Admit it: in the weeks after you got into Penn, you started checking Philly food Instagrams. Over the past few years, food accounts have blown up on Instagram; millions of people follow these pages to look at pictures of pizza, pasta, ice cream and countless other foods. Philly Foodies and Freshmen15 are two food accounts that hit close to home—one is based in our beloved city, and another is run by a current Penn student. Philly Foodies is an account that posts multiple pictures a day from numerous Philly restaurants; you’ve probably used it before when deciding where to go to eat over the weekend. Freshmen15 is an account with a completely different concept: it features food found near colleges across the country. Street spoke with people behind these two accounts to see what it’s like being Insta–famous.
Street: To start off, just give us a little background on yourself: your name, where you grew up, or anything else you think is important.
Philly Foodies: Well, my name is Mollie. I grew up in Lafayette Hills, Pennsylvania, and that’s where I still live now. I went to school at Penn State, studied communications and I minored in psychology. And now I work at a media buying and planning agency.
Street: When did you start Philly Foodies?
PF: I started it July 2014. I remember just like posting a lot of food photos on my own personal Instagram. I had, like, a couple in a row where I was like, alright, this is getting annoying, do my friends want to see this on my personal page? And that’s when I started to see a lot of the New York accounts come about: there weren’t many Philly ones, so I thought I should just make one based in Philly because that’s where I’m from and that’s where I’m eating out all the time. I thought it was like a niche market at the time—now there are so many accounts, but mine was one of the first.
Street: Do you remember what your first post was?
PF: Yeah, it was ice cream from Philly Flavors on Fairmount [Avenue].
Street: Do you have a specific type of food that you really like to post?
PF: I think anything cheesy works great for pictures, because you can do the “cheese pull” and sometimes you can take videos of them. But yeah, I love trying to do anything different with my food pictures.
Street: Do you edit your photos, and do you have a specific app you use?
PF: I don’t really edit them. I just will use the brightening thing on the actual Instagram app, but I think the best tip for getting a good food photo is honestly the lighting in the restaurant. Like if you can sit near a window in the daylight, it sounds so stupid, but you’ll get the best pictures. Or if it’s like a dark restaurant or its nighttime, I’ll have my friends or family hold their phone flashlights to like get good lighting so it’s not just with flash and its not just dark.
Street: Do restaurants treat you differently if they find out who you are?
PF: I never go to a restaurant and tell them who I am, it’s just not who I am and not what I’m about. But like when I’m getting invited to these events it’s mostly just trying their food for free, so that’s a really great perk.
Street: What’s a restaurant that isn’t too popular, yet one that you want everyone to know about?
PF: I don’t know, I feel like Harp and Crown is new on the scene, but I feel like there’s been so much buzz already. I went there and it was so good. I guess it’s like a newer place but I would definitely recommend.
Street: This might be a random question, but do you put the fact that you’re basically Insta–famous on your resume?
PF: I do put it on my resume, because I feel like it’s great marketing experience, like I’m working one–on–one with brands and restaurants helping them with their social media and doing give–aways and sponsored posts and stuff. So yeah, it’s definitely good experience.
Freshmen15 Interview: Nikki Seligsohn (C'18)
Street: Give us some background on yourself.
F15: I’m Nikki, and I’m from Boca Raton, Florida. I grew up there, and I’m 21. I’m majoring in PPE.
Street: So why did you start Freshmen15?
F15: We started Freshmen15 the summer going into college, so in 2014, and it was me and my four high school best friends. Food accounts were just starting to become popular on Instagram then and we thought of a new creative idea that hadn’t been done yet—why don’t we upload food from each of our respective colleges because we all went to five different colleges across the country? So we thought it would be interesting to kind of document our meals at our different schools and we didn’t really expect it to gain a following, but it did.
Street: What was the first thing you posted from Penn?
F15: Probably one of the first would’ve been at Green Eggs Café. I went the first week of coming to Penn and we got like the cookie dough French toast and the red velvet pancakes there.
Street: How did you get over 200,000 followers?
F15: It took a while to get popular. In the beginning we only had like 1,000 followers. Then we kept continually posting and keeping up with it, and I’d say probably last year is when it started to get really big, and once we hit 50,000 followers we kind of doubled in two months and it just grew really exponentially from there. I think it had to do with both Instagram changing its algorithm, more stuff on the explore page, but also, since we tag the location as a college, if your friend goes to that college or wants to go to that college you’ll probably tag them in that photo. So a lot of word of mouth of friends tagging each other in our photos and stuff.
Street: What are your favorite photos to post?
F15: I think the photos that do best on our page are the ones that have a lot of gooey cheese in it—they always get the most likes. So I guess mozzarella sticks, maybe from Allegro—those do really well. But I mean Philly has so many good restaurants, and it’s interesting because the kind of “nicer” foods don’t always photograph as well, even though they taste great.
Street: Do you have a specific posting schedule that gets the most likes?
F15: I think the best time to post is probably around mealtimes, I’d say lunchtime, maybe, when college students or people at work are kind of bored or on a lunch break and just scrolling through Instagram. That’s when we get the most likes. And as far as followers, Wednesdays we seem to get the most.
Street: Do you ever go to restaurants specifically to get a picture of something?
F15: I have one friend in New York that’s part of the account so she will always follow the latest trends that happen there with food, so whether it’s rolled ice cream or different types of soft serve or noodles, she’s always following those trends. I think it happens in the city more than other places.
Street: What are your favorite restaurants in Philly?
F15: My go–to place in University City would probably be Ramen Bar, just because it’s right next door to my house. I also love Pod. Then, as far as Center City, there are just so many really great places. My favorite food is steak so Barclay Prime would probably be my favorite restaurant. But aside from that, there are really great Italian restaurants as well, like Scarpetta, which just opened up in Philly, or Little Nonna's.
Street: What’s a new restaurant that you think is going to blow up soon?
F15: I think Harp and Crown is fairly new, and people are just starting to discover it now. It's really cool, it has great food, great vibes, and a hidden speakeasy downstairs with a bowling alley.
Street: Do you put Freshmen15 on your resume?
F15: Yeah, I definitely put it on my resume now. It’s funny because about a year and a half ago, all my friends had added it to their LinkedIn and their resumes, and I thought it was a bit silly. But once we hit a certain number of followers and actually started making branding deals and negotiating with different restaurants and food brands, I thought, “Yeah, this is definitely something that should be on my resume.” I did OCR last semester, and its actually crazy that pretty much every interviewer asked me about Freshmen15 and to go into detail about it, because they were just so intrigued and impressed by it.
Street: Do restaurants treat you differently once they know that you’re a part of Freshmen15?
F15: Normally we have to coordinate with the restaurant beforehand; we can’t just walk in and say that we’re Freshmen15 because it has to get approved—maybe by the manager or owner. But when we do go in as Freshmen15, we definitely get treated really well. I remember vividly for one restaurant I went to in the city over the summer, they treated us like celebrities. We met three different managers, and we just mentioned that we liked avocados so they brought out three halved avocados with like yogurt and seasonings on top for us to eat, it was great.
Street: How do you edit your photos?
F15: We don’t put filters on them, but we’ll do the brightness or maybe sharpen the photo. But besides that, I think it looks best in its natural lighting most of the time. I personally use the Instagram app. I think my other friends have a few different editing apps, but we all try to keep the photo pretty much not looking too edited. The best pictures are always the ones that we’ll take at lunchtime when there’s really great lighting in a restaurant. Those always come out the best; it’s really hard when you’re in a restaurant at night and the lightings so dark. I have to kind of use two different camera flashlights and then take the picture with my phone.
Street: Where do you see Freshmen15 going in the future?
F15: Hopefully our follower base continues to increase steadily, and then I think definitely it has the potential to be a full–time job for one of us if we really wanted that. There are so many food bloggers in New York City that have quit their jobs and have committed to it full–time, because you can really make a lot of money from it and you get all these free meals as well. So, I think hopefully in the future, we can focus on creating more branding deals and negotiating with different restaurants to go in and try new places.