Seattle area startups refine the daily-deals model


scrutiny over daily deals has been generating headlines recently, the digital
coupon craze is here to stay. Even as Groupon finds itself in the midst of an SEC investigation of its profit metrics, other companies are plowing ahead with offerings that tweak the model

Seattle-based ChoozOn aggregates
coupons to help consumers cut through the clutter in their in-boxes. ChoozOn’s
site was launched in April and the company has just secured its first round of
angel funding. Meanwhile, Kirkland’s
Pirq launched Thursday morning, addressing redemption concerns
associated with the current daily deals model.

ChoozOn integrates social
networking into its site by creating “deal clubs” in which users can
bargain hunt together. “Choozers” can follow what others are shopping for and
make recommendations of products.

Pirq users
are told about deals near them based on cellphone GPS tracking. They then
“commit” to deals nearby, and scan a Microsoft Tag with their mobile devices.
The deal is redeemed on the spot.

merchants have complained about delayed or duplicate redemption of daily-deal
coupons as well as a lack of repeat business. Pirq’s model tries to eliminate
these hassles. It also controls traffic flow to a business by limiting the
hours during which deals are offered and redeemed.

Pirq’s new
app benefits the company as well: While deeply discounted deals often have
companies like Groupon borrowing against themselves, the instant redemption
feature of Pirq protects Pirq as well as merchants.

In contrast
with ChoozOn, which tailors deals to users based on their brand preferences,
Pirq focuses on proximity-based deals, taking advantage of GPS tracking through
mobile devices.

Making use of this smartphone feature
is the latest trend in the daily deal and app world: Even Groupon’s founders
are hopping on board, investing in WhosHere, a social media app that lets users
text-message nearby strangers.

Shopping from phones is another
emerging trend. “By 2015 consumers will spend about $119 billion on goods and
services bought via their mobile phones,” says James Sun, CEO of Pirq.

Dining: Home Cooking in Ballard

Dining: Home Cooking in Ballard

San Fermo strives for comfort Italian style.

Named for a 16th-century monastery 50 miles west of Venice, San Fermo in Ballard is probably the first new restaurant in a long time that wants to make its name in rustic, homey Italian food. 

Instead of focusing on the current trend of modern, interpretive Italian dishes, co-owners Tim Baker (Percy’s & Co.), Scott Shapiro (Melrose Market), and Wade Weigel and Jeff Ofelt (both of Bimbo’s Bitchin’ Burrito Kitchen, Cha Cha Lounge, King’s Hardware and Percy’s fame) have transformed the conjoined (and formerly pea green) historic Pioneer Houses on Ballard Avenue into an utterly charming, upscale pasta house. The 50-seat San Fermo, which abuts the Ballard Farmers Market on Sundays, is now a glossy white stunner with black accents and a similar indoor color scheme.

Executive chef Sam West (he also runs the kitchen at Percy’s a block away) and sous-chef Zach Wagar (formerly of Spinasse) offer solid, traditional entrées, such as rabbit cacciatore and osso buco, but you’ll want to go straight for their handmade pastas, which change daily. Delicate, ricotta-filled duck ravioli ($17) swim in traditional rosemary broth with shallots; weighty, wavy mafaldine carbonara ($16) is tossed with fatty guanciale (pork cheek), which puffs up to an irresistible crunch and, along with fresh egg, coats the wide, ribbon-like noodles beautifully.

The antipasti ($12) — an ever-changing medley of seasonal, marinated and pickled vegetables, fresh cheeses and inventive cured proteins — is also a sure thing, especially when paired with a bottle of rosé and enjoyed on one of the restaurant’s two killer outdoor patios. Central to the north patio and its neighboring ivy-covered brick wall is a sagging crabapple tree studded with beehive lanterns.

Spending warm nights there (and on the smaller south patio) listening to an eclectic range of music — from Billie Holiday to M. Ward to Creedence Clearwater Revival — while eating fresh, simple, approachable Italian food was among the highlights of my summer. Luckily, heaters and blankets will keep it going this fall.