Jeremy Jacobowitz, founder and president of the platform Brunch Boys, calls his endeavor a “new media company." Spoiler alert: Brunch Boys is really just one Brunch Boy.
“Yeah, it’s pretty much just me,” he says with a chuckle.
He never knows what to call himself, but this is indeed his full-time job.
“Since it is an actual company I had to make up a title, so I’m president. But I hate calling myself that. I think it’s so stupid. I just call myself…I’m the Brunch Boy. I don’t know…I do everything. There’s no good way to say what I do.”
Jeremy had previously worked in the TV industry for a decade—first sports and then food TV as an assistant on set, then a producer. He worked as a freelancer, jumping between food competition, travel, and cooking shows.
Brunch Boys was never a serious thought, and when it started two years ago, there weren’t many food Instagrams out there.
“It wasn’t supposed to be anything. I got bored during the freelancing gigs so I thought ‘I’ll make an online brunch show’. The only reason I made the Instagram account was because if I had the name I wanted to own it across all platforms.”
And that was his only thought. He made a couple of videos, went back to work and forgot about it, posting on Instagram about once a month. There was no incentive for him to post.
Then about a year and a half ago, Jeremy ended up working on three straight food travel shows, which entailed him eating at hundreds of restaurants across the country in a span of six months. As a producer, he had the opportunity to take photos on set.
“I’d get back to my hotel room and have literally hundreds of photos of food from that day. I thought ‘I have this food Instagram account, so maybe I should upload the photos there. Why the hell not’.”
It was good timing. He started uploading his photos, and his following grew and grew.
About a year ago, Jeremy was burnt out from his TV jobs, so he took two months off and started focusing on the account. More opportunities kept arising.
“I thought ‘ okay maybe I could keep going with this’. Then the money started coming in and I thought ‘okay maybe just another 2 months’. Then it just became so all consuming and I started making real money too. I thought ‘I guess I don’t have to go back to TV’.”
But, the thing is—Jeremy really did love TV, and he still does. When Instagram switched from 15 second videos to 1 minute videos, he thought ‘now I can actually produce real content.'
He doesn’t call himself a professional Instagrammer, because he thinks its sort of silly.
“Your career shouldn’t be something that’s gonna be over in a year,” he says.
“Influencer” is also a weird word to him.
“I understand that that’s what I’m doing and that’s how I make my money, but the way I view it is that I’m producing food content. I’m doing the same thing I’ve always done, but my platform is Instagram and Snapchat and the website. That’s why I call Brunch Boys a new media company. I’m producing media but not for TV, or magazines, or really not even that much online. It’s really just a social platform.”
How have you made this into a career that’s economically sustainable? Brand partnerships? Sponsored content? Anything else?
“No, that’s the only way I make my money. A lot of people ask me if I charge restaurants. I would never charge a restaurant. Wait—9 times out of 10 I would never charge a restaurant. Restaurants don’t have any money.”
His goal when he goes to restaurants is to get as much content as possible.
“I’m popping out tons of content every day. So if I go to a restaurant and I say give me $50 and I post one photo, I’ve just screwed myself. Because now I’ve sat there for 3 hours, I can’t post any more than that one photo, and then that’s just the worst thing ever. So yeah it’s all brand stuff, partnerships, content—whatever that is.”
What specific brands have you worked with?
“A nice mix of everything. A wide range of food and not food and everything in between. What I try to do is always go a level beyond when I’m working with sponsors. At the end of the day, they’re gonna pay me, so I don’t really care what they have me do. If they have me post a photo, that’s easy. I try to push it in other directions also, with events like puppy brunch. There are a lot more ways to get the public involved than just a post.”
For videos he charges brands more money, because they involve a lot more work and get seen by a wider audience.
You wrote on your website that brunch isn’t just brunch—it’s a lifestyle. Can you elaborate on this and tell me how that storytelling component is embedded in your work through your social media channels?
“Honestly, I think the biggest thing is the audience. I know who’s watching TV and a) it’s less and less of anyone and b) it’s certainly no one my age or really specifically anyone younger. And that’s the audience I'm producing content for. So if I want to continue producing food stuff—whether it’s travel, in the kitchen, straight up food porn—if I want to reach that audience then it’s not gonna be through a TV show anyway.
He says he’s not trying to do anything that’s considered out of the ordinary now. He’s just looking at the landscape.
At the end of the day, he says, certain TV food media outlets are only reaching a demographic that ‘doesn’t give a shit about them’.
Jeremy knows what his Instagram audience is and Instagram has backed it up—the majority of his followers are females aged 22-28.
“Like, they don’t a TV. All the content they’re getting is on Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. So I think that’s the platform—that’s the medium anyway.”
Do you focus more on catering to that specific demographic, or are you putting out content that you really care about personally? Do the two converge?
“I think it has to be a balance. Yeah, you would love to have the creative freedom to do whatever you want but at the end of the day that’s something that’s gonna screw you. If I wanted to have the most followers on Instagram, I would just post photos of mac and cheese and pizza every single day.”
There are accounts that do that, and they have “a hundred thousand more followers than [he]”. But, at the end of the day his goal is to always stand out. He admits having a lot of followers helps you stand out, but says it will only get you so far.
“So I think it’s about that and about realizing that ‘hey—a picture of mac and cheese is gonna do really well'. So I’ll put that image between a food that I really love or something I think is a beautiful photo. I think it’s about finding a balance.”
Walk me through your day right now.
“Every day is sort of completely different. I do have to work out every day because it is a lot of food (*laughs), so I start there and then it’s kind of a mix. Today I’m not really doing any shoots. Honestly I’m sitting at my computer, editing videos, doing emails, expenses—really boring shit. I have meetings all the time.”
Jeremy enjoys the "fun stuff" like photo-shoots at restaurants, but says he doesn’t have the time for a 3-hour meal.
“It becomes this thing that’s unnecessary and over-the-top.”
At night it’s a mix of events. He could go to five a night, he claims, but he tries to avoid that.
“If I wanted to just be an influencer then I’d just run around and go to all these events and meals and stuff. But at the end of the day I’m really trying to build something that takes more than that.”
On the weekends he brunches, and he really does love it.
That seems like a pretty cool lifestyle to me—being able to do something you love, eating, working through social channels you’re passionate about. Any kind of challenges you’ve had to overcome?
“I think the hardest thing about all of this is that you’re constantly spiking for money, not knowing where it’s coming in from. It’s a very hectic lifestyle, but I think what has helped me is knowing that this has been my life anyway. Working in TV, you’re constantly fighting for money, and that’s the scary thing about this role. But I’m used to it.”
Oh, and working out, he says. That’s definitely a challenge.
“That’s where all my money goes now…Literally every cent is spent on tequila and going to the gym.”
Sarah Fennel began Broma Bakery in 2010 as a sophomore at NYU. She started the blog because she missed having a creative outlet. She’d studied photography intensely in high school, and had baked with her mom all throughout her childhood.
Her blog began as a hobby. Sarah’s career background had always been in the food industry, and the restaurant industry in particular. She worked at an ice cream shop at the age of 15, was a host, a server, an assistant manager for a café, did press relations for a farmers’ market, and social media and marketing for restaurant groups. Then, two years ago, she quit her full-time job.
“Everything was related to food and I just loved being in the food industry. While doing marketing and social media before I started my blog full-time, I had developed a skill set for how to market food."
And because she’s always had a natural enjoyment of food—it felt easy for her to market it.
“When I quit my job, I never thought Broma Bakery would be a full-time career. But everything I’ve done up to this point has hopefully positioned me to make this blog a career.”
What was the key moment for you in realizing that you could make it work sustainably as a full-time career?
“My story is definitely not the norm. It’s a lot different from others. I stumbled into doing it full-time. I was absolutely hating my job, and in such a bad place with work. And so I quit. On the first day I quit my job I Google'd how to make money on a food blog. “
Initially, she thought she would try it for 2 months and then reassess.
The pivotal point for her, she says--the ‘oh my God, let’s keep doing this' moment--came with using analytics to see how her blog was performing.
“Month over month it was doubling, getting bigger and bigger, and had more recognition. Seeing that growth in the first six months was huge.”
When Sarah quit her job that first week in September, her blog had been getting 30,000 page views a month. But, by January, it was getting 200,000. It’s leveled out since then, but seeing in such a short period of time that people were taking interest was the thing that got her going.
Can you talk to me a little bit about how you did that? How did you build an audience and what factors do you think triggered that growth?
“In the beginning I really focused on doing recipes that I felt were very intriguing and indulgent, things that were accessible in terms of familiar flavors but in exciting ways.”
Her content revolved around mash-ups like samoa brownies, things that were different and unique. But, the main factor was reaching out to a lot of bloggers she knew, opening a conversation with other people who knew what they were doing. “How did you do this?” she’d ask.
“For the first six months, my goal wasn’t about making money. It was about creating a wealth of content. I made sure to blog three times a week and push the content to be original."
Commenting on other blogs and developing a community with other bloggers also largely triggered her audience growth.
Can you go back and tell me a little bit about content creation? How has your brainstorming process evolved?
“It’s changed in two ways. 1) I’ve become much more scheduled and structured about creating and posting content through the use of content calendars. 2) I’ve become a lot more “careful” about what recipes I use. I test them multiple times. I get nervous about them because now they’re reaching so many people. I want them to be full-proof, something I’d be happy serving if I had my own bakery.”
She uses some other recipes as inspirations, but most of her content is completely original. “That being said, you know—there are other chocolate chip recipes out there,” she says.
What are the ways that you generate revenue in order to make your blog into a career that’s sustainable?
“At a cocktail party, I would call myself a food blogger. But what’s interesting about food blogging is that you wear so many hats. To be successful, you need to have an entrepreneurial mindset, a drive to create money and be able to talk with people and market yourself and reach out to companies. For me, it’s essential that I cultivate good working brand relationships.”
Sarah generates revenue through two main sources of income: 1) ads, and 2) sponsored content. Originally, she utilized companies that allowed her to place the ads by herself on her site, but now she uses a company that places the ads strategically for her. Regarding sponsored content, she strives to do brand partnerships with integrity.
“There’s a way to do it right and there’s a way to do it where it’s not as right – there’s not a way to do it wrong. Well, sometimes there is. You can create sponsored content in a meaningful way with real opinions and real journalism happening, but there’s so much that is out there that is skewed. That could be a whole topic in itself.”
Sarah says the brands she partners with have to align with her values.
“They have to be brands where I’ve tried the product, where I truly believe in what they’re doing and their message, the food they’re actually putting out.”
She recently declined to partner with Jonesville Sausage, a brand that is now working with reputable bloggers, but whose factory was shut down several years ago due to animal cruelty.
“I always need to make sure it’s something I truly believe in.”
On Wednesday, Sarah’s partnering with Chobani—who is looking to promote holiday bread recipes. She’s developing a recipe and baking chai banana bread using Chobani’s whole-milk Greek yogurt.
She acknowledges that for the consumer, however, it’s sometimes difficult to tell where the boundary lies with sponsored content. But it’s pretty easy to tell when something is done well and when it’s clearly a shameless plug, she says.
“Still, even as a writer for Buzzfeed or the Huffington Post, you’re getting paid a salary to write a certain way for a certain audience just by virtue of being at a big publication. You have much more freedom, but if we’re gonna get really picky about this—then true journalism is only when you’re working for yourself.”
We broach the subject for about 20 minutes before agreeing upon ‘it’s a messy space.’
Aside from ad revenue and brand partnerships, Sarah earns her income by producing freelance photography for other bloggers. It’s something she does on the side that's unique within her profession, she says, but she loves using her photography skillset.
I believe that food is about more than the food, as I’m sure you’d agree. Can you tell me about how certain storytelling components resonate with your work?
“It’s one of the foundations of what I do. For myself, I’m a visual storyteller. There are definitely other food bloggers that have more personal stories and personal messages put out there [in the form of writing], but I see my photography as my storytelling component. I know that sounds weird—but at the core of it, my photography is my brand. The way I photograph things and present them—that’s what I’m marketing. It’s huge, because you have to create something that’s cohesive and coherent, that people can recognize and say ‘ooo, that’s that person’. “
Sarah laughs, admitting to me that she hates writing.
“It’s not weird at all,” I reassure her. And she knows. Because regardless of whether it’s photography, writing, or through another means—blogging is all about storytelling.
“You’re not just posting a recipe,” she tells me. “Today I posted these salted caramel scotcharoos and there were three times when me and my friends stopped what we were doing to go eat the scotcharoos. It creates this thing that’s more than just food. Food just really is an experience and who you’re with.”
As a food blogger, she continues, you’re serving as a magnified view of a certain life or a certain set of experiences
But at the end of the day, she says, it really is the food that brings food bloggers together.
“Throughout the food blogging industry we all just love food—and it’s not that just we love to eat. We love the culture that comes with it.”
Where do you see yourself headed in the future?
Sarah recently got signed by a production house in Toronto, which wants to work with her to pilot a new food show.
During a brainstorming session, the executive producer asked her “so why are you in the career that you’re in?”
“If I weren’t doing this my ideal job would be a photo editor at Bon Appetit,” she says she thought to herself.
But later, her boyfriend asked her “why not do photography in general?”
“I said no—I want to be in this food industry. There’s something about food that’s so intriguing to me. Is it because it’s so universal? Clearly everyone can relate to it on some level, and everybody has a very basic but very necessary pull towards food. I think it’s fascinating.”
Right now, Sarah is focused on "just letting things happen.”
“Most peoples’ goal is to create a cookbook. I don’t want to do that. I want to be able to keep creating and exploring. This is the best money I’ve ever made, the happiest I’ve ever been. And it’s not unattainable. It just takes self-motivation.”
Tara Jensen is sweet and soft-spoken, at least over the phone.
She started baking in college at a small school off the coast of Maine called College of the Atlantic, where she studied philosophy and art while living on a farm with 300 others. There was a small bakery in town called Morning Glory.
“I remember going in and seeing all these super awesome, kind of punk rock women wearing all black, with tattoos and listening to Patti Smith. And I just socially wanted to be in the space. I was like, ‘these are my people’. So I asked if I could have a job here, and they were like ‘um, sure.’ "
Tara was 19 at the time, and maintained her job there throughout all of college.
“When I left I found that I could always travel and always go into a bakery and ask for work and make connections socially that way.”
She ended up baking at six different bakeries across both the east and west coasts throughout her 20’s. And at some point she realized this was going to be a life long journey of learning a craft.
When she turned 30 four years ago, she decided to merge her interests in art and farming with bread into one thing.
“That’s to me what Smoke Signals is—a semi-amorphous project.”
Smoke Signals is Tara’s embodiment of the convergence between baking, art, self-acceptance, and community engagement.
What led you to pursue these passions in baking, and especially baking as an art form?
“It was always about doing something with my hands. That was very important and appealed to me while I was doing all of this theoretical work. And in the 90’s culture, it was about knowing how to make and grow food for yourself.”
She’s had teachers and bakers along the way who have been influential in connecting her with wood-fire baking, which is what she does now.
“The people who owned the Red Hen bakery in Vermont—they were almost like my baking parents. One thing I’ve always appreciated about bakeries is that they have a familial sort of vibe to them."
For Tara, the storytelling component came naturally.
“Bread was never exactly the focus of what I was doing. It was always the people who were making it, and the rest of their lives. Bread was the thing that we did together and especially while working in a group, you’re talking about your life the whole day with your co-workers while doing something very physical. I enjoy that kind of labor.”
When she initially started writing captions under her Instagram photos, it seemed natural to include a personality or a story. Her artmaking has always dealt with sexuality, gender, pop-culture. To her, it always felt like a natural way to format the physical baked goods.
Can you explain the role of Smoke-signals as a means for sharing your experiences with a wider audience? Is there any kind of specific focus you have in your communication efforts?
“Most of my posts deal with intimacy in some form—whether it’s intimacy between me and the food I’m creating, me and the ingredients, me and somebody I’m dating, or me and my family. For me, baking is a time where I process my emotions."
She’s always thinking about that while she’s putting things together, and especially doing so while listening to pop music.
“It works because everybody has those feelings, and everybody goes through things romantically. We all sort of know those stories and we identify with certain parts of them.”
She believes people know how to bake inherently, that it’s part of our innate knowledge.
“A lot of the work we do together in the workshops is just trying to uncover that. Everyone can do it, and understand it. It’s part of who we are, and it’s the same thing about love. Everybody has a story about it and can understand it and wants to know how to have more of it.”
Can you talk to me about using social media “authentically”? What does this mean to you?
“I think I would say I definitely post about a range of emotions that I’m having. The personal commentary is very authentic. I don’t often share photos of my baking failures, so maybe I could do better at that.” She laughs.
“I live at a wood-fire bakery, out in the country, in a rural setting. It’s been a bakery for 20 years, and it’s well worn. I’m just documenting what’s here, and that’s part of the idea behind the workshops too—it’s about opening the door and letting people in."
It’s kind of like a one-room schoolhouse, she says. Rustic.
“It’s not that I’m against styling, but I just use the look of the place here to be a backdrop for the things that I’m making. So there’s no real cover-up of stains, or peeling paint, or rusting tin. That’s part of what this landscape looks like in general—so I try not to alter that very much.”
Tell me about using baking as a medium for self-acceptance and community engagement? If that is the ultimate goal, how do your social media channels help achieve that?
“The majority of people that come here find me through Instagram, so the way I think about it is really friends that I have not met yet. Social media allows you to have access to looking into peoples lives that you would otherwise have community with, but they’re far away.”
She thinks taking a global approach to community is important, and that despite what she does for her own town, she thinks of community as part of a broad spectrum.
“I think that part of it is that bread is made all over the world. It’s accessible to people to be able to document their baking process and share it.
Initially, she says, there was a lot of recipe sharing.
“If I had some bread that didn’t come out well I would post it and maybe someone from the UK would say ‘oh you should have done this’. It’s more helpful than going to a textbook for an answer."
Tara lives alone, a monastic lifestyle as she calls it. For her, social media has been a way to connect with bakers from all over the world.
“We get to share practical knowledge, compare and contrast what we’re doing. Us bakers do have a tight-knit scene on ‘the gram’."
Have you experienced any kind of challenges in your field of work?
“I definitely started the bakery as a project on a shoestring. Figuring out funding and momentum over the years has definitely been an issue, but we’re doing well now—and it’s about to be the five-year mark. The advice I might give is that when you’re starting something—it’s like throwing spaghetti at the wall. Some parts of it are gonna stick and others are gonna fall away.”
Having an experimental attitude for the first chunk of time, is critical, she says. And it took her a while, she admits, not just to mimick what others had done, but to find her own voice.
“I’m a pretty firm believer in that if there’s a will there’s a way. Crowdfunding has been really helpful at certain junctures, but valuing yourself is the most important thing. That just comes with time and practice.”
Currently, Tara teaches about baking, does a small amount of baking for her community and is currently working on a book.
Can I ask you about the book?
"It’s called 'A Year In the Life of a Baker', and it goes month by month through a year in my life. It starts with a crappy break-up...It’s so silly but then I meet this (other) guy halfway through—which I literally did. So it’s a lot about food and kind of love and figuring out dating. And I’m in my mid 30’s so it’s a hilarious thing. It’s a pop-culture commentary on romance.”
And for Tara, it’s clear that romance manifests itself in many ways.
Each chapter has some kind of a food scene, and there are recipes at the end for dishes like pancakes, waffles, bread of course. It’s expected to be published in February of 2018.
At the end of our conversation, I tell her I’m taking a tip to Asheville for spring break with my mom, and that I’d love to stop by.
“You are so welcome to come,” she says.
I check her workshop calendar for March. Every single class is sold-out.