Lauren Webster, grew her brand Brunchaholic from a master’s class project into the go-to Instagram source for NYC’s brunch scene. She recently sat down with Urbanoire’s creator, Naomi Dubissette and dished on the makings of her brand and what it means to be a digital foodie for over 7 years.
Naomi: You’ve told me before how Brunchaholic started but tell me again for our readers.
Lauren: I was in a master’s class in 2015, and our task was to create something on social media that we thought people would follow and then report back. I had a feeling my idea would work. I just didn’t know what the response would be like. From the wide reception on social, I saw that people like restaurants as much as I do and they want to know the spots. People like nice things. We all like nice things. There’s a space for this.
Then I decided to make it a brand. I was like, what’s the harm? Let’s make this a brand. Let’s see where it goes. And the brand really was just letting people know about the places I was going to. Hey, there’s a spot over here. If you want to go there, too, this is what it is.
So when you launched your test project on Instagram, were you already using the name Brunchaholic?
How’d you come up with that name?
I don’t even remember! I was like, I wanna create a brunch page. Creativity is my avenue. Someone once told me, “You should be a copywriter.” I started thinking, What’s the best Brunch name? What’s the Brunch name that I would follow? What’s something that’s catchy? It’s not too long. It’s not too short. And it just came to me.
I love it. So let’s talk digital food critique. The irony about being a foodie in the digital era is that food is traditionally critiqued by how things taste. But on social media, it’s about how it looks. Do you feel like that puts pressure on you to choose a restaurant based on the aesthetics versus the dishes? By the way, we don’t have to go by old-fashioned dining standards. It’s a different world, but how do you feel about that?
That is a great question. I feel like from building the brand and to date, visuals matter. There are a lot of people complaining on the internet, like, “Oh my gosh, there’s all these restaurants that have all these nice things, but it’s such a sucky place once you go.” I think it’s a Catch-22 with those restaurants. Although they don’t want to admit it, people love a visual. People love to do stuff for the ’gram. People want to look at things that are catchy. It’s just like with anything, we love a little bit of flash. And so I think that naturally is what keeps people on a page, or lures them.
It’s about video. And it’s about trust. When I first started, there weren’t a lot of sources like this. I’ve always approached content with the question of, “What is gonna make me say this weekend was worth it?”…and that authenticity has helped others make their weekends worth it too.
Speaking of weekends, when your coworkers ask you about your weekend, do they know you moonlight as Brunchaholic? A lot of entrepreneurs are afraid to share their dreams with their employers because of the unspoken perception that they’ll be using their best talent and time on their baby, which is not the case. They don’t realize how hard entrepreneurship is.
Absolutely. I know my family has told me a lot of times to keep it a secret because some employers may assume you’re not spending enough time on what they want you to be doing . . . But I’m such an authentic person, I can’t hide it. I got a raise in my job after I shared that I was Brunchaholic on the side. And I think that sometimes we block our blessings when we try to minimize ourselves. And you have to gauge where you are in the process, because like we’ve talked about before, sometimes privacy ensures that somebody else isn’t running off with what you’re doing.
How “honest” are you in a review? Like, at Urbanoire, we don’t bash any business. An eatery either makes the list or they don’t.
And that’s also my approach. Even if I don’t like something, I won’t necessarily be like, “This is the most . . .” I try not to do that, because one thing about people… is that people love to complain. But once you’re on the business side, you also understand how much goes into that. Even with events. You can go to an event and say, “this event was this, this, and this.” And you blame it on the brand that throws it. But there’s so much behind the scenes that could lead to that. The brand had absolutely no control over it.
It’s easy to root or boo from the sideline.
To reference what you said in another convo, “you don’t really know ’til you’re in it.”
Right. I also take that approach because I’m not running a restaurant, so I don’t know what it is to really go all in. All I can do is suggest things. I’ll give helpful feedback and say, “Hey, I would love to come back here, but let me just tell you, this was my experience here. And this is my suggestion.” And that manager could take it or leave it. I think that helps too.
Sometimes you want people’s input. I would love for people to come to my page and say, I was really looking for something, but it wasn’t here.
That is a perfect segue into talking about followers. How are you with the highs and lows of social media affirmations? Would you say you define your brand or does your audience, or a bit of both?
I think it’ll always be a bit of both. Every business owner defines their brand and their audience confirms it. As your followers grow, you get confirmation that more people are enjoying your content and you’re providing something that people value.
What advice do you have for anyone building their own digital brand as they gain and lose engagement?
There’s a time of investment that you need to apply for your brand to just scope the internet. You need to research and see what’s out there. Especially with competitors. Be authentic, don’t get lost in the numbers, stay consistent, and research. Building a digital brand requires a lot of time and patience so don’t give up if you don’t see results right away. You need to research and see what’s out there—what’s similar about the kind of content that are people enjoying? Go with your gut—no food pun intended. You could post something so silly that ends up taking off. For example, one of the most popular things that went viral wasn’t even a video that I did. And that’s why I think you can repost content that reflects your brand too. It was a video I saw with someone just holding a supersized drink. Boom. 13 million.
It could be the algorithm. It could be how much time you’re dedicating. Could be the consistency of your posts. Just take those things into consideration. Don’t get stressed. It’s like it’s a game. It’s research. And we all should be living in a comfortable space of research for our brands.
What’s the biggest reward in creating content?
Community. It’s about community, for real. Helping restaurants thrive while also creating a space that helps people in their decision-making moments. Sometimes it’s a big duty. I’ll read the messages, and people will be like, “Hey, I want five places that I should go to for my birthday,” but they don’t realize it doesn’t come off the top of my head. I research these places just as they would. At the same time, these inquiries mark success! Creating a lane where people trust your opinions to the point that they’re reaching out to you just like your friends or family would. I love hearing from people even though I don’t always have the time to answer.
I wish I could do more of that. And that’s a goal for this year, to tap in with my audience more and let them know that I’m here for those incremental moments when it matters. ’Cause when they’re looking for certain spaces, their criteria could become opportunities to go where I’m not even looking. Maybe those are blog posts that I need to do. Maybe I need to put more of that on my page. I like being able to show up for the people that are really fueling…the ones engaging are the advocates of the page. And then they’ll feel like, “Hey, this person cares about me.”
So well said. Food culture isn’t just about food, it’s about connection.
And it’s about the experience. It’s about what happens. It’s about who you’re with. It’s about connecting. It’s about the fashion. I’m trying to define and build this page so that it covers everything. I focus on brunch because it’s so much more than just eating, but all of these things. Brunch is a lifestyle, really. It’s a lifestyle. So, I show up for that and reflect it in the brand.
Speaking of “showing up,” this time last year we were talking about your decision to become more of the face of the brand, and show more of yourself on social media along with the experiences. I see you’ve stood by your words.
Thank you! I think that it’s also looking at the times. The pandemic gave birth to an emphasis on Black companies, Black brands, supporting and understanding, and that made it a good time to shift. I don’t barrage the page with that by any means, because I think that the people following weren’t there for that initially. So you don’t wanna lose your core audience where they’re like, “Okay, this ain’t about you, girl.” But you do want people to have that humanistic element and be like, “Hey, there is someone behind this. And maybe if I see the person behind this, I understand. Maybe I trust you more.” And it goes back to that trust element.
They often say creators create the content that they’d like to experience. I’m just gonna assume this was the case with this brand. Was this the case?
Absolutely. Absolutely. When the question comes up of what are you gonna do for the weekend? I felt like I was the person in the group chat who had to provide the answer. And I want to be the source for that person in their group chat.
Every friend group has a person who knows where the spots are…but you know, that person gets tired too. Sometimes it feels so refreshing when somebody just says, “Hey, you wanna meet me here?” And I’m like, “Yes!” So I try to make Brunchaholic a reflection of that. It’s like the place where the fun person in the group chat can go to as a resource.
Last question. What’s your definition of a foodie? And can anyone be a foodie?
I think a foodie is a person that never grows tired of the savoring of the food experience. It could be in a restaurant. It’s that friend that knows the spots and that you can rely on to tell you what’s new and trending. It’s the person that’s at home cooking up and they just have that food sense. You know those people. You’re like, what’s the recipe? They don’t even know because they’re just so foodie that they’re like, “A little dash of this.” It’s our parents and our families — they’re foodies in a way. It’s somebody that’s invested in the savoring. And that can go so many different ways, but I feel like if you’re invested in the savoring, you’re a foodie. That’s it. Boom.