyracuseGuru.com was born.
“It’s become both a hobby and a business at the same time,” notes Rotella, whose love for quality things to do in the area has become contagious.
For over a year now, Syracuse Guru has released a weekly guide of “what’s going on” everything Thursday, aggregating local events for interested parties looking to enjoy their weekend.
The Guru also gives out branded “Guru Approved” stickers.
“I ordered about 200 up front, but have only given out 16-20,” said Rotella. The stickers are awarded to only places deigned “good” and “progressive” for Syracuse. “Guru Approved” locations include Café Kubal, Lemongrass, and Al’s Wine and Whiskey Lounge.
“I once overheard someone outside of Al’s ask, ‘What’s that sticker,’ and the person next to them explained, ‘Oh that’s a website you can go to to know what’s going on,'” he explained.
Hearing that, being honored as “A Shining Example of the Entrepreneurial Spirit” in the CNY Business Journal, receiving the Syracuse New Times Best of Syracuse distinction for Best Blog three times and getting positive feedback from people that visit his site “always makes my day,” says Rotella.
However, “the recognition is not important,” he says. Rotella’s goal is to help people find cool things to do around town.
When asked what his favorite thing to do around Syracuse is, Rotella replied, “It sounds stupid, but eating.”
“There’s a few restaurants I like to go to, lots of great concerts at the Westcott Theatre, cool shows at the Everson Museum of Art, going to Al’s in Armory Square – these are things I love,” he said.
“I’m always thinking about what’s next,” said Rotella, “And I’m glad my writing makes a positive difference in the community.”