Cass Foley, or @cass_andthecity as she’s known to her nearly 162,000 TikTok followers, has become the de facto tour guide for people on either side of the Schuykill looking for the best place to do almost anything—get bottomless brunch with friends, donate to a community fridge, or take a weekend trip. Her knowledge of the city’s food scene seems borderline encyclopedic—she knows exactly the best spot to recommend for nearly any occasion.
This is a big part of why her restaurant videos often go viral—you might have even been sent one in a group chat when trying to figure out your next BYO location. Rather than focusing on the big names in the city, Cass spends her time looking for hidden gems and neighborhood favorites.
“The mom and pop shop around the corner that people might overlook because they're going to see the Starr restaurant? That is where I want my focus to be,” she says.
But as important as her review videos are for building her following, some of Cass’s most notable content has nothing to do with Philly’s restaurant scene and everything to do with food justice. Put simply, Cass cares about food beyond it tasting good.
When the pandemic struck and all of the usual items that filled her agenda—namely, her jobs as an NHL cheerleader and model—disappeared, Cass, like many other young adults, turned to the internet as a source of comfort. She didn’t know then just how big her account would become, but she saw the value of TikTok’s algorithm in pushing new creators into the limelight.
“I downloaded TikTok during the pandemic and realized that it was a lot more than just teenagers dancing on the app,” she says. Cass quickly found her way to the side of TikTok containing lifestyle content, but struggled to find people talking about the city she’d grown to love. While dozens of up–and–coming TikTok influencers were establishing themselves as the go–to accounts for recommendations in New York, there didn’t seem to be anyone doing the same in Philly—a problem Cass immediately sought to solve.
She posted her first “favorite places in Philly” TikTok video in October of 2020: a glowing review of The Cheesecake Lady in Elkins Park, a bakery specializing in gourmet cheesecakes. It completely flopped, but Cass wasn’t deterred.
”I was so confident in it that I just deleted it,” she says. “A couple days later, I reposted it… and that was when it went viral and I realized, ‘okay, this definitely has potential.’”
Before long, she fell into a routine of driving around the city, taking note of any spots that looked interesting or new. Sometimes, she’ll even go to a specific neighborhood, park her car, and just walk—snapping pictures of anything that she thinks could become a video as she learns more about the city she lives in.
“A lot of the bloggers in the Philly area focus on Center City, and don't want to venture out to West Philly or North Philly, or out in the suburbs, and there is seriously not a neighborhood that I won't go to,” Cass says. “A good restaurant is a good restaurant. And I think people should want to explore.”
It’s evident in her content how much this strategy pays off. From her first video about The Cheesecake Lady to her recent one about Coco Thai Bistro, the restaurants Cass recommends are sprinkled all throughout Philly and its suburbs, and it’s often a welcome reminder to her followers to push themselves to try new things.
“Most of the people that come up to me in public or comment on my page, maybe they don't live in that neighborhood,” Cass explains. “But they're like, ‘oh my gosh, I went to this restaurant and I tried it just because of your review, and I loved it.”
With a single viral TikTok, accounts like @cass_andthecity have the power to shape the food industry on a bigger scale than many would have previously thought possible. Especially for smaller businesses that are just starting out, a single viral video from an account like Cass’s can double or triple their potential customer base basically overnight, and this is not a responsibility she takes lightly. You won’t find big chain restaurants or overhyped eateries in Cass’s recommendations for this exact reason—instead, you’ll find Cass promoting people who have historically been barred from breaking into the industry.
“I am very big about… promoting women–owned businesses or Black–owned businesses,” she says. “I really want to highlight as many of the small businesses that deserve the love and recognition [as I can].”
Although lifestyle content can often feel divorced from what’s happening in the real world, Cass tries to strike a balance between lighthearted topics and bigger issues affecting the city. Promoting businesses owned by women and people of color is a big part of her approach to content creation, but she also posts frequently about important initiatives addressing food insecurity and waste.
Unfortunately, like any other influencer, she has to play TikTok’s game—and the algorithm doesn’t always promote what she wants it to.
“If I create a video about food waste, it probably won't perform as well as me sharing where to go to bottomless brunch,” she explains.
Even then, it’s worth underscoring the impact these videos can have—she gets DMs from her followers each time she posts one asking how to get more involved with efforts to minimize food waste or address food insecurity among Philly’s residents. Although she doesn’t always have the time to address each one individually, getting people interested in the topics is a big first step.
Not only is Cass one of Philly’s biggest lifestyle influencers, she’s also one of its best. Rather than regurgitating locations you’d see in magazine ads or on billboards, she goes out of her way to address the less–known aspects of the food industry, from promoting small businesses to addressing the harms created by overconsumption and economic inequality. Ultimately, it’s her wide range of content that sets her apart—and it’s likely what will propel her even further as she continues to cover the city.
“Going out in Fishtown is a completely different experience from going out in Center City or Manayunk or South Philly, like every single neighborhood is unique in its own way,” Cass says. “And I love that.”