Yelp’s One-Of-A-Kind Businesses

Carl Bialik
Mar 26 · 5 min read

Ben Silver is a magician. Ben Silver is a sommelier. Ben Silver is one of a kind.

There may be other Americans who operate a magic business and also operate a sommelier business. Silver operates one business, Ben Silver Magic, that offers magic and sommelier services, to the same customers on the same night — often mixing wine and magic in the same trick. And according to Yelp data, his is the only magician-sommelier business in the U.S.

Ben Silver performs a wine magic trick at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, Calif. (YouTube)

It’s not so uncommon to be uncommon. There are 21,076 U.S. businesses on Yelp that are the only business to list a pair of categories.

Silver stands out for combining two categories to great effect. Among those 21,076 businesses, he ranks №1 on our measure combining average rating with number of reviews, the one we use to rank every U.S restaurant and many other sets of businesses.

Silver is aware that his business is unique — and proud of it. “I think I’m the only one in the world,” the 38-year-old magician-sommelier said in a telephone interview from San Diego. “I’m trying to keep that title.”

Some places just miss the cut. The pairs of businesses that combine magic with bars or museums are special, but not unique.

Many uncommon businesses are vying with Silver for №1.

Gunstock Ranch of Laie, Hawaii, is another top contender for best combination of ratings and review count among businesses with unique combinations of categories. The ranch is the only business to combine either horseback riding or horse boarding with swimming lessons/schools. “Horseback riding swim lessons Easter egg hunts birthday parties it is a one stop for good times,” Ikaika P. wrote in his review.

Chicago’s Bistro 6050 is the only empanadas seller to pair the crispy, savory treats with either crepes or ice cream. “Great place, empanadas, crepes, ice cream and [lattes]. What more could you ask for,” wrote Justin G., posing a question with such a self-evident answer that it didn’t need a question mark.

Spin Laundry Lounge of Portland, Ore., is one of several laundromats to also feature a cafe — but the only one to double as a bar. “Sustainable laundry, coffee, bar, arcade, books… this really makes an uncomfortable chore into a nice outing,” Heather S. said.

There aren’t many commonalities among uncommon businesses.

Some span two categories that are relatively small, making it less surprising that pairing them is unique. (Imagine a category with just one business; any other category that includes the same business would make for a unique pair.) Sommeliers such as Silver are relatively rare on Yelp. Other unique sommelier pairings include personal chefs, catering and venues.

Other uncommon businesses are classified within a unique pair of categories, without being perceived that way by most reviewers; Gunstock reviewers mostly note its horse-related offerings, with “ride” the most common descriptive word in reviews. No swim-related words make the top 50 most common words in the list.

For reviewers of Silver, wine and magic are both top of mind. The top six words mentioned in his reviews are “Ben,” “magic,” “tricks,” “magician,” “wine,” and “Silver.”

Silver didn’t set out to make history and invent a new entertainment hybrid. He started by playing every restaurant position — the Bert Campaneris of the business. Starting in around 2004, he revived his childhood hobby of magic to better entertain guests and earn bigger tips. He’d spot good opportunities — celebrations in between courses — and move in with tricks such as asking people to guess a number between 1 and 100, then pulling that number of cents from his pocket in coin form.

July 2018 photo of Ben Silver taken by Gary Payne.

In 2012, Silver started adding sommelier services to his repertoire after he moved to Sedona, Ariz., to work at a resort. His initial goal was better serving jobs. Then, “I got bit by the wine bug,” he says. He moved to Santa Barbara, Calif., for more sommelier studies, then returned to San Diego and became the wine director at Meze GreekFusion, where he mixes magic with his wine to this day.

His own gigs run the gamut, from children’s hospital benefits to company parties to in-home shows. Some are strictly magic; others, like an upcoming booking on the Napa wine train, combine wine and magic, often in a single moment, such as popping a balloon to reveal a bottle of bubbly, or making a signed playing card appear inside a sealed wine bottle.

Silver thinks wine and magic are a natural pairing of two luxury art forms. Though they don’t mix so well when an audience gets too much wine before the magic. “There is a point where people can be too drunk to enjoy the magic,” Silver said.

Ben Silver Magic has more uncommon ground to tread. Gunstock Ranch is one of more than 2,600 U.S. businesses to carry a unique category pair, while also carrying another, different unique pair.

At times Silver has considered turning his unique duo of skills into an unheard-of trio — akin to the Florida magician who works at a beer bar. But beer didn’t interest Silver enough to become a Cicerone, or a sommelier for beer. And when he tried taking up the violin, “I realized, this is really hard,” Silver said. “I will probably stick with those two”: magic and wine.

Graphics by The DataFace.

Locally Optimal

Insights and Analysis from Yelp's Data Science Team

Carl Bialik

Written by

https://www.yelp.com/ | https://medium.com/locally-optimal

Locally Optimal

Insights and Analysis from Yelp's Data Science Team