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Can a Successful Food Blog Translate Into a Successful Restaurant?

How some food bloggers have made the jump from internet to brick-and-mortar

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All illustrations by Natalia Hubbert/Shutterstock

There are countless blogs on the internet today —€” popular blog service Tumblr counts 284 million blogs among its ranks, while publishing platform WordPress reported that as of 2014, "tens of thousands of new WordPress sites are created every day." The exact number of food blogs out there is similarly unknown, but according to a "State of Food Blogging" survey conducted in 2013 by food blog community Foodista, 91 percent of respondents' blogs focused specifically on cooking and recipes. But while the bloggers may have started their sites as a place to share their love of cooking, with enough followers, food blogs are often used as a platform to land a book deal and to join the ranks of food-blog success stories like Smitten Kitchen and Joy the Baker.

Typically, bloggers with professional kitchen experience are those who started off cooking in restaurant kitchens, but started their food blog after leaving the industry. Many food bloggers are home cooks who have rarely cooked at the scale and speed of a restaurant kitchen. (In that same 2013 Foodista survey, 77 percent of respondents self-identified as "citizen bloggers" — ie, writing unconnected to any business or organization other than themselves — with only 41 percent of respondents reported having a professional background in food or food service.)

Rarely are cooking and recipe blogs used as an entry point into the restaurant world.

Rarely are these blogs used as an entry point into the restaurant world. But over the past few years, a handful of ultra successful food bloggers —€” including Slice NY founder Adam Kuban (now of buzzy pop-up pizza concept Margot's) and Chez Pim blogger Pim Techamuanvivit (whose San Francisco restaurant Kin Khao now has a Michelin star) —€” have triumphantly made the massive jump from the internet to a brick-and-mortar space.

"Aside from having a baby, opening a restaurant is the hardest thing I've ever done," says Molly Wizenberg, the author of A Homemade Life and Delancey, as well as the person behind the James Beard Award-winning food blog Orangette. Wizenberg is the co-owner, along with her husband Brandon Pettit, of the popular Seattle restaurant Delancey, making her one of a handful of food bloggers to find success in both the blogging and restaurant worlds.

Loving food is enough reason to start a blog, but it isn't enough of a reason to start a restaurant, warns Wizenberg. She calls Orangette her "notebook," where she spends time writing and talking about her everyday cooking life, but she never dreamed it would lead to a career path as a restaurateur. Neither did Isa Chandra Moskowitz of Post Punk Kitchen, and author of Isa Does It and Veganomicon. Moskowitz, who says her blog and TV series of the same name were created "simply for fun," now owns Modern Love, a vegan restaurant in Omaha, Nebraska. "I started my blog before blogs existed," she says with a laugh. Nor did Ella Woodward, the blogger behind Deliciously Ella (and a cookbook of the same name) and the recently opened Mae Deli in London. Unlike Wizenberg and Moskowitz, who have both long had an interest in cooking, Woodward's entry into the blogging world was part of her journey to curb symptoms of a debilitating disease through what she ate.

Blogger Ella Woodward's Mae Deli, which opened in London in December 2015. Photo: Facebook

Using successful blogs as a jumping off point into the restaurant business certainly has its advantages. From opening day, the restaurants have had interested diners. "In the beginning, the blog was a tremendous help in getting people into Delancey," Wizenberg says. The restaurant opened in August 2009, the same year that Orangette was named the number one food blog in the world by the London Times, and when her blog was receiving 9,500 pageviews per day. She adds that, to a degree, readers would also come in out of skepticism: "I think a lot people came in sort of in disbelief, being like, 'Is this thing actually going to be any good?'"

Woodward —€” whose blog has 767,000 Instagram followers and more than 200,000 Facebook fans —€” says she's grateful for having "a customer base from day one" at her health-food concept, which features the Deliciously Ella brand in its name. (Having an estimated 30,000 page views per day certainly helps.) For Woodward, who opened Mae Deli with her fiancé Matthew Mills, the restaurant simply came about as a way to share her food —€” which is notably colorful, unprocessed, and health conscious —€” "with everyone without them having to go home to cook it." Moskowitz —€” who has nearly 100,000 Facebook fans — seconds the notion about the advantages of a built-in audience. "I think mostly we get fans of the blog and cookbook," she explains. "Modern Love is in Omaha, so there's not people coming in because they are vegan... We have a lot of people traveling across the country that are stopping in because they have the cookbooks."

Moskowitz says she had difficulty securing funding, especially as a woman who did not go to culinary school.

While none of the bloggers initially set out to open restaurants, having a successful food blog certainly made securing funding much easier. Moskowitz started Post Punk Kitchen in 2002 but waited until 2014 to open Modern Love. She attributes the 12-year gap to the difficulty of securing funding for a restaurant, especially as a woman —and one who did not go to culinary school. "I had no money to open a restaurant [in 2002]. It's really inaccessible. If you didn't grow up with money or accumulate a small fortune there's really no way to open a restaurant, especially in New York City." She adds, "When Post Punk Kitchen started to become my full-time job, and I gained enough recognition, it became more feasible to get back to open the restaurant." Wizenberg, Moskowitz, and Woodward all were able to save the thousands of dollars many hopeful restauranteurs pour into culinary school each year, and put the money towards their own projects instead. They were also able to skip over the years people spend working their way up in notable restaurants.

While the blogs helped get people in the door, for Wizenberg, Moskowitz, and Woodward, the blogs and the restaurants are completely separate beasts. Aside from style, there is little overlap. "There is no real cross over," says Wizenberg. "When we were in the process of opening Delancey, I would write occasionally about it on the blog, and sometimes I gave recipes for dishes we served in the restaurant like a plum crumble or a raspberry popsicle." For the most part, the recipes served at the restaurant — especially the pizzas — are created by Pettit.

Woodward keeps the items on her blog and the dishes served at Mae Deli relatively separate, too. "The Mae Deli recipes are new and exclusive to the restaurant." However, in anticipation of her soon-to-be released second cookbook Deliciously Ella Everyday, she did serve some of her favorite recipes from the book, like a chocolate ganache cake, at the restaurant for fans. If Moskowitz serves a recipe from one of her cookbooks at Modern Love, which is rare, she says she "swanks" them up. "It's a pretty different process because pulling a recipe from a cookbook or blog, they are meant for home cooks and are meant to be accessible," she says. "I wouldn't necessarily use them in restaurant because there, I try to serve food you wouldn't necessarily make for yourself, with ingredients you might not have. If I have a gravy recipe on the website, I might throw in truffles at the restaurant."

Since the blogs and restaurants are two separate businesses, it's understandable that all three of the bloggers' brands took hits in the process of opening their respective restaurants. "I have been blogging for 11 years now, and for the most part, I've been posting once a week religiously," says Wizenberg. However, there have been "huge series of time where I have not been able to do that," most notably of which was during restaurant openings. Moskowitz admits that she is a year late on the manuscript for her upcoming holiday cookbook because she was so focused on the restaurant. "I haven't done my blog since I opened Modern Love because I haven't had the time. I've basically not blogged since May of 2014. I had to prioritize the restaurant over that." While Woodward has managed to keep up with her blog for the most part, she says that she is working around the clock and that there really isn't much downtime. Having a partner to split restaurant duties with is crucial to being able to run both brands, say both Wizenberg and Woodward.

"With the restaurant, I don’t get a chance to think about cooking very much."

The biggest difference between running a successful blog versus a restaurant is the sheer time commitment, says Wizenberg. "There is nothing to ready you for just how all-encompassing the responsibility is. You eat, sleep, and breathe that business." Woodward and Mills didn't have a manager for the first month their restaurant was open. "We open and closed every day, so we were working pretty much 24/7," she says. "It was insane... I don't think I could ever have been totally prepared for it."

"It's totally different mindsets and mentalities between blogging and running a restaurant," adds Moskowitz. "With the restaurant, I don't get a chance to think about cooking very much —€” something is always wrong with the plumbing or something is out of stock or I have to worry about customer service. Honestly, it makes me cook a lot less than when I was just blogging."

Still, the crazy stress levels and the non-traditional route appear to have paid off. Wizenberg and her husband just opened their third Seattle establishment,€” a bar-cum-pizzeria called Dino's Tomato Pie. She says that her work on the restaurant "is very much in the background," and she's enjoying the time to get into a "rhythm with the blog again." Mae Deli has only been open for three months, but it has received rave reviews, and Woodward says she has "big plans" for her blog in the works.

Moskowitz is in the process of opening a second outpost of Modern Love, this time in Brooklyn. She says that as soon as she hands in her cookbook manuscript and the restaurants are running smoothly, she wants to get back to putting recipes back up on her site again. "I really am a home cook, not a restaurant chef," she says. "It's really my first love."


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