Nina and Tim met at Yale Law School, got married, and moved to New York to begin careers as corporate lawyers. Their transition to the publishing biz was entirely accidental: They started keeping track of their dining experiences in a journal and solicited the input of friends, distributing the results in a photocopied packet. Within a couple of years, they published the first Zagat Survey, dropping off copies of the book at local bookstores from the back of their Toyota Corolla station wagon. Some 7,500 copies were sold and it wasn't long after that the Zagats had ditched their law jobs to focus on the burgeoning business full-time. In the 1990s, the Zagats expanded to other cities and branched out to hotels, stores and clubs and today spans more than 90 cities around the world, covering everything from theater to golf to movies.
The Zagat Survey was once the sine qua non of restaurant guidebooks. Aside from a review in the paper, the survey's 30-point scale for food, service, and décor—and its quirky comments submitted by readers—was pretty much all that mattered to restaurateurs. While the book's ratings are still highly influential—and while the company remains highly profitable—the guide is no longer the indispensable possession it once was and it's clear that its influence has waned in recent years. Much of its decline has been due to the company's online strategy and the decision to make listings only available to paying subscribers with a multitude of free sites offering a similar service. Additionally, the survey has always had its share of detractors: many have argued that the guides are biased, that restaurateurs game the results, and that the Zagats promote their own agenda. To some extent, that's all true. Restaurateurs do lobby their friends to send in questionnaires, and while the ratings may be based on the public's input, the comments that actually end up making it into the book is ultimately a decision left up to Zagat's editors (and Tim and Nina), meaning a handful of positive or negative adjectives can make all the difference. [Image via Getty]