Craig Foldes, the founder of Dirt Road Travels, knows there are already plenty of city travel guides out there. But he thinks he can do better.
"It's like a more curated version of Yelp," he says of Dirt Road Travels, which just kicked off its website and released its first official digital guides to Denver and Salt Lake City on July 26. The smoothly designed website lets you navigate through a large number of favorite local spots for dining, drinking, shopping and just about every other niche you can imagine. Each guide even includes profiles of a local band/musician and other must-know community members. For Denver, Dirt Road Travels includes advice and recommendations from the Lumineers; Gregory Alan Isakov, Ivan & Alyosha, and the California Honeydrops will offer up tips on other cities.
But the information provided in each selection is what Foldes hopes will set Dirt Road Travels apart.
"Dirt Road Travels is rooted in stories," Foldes says. Each selection offers background about the business owner(s), as well as words of wisdom and their own recommendations for the best spots to visit in Denver. This makes Dirt Road Travels a sort of never-ending spiderweb of recommendations. If you like a brewery you find on the website, for instance, you can see what recommendations that owner has, then see what recommendations those places have, and on and on. Each profile also includes a map that marks the location of every other business suggested on the page.
"It's like, 'If I know this [store] is awesome, then I can't go wrong with their options,'" explains Foldes.
Foldes's interest in recounting the histories of people who have started the best businesses in a city stems from his own past decision to follow his passions. He had been working at Ibotta, a local startup that has gained national traction, when his best friend suddenly passed away at the age of 27.
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An amateur writer, his friend often "wrote about following your passion," explains Foldes. So after a lot of thinking, Foldes quit his job the day after the funeral and went to South America. He spent the next months traveling there and in the U.S. and Canada, eventually hiking the Colorado Trail. When he returned, he decided to start Dirt Road Travels.
"If I could do anything, it would be this: traveling, finding new places, and telling the stories of the people who started them," he explains. So Foldes teamed up with Nate Luebbe, a local photographer and friend that he emphatically notes is "the most talented photographer in the state of Colorado" to make his dream a reality. They started work on the Dirt Road Travels website in October.
Though Foldes was keen on finding the hippest spots in Denver even before Dirt Road Travels, he notes that being able to talk in depth with so many people for the website has given him "insight into the local maker community and the support they have for each other."
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Some of the best locations he's found in Denver include, among others, the Universal, the Real Dill, and Black Shirt Brewing –– whose story he says epitomizes "why we started this business." At one point, Foldes and Luebbe even sat down with Governor John Hickenlooper and chatted with him about founding Wynkoop Brewing as well as the city's revitalization of Union Station.
Beyond the guides themselves, Dirt Road Travels also offers a product called "City in a Box," a collection of five locally cultivated items from a featured city, available for purchase.
Dirt Road Travels has already conducted interviews and built guides for countless other locations in California, the Pacific Northwest and the Southwest, and Foldes and Luebbe are currently en route on a road trip through the West to take photographs for each city's guide, which they plan to officially release in the coming weeks and months.