In How I Got My Job, folks from across the food and restaurant industry answer Eater’s questions about, well, how they got their job. Today’s installment: Kat Craddock.
On April 10, 2023, Kat Craddock announced that she had purchased Saveur, the celebrated food publication she’d been reading since its inception in 1994 and working at for over seven years. By this point, she’d seen the brand go through innumerable changes, both internally and within the media landscape, and she thought that acquiring it herself was its best chance at long-term success — and she loved it too much to watch it fail.
“I started to see that putting this publication back into the hands of the editors might be the only way to make it last,” Craddock explains. “It’s a unique publication that never fit tidily into the business models of larger media companies, but I always knew that it had the potential to thrive under a nimble structure, at a smaller and smarter scale, and that we didn’t need to compromise our voice or turn it into an SEO machine to make that happen.”
To guide Saveur’s future, Craddock draws on her experience in restaurant kitchens and food media. Here, Craddock shares how she came to acquire Saveur and all the career choices that led her to make this major decision.
Eater: What does your job involve? What’s your favorite part about it?
Kat Craddock: It used to be a lot of recipe-testing, editing, and development. Gradually, I started spending a lot more time looking for writers and stories — a mix of writing, assigning, and editing — and also collaborating with our sales and marketing team. These days, I’m spending most of my time on the business side of things. We’re still transitioning into our new technical systems and contracts, which takes a lot of time and focus. (Life lesson: Don’t migrate your team’s email while Mercury is in retrograde!)
This week, I’m working with our editorial ops director to cost out and lock down the budgets on a couple of big projects we have in the pipeline. I still do a little bit of testing and editing, but I have great people on the team who I trust to take the lead on a lot of the day-to-day production. I’m still on set, art-directing our recipe shoots. I’m on calls with sales clients a lot, too. We’re a legacy brand, but we’re also in startup mode, so I’m spinning a bunch of plates, figuring out where I need to tap in additional support, and making sure that the team is set up for success.
What did you want to do when you started your career?
I’ve never been much of a five-year-plan kind of girl. I liked reading, so I majored in English in college. I loved cooking and eating, so I took jobs that put me close to food — scooping ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s in high school, cheesemongering in college. I wanted to keep working with food and wasn’t quite sure how to do that, so after college, I bought myself a little more time by going to culinary school. At no point did I ever definitively say, “This is what I want to be when I grow up.” I usually just take the next best step that’s right in front of me. That said, a friend recently reminded me that maybe seven or eight years ago, when she asked me what I wanted to do after Saveur, I apparently answered, “I want to own it.”
Student loans are such a pressing part of the conversation around higher education right now. Has your career trajectory been impacted by debt in any way?
Yeah! Even growing up with certain privileges, like my parents sending me to Catholic school and a great college, I graduated with some student loans. I could have blown through them quickly enough if I decided to go into finance or something. Instead, I took out more loans for culinary school and entered the notoriously low-paying, physically taxing restaurant industry — right as the economy was on the brink of collapse. I stayed in it for a decade, and lived pretty much paycheck-to-paycheck for most of that time. I still consider this a privilege, though. If I had had children to take care of, sick relatives, or anyone else relying on me, it would have been completely impossible.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when you were starting out in the industry?
Restaurant work is obviously demanding. I came up in the tail end of the pre-#MeToo era. There were plenty of creeps, screaming bosses, line cooks smashing things, and crying in the walk-in. But I was also lucky in that I worked for some tough-as-nails women chefs who had come up through a lot worse, who worked really hard to run kitchens fairly and to create a better environment than what they had experienced.
After the 2008 crash, I was laid off from my first pastry chef job. I was cranking out desserts at this fancy restaurant in Boston that had been doing a bunch of private events for the banking industry. When that business dried up, the owners closed the doors and let us all go.
Then I bounced around a few other kitchens for a while — even in the lean times (at least, until COVID-19), there had always been plenty of restaurant work out there, so since that initial shock, I haven’t lost much sleep worrying about my own job security. The pay was generally pitiful, but I liked having a lot of options and opportunities to keep learning, expanding my palate and craft, and picking up some small-business management skills along the way.
How did the pandemic affect your career?
The last Saveur print issue and our last acquisition happened during the pandemic — we were acquired by Recurrent, a media company, from the magazine publisher Bonnier in 2020. Obviously, New York City was a scary place to be then, but I didn’t leave. My partner and I holed up in our old Chelsea apartment. I walked up to the old Saveur test kitchen in Koreatown once a week to get some exercise, check the mail, and water the plants. We were incredibly lucky in that we didn’t get sick. When Bonnier left that space, I packed up the prop collection, archives, and cookbook library, and brought home whatever was left in the freezer and liquor cabinet. It was a very weird, transitory time.
When was the first time you felt successful?
Not really sure I’ve gotten there yet! Of course the Saveur acquisition has been a thrill, but it’s also all very new and scary. Imposter syndrome is no joke.
What was the turning point that led to where you are now?
After a while, I started thinking I might want to pivot to food media. The traditional way in was to intern for free, which I wasn’t ever in a position to do. Eventually, I weaseled my way in the door by emailing Food52 founder Amanda Hesser cold. I asked her for advice and she referred me to Adam Sachs and Farideh Sadeghin at Saveur. They let me come in on my days off from baking at Lafayette and paid me to test recipes and help out with shoots and events.
It was super fun and exciting — I grew up reading this magazine, cooking out of it with my mom, dreaming about all these faraway places, so it has always been really precious to me. But I also landed this dream job right when the old magazine business was collapsing in on itself. Eventually I came on staff full-time, and for years I watched the team get smaller and smaller, with fewer and fewer resources — and what resources were available weren’t ideally distributed. We cycled through several different editors-in-chief, owners, and business models and stopped producing a print mag. The brand suffered and started to feel diluted, less special.
When Bonnier sold Saveur to Recurrent, along with a few of our old sister publications, I paid close attention to what was going on and asked a lot of questions. I’m really grateful that key players on both sides were open with me at the time because that visibility into the process planted the seed that I might be able to do this myself. I lucked out in finding a single investor who believes in the brand, is very hands-off, and just wants to see it succeed.
What were the most important skills that got you there?
Probably more than anything it’s been the small-business hustle — it’s in my blood. My grandfather opened a transmission shop in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, that my uncle is still running today. My biological father was a policeman and he wasn’t around. My mom and stepdad raised me. They were freelance title examiners and both went back to school when I was a kid, and eventually became lawyers and started their own firm. I helped out a little bit, enough to appreciate and absorb a lot of their hustle, the highs and lows of small-business ownership — but also to know that I definitely didn’t want to be a lawyer!
Do you have, or did you ever have, a mentor in your field?
My first chef out of culinary school, Mindy Segal, taught me so much and has always had my back. She is tough and loving and also fiercely protective of both her business and her team. When I got to Saveur, Max Falkowitz was the first editor who really made me believe I could write and edit and I owe a lot of where I am right now to him. Editing a green writer well — drawing out and honing their voice without crushing their confidence — is a particular skill that requires a lot of generosity and emotional energy. Max is really exceptional at it. I’m always trying to edit more like Max.
How are you making change in your industry?
I’m just one editor doing something a number of folks have done in the media space recently: buying back their brands from private equity. Maybe not in legacy food media, but it’s certainly happened with B2B brands, local newspapers, and the occasional magazine. And of course, there are holdout publications that stayed independent all along, which have been great reminders that it’s possible! Since our news hit, editors at other brands have reached out to find out how this worked, whether it’s something they could swing for themselves. I would love to see this become a trend, for our society to have access to lots of great indie pubs — both print and digital — to choose from.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Morgan Goldberg is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.