The inspiration behind restaurateur Joe Barbour’s New York concept was first sparked nearly two decades ago. In 1998, The Truman Show depicted Jim Carrey as the unwitting star of a proto-reality TV show. The film, which became a cult classic, planted the seed for a business idea for Barbour and friend Tony Wang.
“We did a bunch of research into what technology would be required for us to do that back in 1998, and it was just financially impossible at the time. It was an idea that we talked about for many, many years. It was always our pet project,” Barbour says. Although Lang passed away four years ago, Barbour kept the dream going as technology finally caught up with their vision. Through apps and tools like Periscope on Twitter and Facebook Live, all users can live-stream the most quotidian details of their lives. Live On Air (LOA) is the first restaurant to apply this approach to its business operation.
Located on a main drag in the trendy neighborhood of Prospect Heights in Brooklyn, LOA had its soft opening in January followed by a grand opening in February—complete with music from DJ Ben the Beyonder. “The immediacy of ‘live’ is what’s capturing people’s attention. We’re not about creating a reality show for social media that is doctored. We really want to pull the veil back and show people what goes on in the environment as it’s happening,” Barbour says.
The restaurant’s broadcasts will cover a range of material, including back-of-house visits with the chef, guest interviews, server confessionals, and performances by singer-songwriters, comedians, poets, and more. Barbour says he’s even floating the idea of regular shows around topics like politics and finance.
For Barbour, this undertaking combines seemingly disparate skills. While he has managerial and bartending experience, he also comes from a theater background. His work as a screenwriter and producer gives him production know-how that many restaurateurs lack.
Nevertheless, Barbour says they’re still facing some obstacles on the production side. Today, live-streaming capabilities are mostly rooted in mobile formats, making it tricky to do with a system of professional cameras. “The first obstacle is the technology. Live-broadcast social media has been designed for the average user to have on Facebook or Twitter,” Barbour says, adding the platform has not been perfected on the developer side.
Even if live streaming doesn't catch on as the next big trend, Barbour thinks owners should have nothing to fear from cameras.
“Any restaurant that’s afraid to turn on a camera is probably a restaurant that would be embarrassed if a customer went into the back of the house and saw the way they operate,” Barbour says. “You should be willing to pull back the curtain and show people what you’re doing.”